So in Jarmusch's latest, "Only Lovers Left Alive," Tom Hiddleston stars as a world-weary vampire named Adam, hiding out in Detroit as a reclusive rock star, while his undead other half (Eve, naturally), played by Tilda Swinton, lives halfway across the world in Tangier, Morocco. Anton Yelchin, Adam's unwitting familiar/gofer Ian, and Mia Wasikowska as Eve's uncontrollable younger sister round out the small cast, and the result is a gorgeously shot and wickedly funny love story, packed with the same oddball charm and quirky characters on which Jarmusch has made his name.
Following the movie's premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, Moviefone Canada sat down with Yelchin to talk about geeking out over working with Jarmusch, making the most out of a limited amount of screentime, and why he doesn't consider "Only Lovers Left Alive" to be a true vampire movie.
Moviefone Canada: The sets in this film, especially in Adam's house, are just so incredibly detailed. As an actor, does that help you fall into a scene even more?
Anton Yelchin: Everything does. I mean, everything. I couldn't really walk and talk like Ian until I had the wig on and I had the clothes on and the ring and the jacket, and it was just Ian. It became Ian. And I also couldn't play Ian until I went to Detroit and met people in Detroit. I met this guy Scott Dunkerley, I'm really indebted to him, and I'm grateful to him for teaching me so many things about Ian that I wouldn't have known, being from the San Fernando Valley.
Like what kind of things?
Just what it means to be a young guy, in your 20s who wants to be in the music industry, who loves Detroit, acknowledges that Detroit is in a very complicated, kind of dangerous place, and doesn't want people to think that it's just f--king dead, you know? Scott said to me, "People go around saying Detroit is dead, it's done, but what the f--k? Get out of here then. F--k you if that's how you feel about this city. This is our city." And Scott ended up putting out a record when he was in high school, gathering all the bands that he knew that were playing around Detroit, just really interesting music. Because he wanted to say, "Look, it wasn't just The White Stripes and The Go and The Von Bondies and The Detroit Cobras, and now we're done. We still have a vibrant music scene." And I just thought that was so impressive, and I wanted Ian to have some of that.
There was a scene where Ian actually says some of what Scott said to me. It's not in the film now, but that informed my understanding of Ian and why he's so affectionate towards Adam. Ian loves Adam, because Adam is that hope. Adam is this reclusive genius, living in Detroit! And that makes Ian proud and it makes him excited about the possibility for the future.
At the premiere, Jim Jarmusch mentioned how he leaned on you guys to help develop the characters. Do you appreciate working with a director who's so open to collaborating in that way?
Yeah, it's pretty incredible. It's a lot of responsibility, but the thing is, it makes you confident that Jim trusts you. When someone like that trusts you, you think, "OK, well now I have to really live up to that trust." You become very excited and you seek out even the minutiae of this human being, in a way that maybe if the filmmaker isn't so interested in that, you do on your own, but you don't share it as much. But it's very exciting when you're really building these things, and it's kind of a magical process. Sometimes something just clicks and these things come together, like this story. It was just a fluke that I met Scott, because I kept going to shows, I ended up at a barbecue, I ended up at all these places, and adventuring around, I learned what I needed to learn.
What'd you think when you first heard that Jim Jarmusch was making a vampire movie? Because at first it seems a little weird, but then when you think about it, it's a perfect fit for his sensibilities.
Yeah, because I feel like Jim is always concerned with the eternal and the ephemeral. I don't want to speak for him, but as a fan, I find those themes in his films. I don't know, I thought, "It's a Jim Jarmusch film. If Jim wants to work with me, I'll do anything." Literally, anything. He's always been one of my favorite filmmakers. I mean, truly truly one of my favorite filmmakers. I can't remember the first time I saw one of his films, but I was probably like 15 or 16 or something and I watched all of them. They're just magical to me. So to think that I'm in one, I feel just so much pride and so much gratitude.
You'd already done another vampire movie before this in "Fright Night." Obviously this is a different take on the creature, but what do you think he brings to the genre that sets this movie apart?
See, I don't think of this film as a vampire film. I think of it as a love story and a love story concerned with the workings of the human soul. And the vampire element is just the use of a generic myth to discuss the eternal and the ephemeral. It's like saying, "Oh, Carl Theodor Dreyer's 'Vampyr' is a vampire film." Not really. It's Carl Theodor Dreyer's use of the vampire myth to make a film about the soul. And that's how I feel about this film. You know, "Fright Night" was a "vampire movie." It was a very obvious vampire film, it had a monster, and so that I felt very comfortable describing as a vampire film. I don't really think of this one as a vampire film.
You've worked on some huge blockbusters, but on a smaller indie film like this, where you have a really important part in the story but only a limited amount of screentime and limited shooting schedule to make that impact, does that affect your approach at all? Is there pressure to just jump right in and hit the ground running?
When I approach a character, I just try to get the human being down. And once I understand the human being, hopefully I am able to convey this human being in however much time I have. So the nerve-wracking part is being able to make it a distinct person and understand that person. And whether you have five scenes or whether you have an hour-and-a-half of scenes, you're trying to convey all these things.
So yeah, you worry, oh s--t, if you f--k up, you only have so much time [to fix it]. But that's a superficial thing. Ultimately, what I'm really concerned about is being able to make it a character so that when you watch you go, "OK, that's Ian." And I hope that's what the case is with this film. He's a good guy. He loves Adam, and he's kind of a hustler. He does what he has to do.
"Only Lovers Left Alive" is now in theatres.