CHUDINTERVIEW: ANTON YELCHIN AND ZELDA WILLIAMS
(HOUSE OF D)
By Devin Faraci
David Duchovny's House of D is the X-Files guy's feature directorial debut, a semi-autobiographical look at a young boy growing up in Greenwich Village in 1973. Anton Yelchin, a child actor who first got noticed in Hearts in Atlantis, plays the kid - a young version of Duchovny himself, who appears in sequences that bookend the story. The kid is young Tommy, his best friend is a retarded guy named Pappas (Robin Williams, whose interview you can find here) and who is in love with a girl name Melissa - played in her debut by Robin Williams' daughter Zelda.
At the press day for the film both kids came to the roundtable at the same time, and they talked about their burgeoning careers, stickball and their surprising love for foreign films.
Q: Did the folks on the film set treat you like kids or like adults?
Yelchin: No, I think it depends on who you're working with and how intelligent they are, because I think it's kind of a measure of a person's intelligence, and how a person treats what they're doing. For example, on The House of D I didn't remember feeling that at all. I kind of prepare for that, but I don't think it's necessary, actually.
Williams: Obviously, they don't go around offering you alcohol, but it's not something that once you reach a certain age you're pardoned from. I think we're just two very mature teenagers so it's not a problem.
Q: Talk about your auditions.
Yelchin: It was two days. I read the script, and then I did some scenes.
Q: David said he cornered you and said he didn't want to lose you.
Yelchin: Yeah, David came out in the hallway, but I would never - when I read the script I said, 'If I don't do this I'm going to be miserable, so I have to.' So I did.
Q: This is a pretty big role. Did you worry about having to carry the movie?
Yelchin: I don't know, I don't think about that stuff. If I really thought about it I would, for lack of a better word, be screwed. Maybe it's easier because when I'm there I'm already there, I have to do it, there's no choice. You can't just be like, 'Well, I'm really scared today, I'm not going to come on set.' I treat it one scene at a time and I just do it. I trust that David, if he didn't like something after watching the dailies,would say something, but he never did. I was confident enough to continue doing what I was doing.
Q: How much do you think Tommy is the young David?
Yelchin: Tommy definitely has David's current sense of humor, which is great. David grew up in the Village and he'd tell me about it, which was great because I grew up in L.A., which has no Village. I asked David if he was happy, and while we were in rehearsals I kept asking him. I was kind of nervous in rehearsals, I didn't sleep that well, but I wanted to make sure that everything was right.
Q: Since you're playing a younger David, did you look at any of his characteristics and try to bring that to the role?
Yelchin: The weird thing is that when you watch it we kind of look the same, which is odd. I have curly hair, so I straightened it. David does this crunching jaw thing, which I somehow picked up. It's really weird, and I don't want to sound biased or anything because I'm quite critical and I wouldn't say it if I didn't think it, but we kind of look alike.
Q: You were working for the first time. How was seeing dailies for you?
Williams: It's not ever going to be any easier to see yourself. It's like watching home videos. You can't help thinking that there's something you could've done better, but it's not your decision, it's theirs. When you see it on a big screen it's even harder. You're blown up to an extreme size. You're always your biggest critic, and I'm actually a kind of pessimistic,self-deprecating person, so when I see myself up there I pick myself to pieces. I can't say that it's an easy experience or that it's going to get any easier.
Q: So who gave you confidence?
Williams: While watching the screening my older brother made me laugh. That was helpful, so I wouldn't completely like, 'Oh my God, someone shoot me.' My parents, when I was doing the actual filming itself, kept me grounded and from just completely shattering. It was so quick, and I didn't have preparation for what it was like to transition from watching Dad on the set to me being on the set.
Yelchin: I never watch dailies, because when I was working on Hearts in Atlantis we had monitors and I was watching playback, and Scott Hicks thought the scene was really great and I said something about my work being horrible and crying in an ugly way, and he said, 'You can never watch dailies again.' And I've kind of just stuck with that, because I think if I started watching dailies I'd become critical too early and I'd try and change something. If everybody's happy you shouldn't change it, because I may be wrong.
Q: Zelda, why did you want to be in this movie? Was it that you wanted to work with your father?
Williams: I don't think it ended up being about Dad in the end. I've been on sets. I was born three days after a movie finished, and they'd been following around my mother with a chair so she didn't have the baby. I've been on sets for as long as I can remember, so I don't think it was exactly like some huge change. It's been very gradual that I wanted to do this. I felt it was kind of an opportunity that was presented to me and I just kind of took it and ran with it. I've wanted to act just I was like 11, I'd bug Mom about it like once a year or something. This was kind of a turning point, and I'd reached an age.
Q: Did your dad or David ask you to do this, or did you read the script and say, 'I want to do this?'
Williams: They were reading in my living room, and I just wanted to read and get practice. I read for Melissa, and David confronted my mom in the kitchen later. He said, 'You know, we've been trying to find Melissa for a while now and I'd like your daughter to send in the tape because I really liked her reading.' At first my mother was like, 'She's in school, she's doing well in school, let's not ruin this. Do not have it so that she does this and then suddenly leaves school, and then she can't make the transition from child acting to real acting.' Three weeks later I think he finally convinced her.
Q: Was it hard to balance out school during the shoot?
Williams: Oh yeah. I can't say that my grades didn't suffer. But I think we tried to make it as easy a transition as possible because I would go back and forth to school, and I live in San Francisco too so that was a big travel thing. It was an interesting experience. It's not something that's typical obviously, kids don't go back and forth from their school to a film set, but I'm in a very demanding school, so it was something that was necessary when I was a freshman.
Q: Were you actually doing homework on the set?
Williams: Oh yeah, you have to, it's a law. [There has been a lot of laughter coming from an adjacent room the whole time, but reight now it gets really loud]
Q: We always know what room your father is in at a junket. Is your father "on" at home a lot?
Williams: I've been saying this a lot, but it's not like there's a microphone on in our living room or a stage in our house. I think people expect him to be more active, and I think that would be very, very hard to deal with. I think we would all be a little more nuts than we already are, but I can't say it's a normal household. I can't honestly say that there aren't moments of craziness.
Q: Can you talk about working opposite actors as respected as Robin Williams and Anthony Hopkins?
Yelchin: I'm very lucky, obviously. It was quite an honor. I was just very happy to find out that they were both such great people, and the respect they have for the crew, which for me is the second most important thing about making a movie, respect for the process of making it. First of all, before anything, I was honored to do something I love so much with those who are the greatest at it. I think everybody's very lucky to have people like this.
Q: It seems like he's always the center of attention - is Robin Williams a generous actor?
Yelchin: I think he does what the scene calls for. There are times when there's no reason not to draw attention to yourself because it's a funny scene, you do whatever you want. And there are times when you don't need to do more than what's in the scene.
Q: I grew up in New York City, and we played stickball all the time, just like in the movie. Do you guys play stickball in L.A.?
Yelchin: We don't play stickball. I think we'd need a bat. We'd need something special in L.A. to play with. We'd need Nike to endorse our stickball game. We couldn't possibly play in somebody's back yard, even a school isn't sufficient. They'd have to build like Staples Center II for our stickball games.
Q: What's the status of Alpha Dog? Are you done shooting? Also, the guy it's about just got caught - has that changed things?
Yelchin: I have four days left, we took a huge break, possibly showing some stuff because he was caught, and then just because we haven't finished. I'm going to cut my hair again.
Q: What was the first film you saw that made a big impression on you?
Yelchin: There's kind of two films. One was Taxi Driver, just because it's my favorite movie and I still go 'wow' every time I watch it. And another was probably either 8 ½ or Amarcord. I don't even know if you can call those movies. What is that? Where does this come from? I talked to Donald Sutherland about Fellini and he said he's the worst person ever.
Q: If you could ask him any question what would it be?
Yelchin: I think I'd just look at him and not ask anything. I think I'd be quite content just standing in Fellini's presence.
Williams: I like foreign films, but an American film that made a big impression on me was Benny and Joon. That was the first film that I just fell in love with. I fell in love with how original the characters were, because I think those were as much the actors' characters as they were the movie's. How personal that movie was was what affected me the most, but I've been a foreign film fan for a while. I saw Amelie when it came out and that was just, I don't know, mind-blowing for me. He (Yelchin) made me see A Man and a Woman, which was good. Every different country has a different cinema and a different way of filming. Every different place has something different to offer and I think it's ignorant how people ignore a lot of it. It's very sad.