Star Trek fans around the globe surely smiled when word spread that the veteran actor Peter Weller had signed on to co-star in Star Trek Into Darkness. After all, he’s a genre favorite, with credits including Of Unknown Origin, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, RoboCop, Leviathan, RoboCop 2, Naked Lunch, Screamers, Odyssey 5, Prey and Fringe. And, of course, he’d previously ventured into the Star Trek universe with his appearances as the xenophobic figure John Frederick Paxton in the Enterprise episodes “Demons” and “Terra Prime.”
In fact, more than a few fans initially thought that his then-unrevealed character in Star Trek Into Darkness might somehow be related to Paxton. Of course, Weller was actually playing Admiral Alexander Marcus, the Starfleet leader who, among other things, was the father of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), the mentor of Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the man whose actions drove Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) to seek vengeance, and the zealot who was willing to let the Enterprise and her crew perish in order to both more fully militarize Starfleet and instigate a war with the Klingons. StarTrek.com caught up with the effusive actor-director Weller for a candid, extensive and spoiler-filled interview. Below is part one, and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two; part two actually has all the spoilers.
How aware were you of the original Star Trek back in the day?
WELLER: Listen, I’ve got to tell you honestly, other than Leonard Nimoy being one of the first friends I ever had in the industry – my third gig ever was a play was a play Leonard and I did under Otto Preminger – I was never a sci-fi fan. I’d hardly ever watched Star Trek, though I admired the intelligence of it. I was more of a cop-thriller kind of a guy. The only reason I did Enterprise, actually, was because Manny Coto, who I’d worked with on Odyssey 5, bugged me and bugged me and bugged me to do that two-part show. He seduced me by saying, “It’s the last two-parter. Why don’t you do it as an homage to Leonard Nimoy.” I thought, “OK.” And J.J. Abrams hired me in a parking lot. I’d loved Star Trek (2009). I went to see it because people told me it wasn’t so much about the science fiction as it was a story about two friends and how these friends, the crew, came to be. So, again, being honest with you, I’d read a little bit of Philip K. Dick, but I’d never read Bradbury or Asimov. My favorite sci-fi film in the world is The Day The Earth Stood Still, because I thought Robert Wise did a genius job with that. People identify me with sci-fi because they see Buckaroo Banzai and Screamers and some other things that have sci-fi in them, but it’s not the sci-fi that got me involved in those projects.
Can you please elaborate on your comment about Abrams asking you, in a parking lot, to be in Star Trek Into Darkness?
WELLER: It’s a remarkable story. My wife and I had a huge argument when we were engaged about registering. Registering is going shopping to let people know what you need at a store. We were getting married in a bit Catholic ceremony in Italy, and I was dealing with all this bureaucracy, going through the Catholic Archdiocese, the Vatican and so forth, and all the civil paperwork. My deal was I didn’t want get into all the things like flowers, paper cloths, colors, music, blah, blah, blah, but my fiancé sort of conned me into coming with her to register. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t want to be shopping. So I had sort of a testosterone meltdown. We can laugh about it now, but I had this nutty thing in the car. I got out of the car and…
Let me go back a step. I was finishing a Ph.D in Italian Renaissance Art History at UCLA and I’d put aside six months to finish it when I got an offer to do Fringe, to do a one-off episode of the show. I don’t really do one-off episodes of anything. I did a couple of them, like Psych, but they’re not really interesting to me. I’ll do long arcs, but, not to be a snob, but the work of doing one episode doesn’t really turn me on. I’d thrown the script in the trash can. I came home and my wife was crying, saying, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do this.” It’s about this guy who has an argument with his wife. He gets out of the car and the woman dies in a car wreck. I thought, “Come on, nobody wrote that. That’s too much like us, except that nobody died, thank God.” I read it and I start crying. So I agreed to do it.
Later, you were at Bad Robot to meet with (Bad Robot executive) Kathy Lingg…
WELLER: I’ve been directing a lot of TV over the past few years. I’ve been directing Longmire and Sons of Anarchy, and she really started my TV directing career back at Paramount. So we talked about me directing something (for Bad Robot). I was talking to her and she said, “We all loved you in your episode of Fringe. It was unbelievable.” I left the meeting and was walking into the parking lot and I hear this voice say, “Hey, Peter.” I turn around and I have no idea what J.J. looks like. It looked like a fan standing there. I said, “Yeah?” He said, “I’m J.J.” So I told him the story I just told you. We hugged and kissed and I go home. Four hours later my agent calls and says, “Bad Robot wants to hire you.” I said, “Great, for what show?” I thought they wanted me to direct something. My agent said, “It’s not to direct. It’s to act.” I said, “Act in what?” He said, “Well, J.J. is cranking up to do a second Star Trek and he wants you to play a major part in it, one of the nine major leads.” I said, “OK. Just tell them OK.” My agent said, “Don’t you want to know how much money it is?” I said, “No, I don’t care how much money it is.” He said, “Well, you usually do.” He said, “Don’t you want to know what it’s about, what it is?” I said, “No. I don’t care. If a guy like J.J. follows me in a parking lot, I’m in. It doesn’t matter what it is.” And that was it.
Visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two of our exclusive conversation with Peter Weller.
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