Contemporary social themes were always the bread and butter of TV’s Star Trek. This is the show, advocates frequently say, that had the first interracial kiss on American TV, that addressed anything from third-world exploitation to eugenics. So there’s some irony to the fact that JJ Abrams’ movie reboot of the Star Trek series features in the role of the only alien on the Starship Enterprise an out-and-proud gay activist.
Zachary Quinto, 35, was chosen to play Mr Spock alongside the role’s originator, Leonard Nimoy, after rising to fame in TV’s Heroes. Released in 2009, Star Trek was a smash. More critical acclaim for Quinto followed in 2011's taut financial thriller Margin Call.
Then in October of that year, he publicly came out of the closet. The decision wasn't rehearsed, cleared with his people or planned. He decided to do so the night before in an interview with New York magazine. Quinto said the decision was affected by a prominent suicide case in the US where a bisexual teenager had taken his own life after protracted bullying.
In hindsight, one wonders if there wasn't more to the role of Spock than initially appeared. He’s an outsider if ever there was one. Did Quinto relate? “No, I don’t think it has anything to do with it,” he denies to Time Out in Los Angeles. But he does mention the fact that Star Trek is the ultimate statement for diversity. “This franchise is built on a foundation of inclusiveness and camaraderie and acceptance and working together for the greater good,” he says.
With Star Trek, Abrams – since named as the custodian of another famed science fiction saga – made a blockbuster that was first and foremost about people. Specifically, two friends finding their dynamic. We’re wondering what Spock’s arc will be in Star Trek Into Darkness?
“Spock's learning the lesson of how to be a friend,” Quinto says. “He’s confronted with a series of situations that are rooted in emotional depth. Because of his sensitivity and intelligence he has no choice but to absorb that a little bit, and I think it has a natural softening effect.”
Spock must soften later in the movie, then. Prior to meeting Quinto Time Out had been treated to the opening minutes of the new movie. As Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) traverse the forest of an alien planet pursued by the primitive locals, Spock airdrops into a nearby volcano to try and avert planetary catastrophe. When Spock's tether breaks and he finds himself stranded, he quite calmly orders the rest of the crew to collect Kirk and McCoy and get to a safe distance, leaving him. “Spock is committed to the rules, even to the point where he's willing to sacrifice his life,” is how Quinto puts it.
Spock’s utilitarian ideas dovetail nicely with Quinto’s. The actor has supported the Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Project, both aiming to prevent gay youth suicide, and campaigned for Obama on behalf of LGBT Americans. “I think all of us in this industry can encourage dialogue and discourse about socially and politically relevant topics,” he says. “It’s incumbent upon us to do it to a certain extent.
“It’s really interesting when actors, directors or people in the public eye take flack for adopting a position. As citizens of the world we have a responsibility to ourselves and one another to engage each other in conversations about what direction we're going in collectively. Just because I can talk to more people at any given time, doesn't make it any less important or less appropriate for me to do it.”
An attitude to be applauded as highly logical.
Star Trek Into Darkness screens from Thu May 9
Top five actor activists
Angelina Jolie has met with refugees in more than 30 countries; visted Darfur, Chad, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya to draw attention to local crises; and has founded several charities.
George Clooney is active with the Not On Our Watch Project and conceived the Satellite Sentinel Project, both of which focus global attention on mass atrocities.
Sean Penn has campaigned against George W Bush, lent support to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and personally helped rescue Hurricane Katrina victims.
Brigitte Bardot has tirelessly promoted animal rights since her retirement from movies in 1973 and has her own animal welfare foundation.
Edward Norton led a contingent of stars signing Greenpeace’s petition for the creation of a global sanctuary around the North Pole last year.