Interview: J.J. Abrams, Simon Pegg, and Michael Giacchino Talk ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ & More

By September 11, 2013
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Last night, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Blu-ray release party of Star Trek Into Darkness, which took place at the California Science Center in Los Angeles under the now-decommissioned space shuttle Endeavour. I also had the chance to speak with director J.J. Abrams, composer Michael Giacchino, and actor Simon Pegg as they walked the red carpet, and even though I only had a couple of minutes with each person, I’m happy with the results.

Giacchino

Giacchino has become one of the most recognizable and popular composers in the industry, doing incredible work in film, TV, and video games and winning an Academy Award for his work on Pixar’s Up. I spoke to him about the scores he’s created for original properties and asked if he felt any added pressure when he stepped into a franchise like Mission: Impossible or Star Trek to really nail the score:

“The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. It’s not from anyone outside of this. If you think about Mission: Impossible, I love that theme so much and I love Lalo Schifrin and his music, so it was more about, ‘I don’t want to disappoint Lalo.’ Or even with Star Trek, I don’t want to disappoint the fans, but I can’t also repeat what was already done. So there are those kinds of feelings you kind of go with, but in the end you just have to go with, ‘what are we making here? What should our movie sound like?’ and you have to sort of let go of those things.”

I wondered if working on this sequel was a bit more freeing in regards to already getting over the hump of fan expectations:

“Absolutely. The hard work had been done as far as figuring out what is the sound, what is our theme, and now it’s just building on top of that. It’s like having your framework done, and now we can actually start dressing it up in whatever color we wanted it to be.”

For Giacchino, was there a specific moment in the movie in which the visuals and the music meshed more perfectly than anywhere else?

“There are a lot of scenes in the movie that I felt that way about, but I love the space jump scene. That whole sequence was so much fun to do because that felt like everything you want out of a movie. The tension, the comedy, everything was going perfectly at the same time. Also, you had the bad guy working with good guy and intertwining both Kirk’s theme and Khan’s theme, so for me, I really loved working on that sequence.”

My favorite work Giacchino has done so far is composing the music for “Lost,” and one of the coolest events I’ve been to since moving to L.A. was “Lost Live” in 2010. He conducted the UCLA orchestra and they played select songs from the series, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse introduced almost the entire cast on stage, and they aired the penultimate episode of the series five days before its U.S. premiere date. Being a huge “Lost” fan and having had such a great time at the first “Lost Live” show, I asked if he planned on doing another one any time soon:

“Yes. We are going to do one. We’re actually in the middle of working it out right now. We have the anniversary coming up. I don’t know where or what, but yes – we will do one.”

Awesome news. Trust me, if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll want to make sure to be there.

STID Pegg

I’d never had the pleasure of meeting Simon Pegg before, but he’s every bit as nice as you’d imagine. I was literally the last reporter on the red carpet line, but Pegg didn’t seem flustered or perturbed by the time he reached me; he shook my hand, gave thoughtful answers to my questions, and was a total pro. I first asked him if he felt the same sense of freedom that Giacchino felt working on this sequel:

“Yeah, it was nice. We’d done the legwork in terms of re-establishing the characters and we’d been accepted by the larger audience. They permitted us to come back and be those characters again, so yes, it was like, ‘Great, now we can run with this.’ And that was enormous fun. Then again, we didn’t relax. We wanted to still test ourselves and make sure that we kept good on our promise.”

In Abrams’ first Star Trek, Pegg’s Scotty character doesn’t show up until about halfway through the film, so I asked him about the differences in working on the two films since he was there for much longer during the second go-around:

“I was on the film for five months, and on the first film I was on for about four weeks. So it was great to be there from the beginning and there at the very end. With the first film, each character gets introduced in their own [scene], and Scotty happened to be the last one and it was fun doing that because in the story, you’re thinking ‘Where’s Scotty?’ and he eventually gets there. As an actor, I came into the shoot to an already-existing family of people who were waiting for me. So that was interesting. Being on this one from the very top to the very end, that was great. I love these guys, I love hanging out. They’re a great bunch.”

And even though I didn’t love The World’s End as much as Pegg’s previous collaborations with director Edgar Wright and co-star Nick Frost, I had to ask if they’ve talked about doing any new projects together. “Yeah, of course.” Any ideas batting around? “Yep. Yep.” Anything he could mention? “Nothing I would say,” he said with a smile. We laughed. Oh well – I had to ask.

Abrams

While many of the lower level celebrities practically flew through the press line, skipping people left and right, director J.J. Abrams made sure to speak to every single person and gave us a couple minutes to ask whatever was on our minds. Well, except for one thing. As Abrams approached the end of the line, his publicist leaned in and asked me to refrain from asking Star Wars questions; it was a fair request, considering we were there to talk about Star Trek Into Darkness. So if you’re looking for Star Wars scoops, you’ll have to go elsewhere, but I did manage to speak with Abrams about a few other things, including his famous “mystery box” mentality. First up, if he had to choose one particular element of Star Trek that convinced him to return to direct this sequel, what was it?

“It was the cast originally, because I just wanted to work with them again. But then we started talking about what the story would be, I was just getting very excited about the possibilities of doing – the idea of being able to bring Khan back. The idea of this black stealth version of the Enterprise was interesting to me. The idea of doing a chase scene in San Francisco. The idea of having a future San Francisco. It was a bunch of elements.”

On a project of this magnitude, when there’s so much pressure on the filmmaker to deliver a successful final product and so much money at stake, I wondered how much room Abrams had to experiment and try new things:

“I would argue, honestly, an incredible amount. We have crazy limits all the time on every movie, and you always think, ‘Oh, it’s got a big budget and therefore…’ you know. But honestly, the ability to say, ‘You know what would be really cool?’ and then figure out a way to make it happen, I don’t think I can imagine a more wide open opportunity than this. Part of the fun of this movie was being able to do that time and again – even last minute stuff, we were able to pull off.”

Since Abrams has become inextricably tied to the concept of the “mystery box” after his TED Talk and issue of Wired, I had to know how much of that concept the director felt defined his work, for better or worse:

“I think people might misread the mystery box thing as some kind of approach I take to making stories. It was really a deconstruction of what that mystery box – which is simply a mystery box that I haven’t opened that has magic in it – into how the idea of the box meaning the movie theater and what you might see, what you hope to see. That feeling of anticipation. What the TV, what the computer is when you’re going to either watch something or write something. What might be inside that thing, either as a point of creation or as a point of consuming entertainment? So I don’t ever look at a story and go, ‘Wait, wait. Stop everyone. Stop for a minute. Take the mystery box approach.’ [Laughs] I don’t think of the mystery box as a kind of format or a formula, but I do feel like anyone, any story you tell, or any story you watch that you like, makes you lean in and ask questions. That is simply a result of compelling moments that don’t have all the answers in front of you that make you want the answers. There’s nothing worse than going to see a movie where exposition is given about something that you don’t care about, and you just feel like, ‘Ugh. Now I’m being told, now I’m supposed to feel this.’ And it’s not an experience, but an exercise in being frustrated by bad storytelling.”

After thanking J.J. for “Lost” (“Oh, that’s sweet of you. I’ll tell Damon and Carlton you said so.”) and thanking him for his time, it was off to the party, where we ate Trek-themed ice cream (the best flavor was called “Starchip Enterprise”) and drank vodka slush drinks frozen with liquid nitrogen (not kidding). I snapped a few photos of the props they had on display, and you can check those out below. Special thanks to Alan at M80 and Kyle from Paramount for the invite and for going out of their way to help me secure these interviews.

STID Alice

Random shot of Alice Eve (“Carol Marcus”) on the red – er, white – carpet.

STID Props 1

STID Props 2

STID Endeavour 2

Star Trek Into Darkness is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download now.

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Ben is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured at ScreenRant.com, FirstShowing.net, MySpace.com, GeekTyrant.com, and many more sites across the web. Some of his favorite movies include The Rocketeer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Tombstone, Lucky Number Slevin, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Collateral, Double Indemnity, Back to the Future and The Prestige. Follow him on Twitter: @BenPears.