If Zachary Quinto was looking for a role that offered something more provocative than what he’s gotten to play as Spock, then The Slap will definitely make a mark.
Adapted from the 2008 novel by author Christos Tsioklas and the eight-episode Australian television drama it inspired, the eight-episode NBC miniseries boasts an impressive pedigree of talent – Quinto, Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Melissa George and Brian Cox, for starters – and a hot-button premise: At a barbeque, one of the guests (Quinto) disciplines a misbehaving child when his parents fail to intervene, slapping him across the face.
Quinto joined a group of reporters at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour to talk about The Slap and other projects on his slate, including a quick word on that third Star Trek film.
How does Justin Lin directing the next Star Trek film change things? Is there a different vibe?
Zachary Quinto: I have no idea – I haven’t talked to him yet. My mind isn’t there yet, but I’m excited to know that they have somebody that they are excited about. And I’m sure they wouldn’t choose anybody less than stellar, so I’m excited.
Is there any particular direction or tone you’d like to see your character take this time?
No. I’m focusing on other things until I know exactly when and where and what we’re doing.
Were there any qualms about taking on The Slap, given your role’s key contributor to the story’s flashpoint moment?
No. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to do this. I’ve known [writer] Robbie [Baitz] for years – big admirer of his work. And I was happy to come back to NBC in this capacity. It feels, to me, in a full circle way, something that I could really sink my teeth into … I’m drawn to things that’s invite an audience in, and light a little bit of a fire to generate some discourse, dialogue, debate. And it doesn’t give the audience the answer. There’s no clear-cut point of view with this story, and I like that. I like to provoke, and I like to hold a mirror up to the audience. And I like for them to take responsibility for their feelings and their thoughts and their beliefs.
What was it like to be at the center of the big moment that fuels the whole series?
It’s only the center of the controversy because it’s the inciting incident, but there’s so many other things that are happening, and there are so many other levels of complexity in each of these characters that they all have their own epicenter of disaster in their lives. And the slap might seem like the most controversial action here, but it’s not necessarily. There’s some other really complicated, emotional and behavioral decisions that these characters make.
There’s a tendency in TV to use an actor’s persona in different series, but with you, you’ve had an opportunity to be more of a chameleon. How have you been able to forge that?
I really make declarations about what I want to do based on what I’ve done. So for me, it was like the opportunity to do Heroes on NBC and have this very archetypal, villainous, supernatural genre world and character was a great thing, and it sent me on this kind of trajectory which was then reinforced to a certain degree by playing Spock. And then I started to say, “OK, I want to get away from the genre landscape,” so I started to cultivate opportunities like Margin Call. And then American Horror Story brought me back to that a little bit. So I was like, “All right.” It’s an ebb and a flow for me.
Obviously, Harry is arguably the villain of this series, but in a very human way. So for me, it was about getting into a world that was not elevated or supernatural or science fiction. This is a very human world. And so now that I’ve had the opportunity do that, I feel a sense of closure on this sort of villainous aspect of my persona which I’ve lent to these characters that have made an impact on my career and on the audiences of these shows and these films and things. So I’m really looking forward to a future of varied opportunities. Some lighter fare.
You talked about wanting to do something that provoked people. You have this project and I Am Michael, with James Franco playing a gay man turned homophobic Christian pastor, which also seems like it will polarize people.
In the same way, I Am Michael is an example of a film that doesn’t tell the audience how to feel. So I think the parallel is that it invites you in. It presents you with drama and conflict and emotion, and then it sends you on your way to form your own opinion about something. And all of the movies that we’ve produced with J.C. Chandor do the same thing – A Most Violent Year, which is in theaters right now, isn’t telling people how to feel about Morales; it’s just showing them the journey that he takes that he believes is the one he needs in order to feel successful and fulfilled as a human being.
What did Hitman: Agent 47 bring to you as an actor?
We shot that movie primarily in Berlin, which is arguably my favorite city in the world. So the fact that I got to work on something that was really dynamic and exciting and also be in this place that is really unique and inspiring to me was probably the coolest part of that experience.
As a producer, are you looking at developing more projects for television?
Absolutely, yeah. We have a number of things in development right now, and just finding the right homes for them, and I think it’s something that we did the series called The Chair, which is a documentary series that aired on Starz this year. That was my company’s show. And that’s not fictional narrative storytelling, but it was our primary foray into TV thus far, and it whet our appetite to be a little more involved in narrative structure.
Do you want to direct, too?
I do, yeah. I’m looking for – nothing specific. I’m looking for a style that I’m looking at with an eye as a director. So I’m trying to find the right project. I’ve got to figure out what I want to say. I have ideas. I’m working all that stuff.
Do you think you’ll get back to American Horror Story at some point?
I don’t think so. There’s certainly no plans as of now. But we’ll see.
The Slap premieres Feb.12 on NBC.
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