EXCLUSIVE: Peter Weller Talks Star Trek Into Darkness
Peter Weller Talks Star Trek Into Darkness, on Blu-ray and DVD September 10
While the primary cast of 2009's Star Trek reprised their roles for this summer's sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, there were several new characters added. One of them was Peter Weller's Admiral Marcus, the father of Alice Eve's Carol Marcus, who plays a pivotal role in this sci-fi action-thriller, debuting on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD September 10th. I recently had the chance to speak with the talented actor over the phone, where he laid out the amazing story about how he landed this role, his thoughts on the RoboCop remake, his dual role as star and director on Season 6 of Sons of Anarchy, and more.
J.J. Abrams is known for how secretive his films are, especially before and during production. When you were approached to play Marcus, was there a lot you knew about this character?
Peter Weller: I was told everything about it, man. This is one of the great stories of my life. I was hired by J.J. in a parking lot. I was meeting with Bad Robot people to direct, because what I mostly do now is direct a lot of television. I was meeting to direct an episode of Alcatraz. I was recommended over there by Greg Yaitanes, a real wonderful producer-director for House. I'm walking outside, thinking the meeting went rather well, and a guy says 'Peter?' I turn around and I had no idea what J.J. Abrams looked like. I said, 'Yeah?' He said, 'It's J.J.. I heard you were in the building, and I wanted to come down and say hello.' We started talking... let me tell you this first, because it bears telling.
My wife and I had been together for 17 years, been married for six. This will bring you around to J.J.. We got married in front of like 530 people in Italy, and it took one year of Catholic and civic bureaucracy to get married in a Catholic church in Italy, through the Vatican and the archdiocese in Beverly Hills. I made a deal with my fiancee that I would deal with this bureaucracy, every day I'd get up and do this, but I didn't want to hear any questions about colors, tablecloths, flowers, music. You go do that. So, I'm up every morning, man, for one year, doing this stuff. Two months before the wedding, she says we have to go register, sign up for gifts at some department store. I said we were giving the gifts to a school foundation in Italy. She said, no, the old people want to give gifts and we have to register. She said it's going to be two hours in Beverly Hills in a glass store. Brian, by the fifth hour, I wanted to break every f---ing glass in the place, bomb Beverly Hills. I got into the car and it felt like my brain was seeping out of my ears, man. I kept saying, 'This is not the deal, this is not the deal.' I get out of the car and go into my cigar club, and my friends all said that I look white. Thank God I have a great mother-in-law, because she told my wife, 'Honey, you don't take men shopping, because all they do is they act up like five-year-old boys. It's not in their nature.'
OK, cut to, I was finishing a PhD oral presentation a few years ago, and I get offered an episode of Fringe. I don't just act in one-off episodes of television, I love directing or playing some long arc. One-offs, you're just a cog in the wheel. I threw this thing in the trash can, and I came home and my wife is reading it and weeping. She said, 'You have to do this, you have to do this.' It's an episode of Fringe where a guy goes back in time to try to save his fiancee. They had an argument in the car - ready for this - on the way to register, and when she got out of the car, she died. I said, 'Give me that.' I take it, I read this thing, and it turns out he's not going back in time to save her, he's going back in time to die with her. I'm weeping at the end of this thing, so I said I've got to do this.
Jump to, I'm in the parking lot with J.J., and he says that episode of Fringe was his favorite, and he goes on and on about it. I told J.J. this story that I told you, and we both get weepy and hug and say that's the most unbelievable thing. Four hours later, my agent calls me up and says, 'Bad Robot called and they're making you an offer.' I said, 'Great, to direct what?' He said, 'Not that, it's to be one of the stars of Star Trek. This is four hours later. I said, 'Well, tell them I'm in.' My agent says, 'Well, we don't know what the money is.' I said, 'Look, the guy had me in the parking lot. Just tell them I'm in.' He said, 'You don't know what the part is. You don't know anything about it.' It doesn't matter, just call them back and say Weller's in. The next day, they call back and say I'm in, but Bryan Burk, J.J.'s partner, wants to call you and tell you about the thing. He calls, and 30 seconds later, J.J. comes on and spends 50 minutes on the phone, telling me every scene in the movie. He was like a kid. He was talking like this, 'And then you know what happens?' like a five-year-old. He's got this enthusiasm. He's just magical. He's a magical guy. I'm hanging onto every word, and he gets to the end of the movie and goes, 'You should come here and read it for yourself.' I said, 'J.J. I've never had a producer or director call me up and tell me the whole movie on the phone. I've never had that. I don't have to read it.' It was the best pitch I've ever heard. That is the miraculous story of me being a part of Star Trek Into Darkness.
Subsequently, the whole thing, right down to the opening, the whole thing has been one of the cornerstones of my life. It's like Disneyland, the whole thing, the acting of it, the directing of it, the sets, everything. Let me tell you another little story. The House episode finally came through, and overlapped on two days I had to shoot with J.J., my days. Everyone said do not mess with Paramount and J.J., just say no to House. My wonderful wife who started this whole ball rolling, she said, 'J.J. is a mensch, what do you have to lose?' I went to J.J. and said, 'I met with you guys under the auspices of directing, and House came through with this major climactic episode.' I said my priority is with you and Paramount, but the House thing came through and is there any way I could do it? They said, 'Give us 24 hours.' 24 hours later, they said they'd move my days. I said they have to sign me out, because I'm under contract, and they said, 'No problem.' They signed me out, still paying me, to go direct House. That is never done, Brian. A $240 million movie does not sign a major actor out to go do another gig, they just don't do it. It's unbelievable. I can go on, and on and on about this. Three days into this thing and I thought this was just too good to believe. This guy is just too good to believe. I said, 'Come on, when does the other shoe drop?' Bruce Greenwood said to me, 'Listen, man, it doesn't. This is as good as movie-making, in all of its aspects, creative, congenial, camaraderie, gets.' And, my God, he was absolutely right.
It seemed that Marcus' arc, and what he did, he thought was for the greater good, even though he took some extreme measures. Were there any people you looked to, maybe not for inspiration, but reference, as to the actions he takes and his mindset?
Peter Weller There were a couple of amazing generals who saw a war coming, who were wrong. I mean, the most noted one was Curtis Lemay and the Cuban Missile Crisis. He did an interview in 1991 before he died and said we should have bombed Moscow. It was insanity. There were other ideas, first-strike guys, who were right about a lot of things, like Patton in Sicily. There were archetypes for me, and the theories of Curtis Lemay, are right, the idea that a war of aggression was coming. They're not going to negotiate, they're not people of grace, we do need a weapon of destruction. But, had Kirk not listened to the razzmatazz of Khan, who by the way, everyone in the middle of the movie believes he's some kind of peacemaker and a holier than thou dude, had he not done what Marcus said, then that would have been the end of Khan and his cronies. There's a correctness in Marcus. Marcus is right all along.
I read that (screenwriters) Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman created Marcus as a nod to Hong Kong cinema, a character who brings the hero and the villain together. I thought that was really intriguing. It also helps that you have some of the best lines in the movie as well (Laughs).
Peter Weller I do have some of the best lines in the movie. I just really loved how they struck that character. They made him a multi-faceted human being with a daughter. It was great.
Peter Weller OK, first off, I don't know anything about the RoboCop remake. I wish them well. I think they're up against it, because I think Robocop 1, if I do say so myself, is a genius impression and a non-ephemeral film about the rip-off of progress. You can take any myth you want out of it, and it's also got the genius of (original director) Paul Verhoeven and the writing in it. I think it's a one-off, man. I wish these guys well, but I don't know. As far as Barosky goes, Sons of Anarchy sort of owns me. I'm committed to (series creator) Kurt Sutter and FX. I love that show. It's not for the faint of heart. The extras are all real Hell's Angels and Bloods and Crips, and the actors are all gifted and creative. Kurt said, 'Do me a favor and play this guy,' who is an ex-cop and now sort of a shopmaker on the docks of Stockton. He gets caught up in a bad thing with child killings and a very heavy district attorney. The arc is going great, and it's really fun to direct myself. As Clint Eastwood said, I think it was Clint Eastwood, 'it's just one less person to talk to.' The Barosky part is thrilling, but directing Sons of Anarchy is the most thrilling thing ever. You have to have pretty thick skin to walk onto that show. A show takes on its own temperament, a television show. That show is violent, and subsequently the turmoil in Sons of Anarchy is heavy. There are no primadonnas. There's none of that. The people have very heavy ideas about what they should be doing, and they are very opinionated, and as a director, you truly have to listen to everybody and sift through it.
Great. That's my time, Peter. Thanks so much. It was a real pleasure.
Peter Weller Yeah. It was my pleasure, Brian.