Quinto keen on exploring

Zachary Quinto

Actor Zachary Quinto thrives on trying different genres of acting as well as venturing into producing

Actor Zachary Quinto is determined to do it all, whether it is a money-spinning action franchise, a quirky television show or an award- winning off-Broadway play.

The star is best known for his work in science fiction - playing the villain Sylar on the hit television show Heroes (2006 - 2010), before taking over the role of Spock in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek films (2009 and 2013) - but he has always wanted to do a broad range of work.

It is no accident that his two biggest movies this year are polar opposites - the first is an action thriller, Hitman: Agent 47, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, and the second, the hotly anticipated Edward Snowden biopic by director Oliver Stone, due out in December.

"I love doing things that are completely different from the things I've done before," the 38-year-old tells Life and other press while promoting Hitman: Agent 47 in New York. "I think that any career worth its longevity has to be able to incorporate the idea of versatility."

Hence his expanding resume that swings between stage and screen, and rather successfully at that.

I love doing things that are completely different from the things I've done before. I think thatany career worth its longevity has to be able to incorporate the idea of versatility.

ZACHARY QUINTO, whose two biggest movies this year are polar opposites - action thriller Hitman: Agent 47 and an Edward Snowden biopic by director Oliver Stone

He won a 2013 Emmy nomination for his recurring role on the television series American Horror Story and took home a fistful of awards in 2011 after headlining an off-Broadway revival of Angels In America, a political drama about the 1980s Aids crisis.

If going from those roles to playing a genetically engineered assassin in the video game-inspired Hitman: Agent 47 seems an unlikely progression, he is happy to defend it.

"Building a career is a process of selectivity and cultivating a sense of balance. And the balance for me is between things that are maybe rooted in creativity more than commercial viability, and things rooted more in commercial viability than artistic pursuit.

"That said, I think there's a high level of artistry in this film," he says of Hitman: Agent 47, which co-stars Rupert Friend from the TV show Homeland (2011 - present).

Helmed by first-time director Aleksander Bach, the movie features a stylised look and action sequences that recall its source material, the Hitman video-game series. It is a reboot of the first adaptation of those games, the 2007 film Hitman starring Timothy Olyphant.

Quinto says of the new film, which was shot on location in Singapore and Berlin: "Visually and from an action perspective, it really accomplishes a lot and sets itself apart in interesting ways. I was fascinated by that early on, it's part of what made me come on board."

Doing blockbuster movies such as this makes it possible for an actor to pursue less lucrative projects, he adds.

"These kinds of films are the things that allow me to go do a play for a year. If this film works and becomes something that has its own trajectory, that allows me to turn around and go produce a movie for three months.

"I might otherwise have to scramble for a job. It gives me some space to breathe if it does well. And that's the gamble.


"It's all about instinct and balance and trying to make sure that you never get stuck. And that's my biggest thing - I just don't ever want to get stuck because of someone else's expectations."

He says his decision to set up his own production house, Before The Door, has given him even more creative autonomy.

The company has scored some major indie successes in recent years, including the acclaimed 2011 financial drama Margin Call, starring Kevin Spacey, and 2013's All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford, which many reviewers had praised as one of the best movies that year.

Being a producer "is inherently more empowering because a producer is a person on set who has more power than actors, for sure", says Quinto.

"I'm always interested in exploring different responsibilities and acting and producing is an example of that."

Still, he thinks of himself as a performer first and foremost: "My inherent nature is that of an actor, an artist, a creative person - that's how I see myself.

"But I also love the idea of the diversification and expansion of self and so the producing side of things was a way for me to do that and to have a hand in the stories that I'm putting out in the world, and not just as an actor."

As much as he may prize versatility, some of those stories he is producing are obviously more exciting than others.

He perks up noticeably when asked about his role as esteemed journalist Glenn Greenwald in the Snowden film.

The actor wanted to meet Greenwald - who worked with whistleblower Snowden to expose the American and British governments' secret surveillance programmes two years ago and won a Pulitzer Prize for his articles - but did not.

"I wish that I had and I hope that I will, but the exciting thing about Glenn is that there's no shortage of material for me to read and watch to learn about him, his mannerism and his perspective," he says.

"And in some ways, I feel like that served me well for this movie because I'm playing a version of Glenn that existed before all the attention that the Snowden thing heaped on him."

The drama will cover some of the same ground as the film Citizenfour, which won Best Documentary at the Oscars this year. And while Quinto says he is "not sure how much it will shift the debate or the dialogue about the issue, I hope it will continue it".

He also reveals that Snowden - who will be played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt - was involved in the movie. He says: "Ed was - from a distance and remotely, obviously - a part of overseeing what story was being told."

Another exciting aspect of that film for Quinto was getting to work with Stone.

"He's legendary - actually legendary," he says of the Oscar-winning director of Midnight Express (1978), Platoon (1986) and Born On The Fourth Of July (1989).

"I've been moved and inspired by his films since I was a kid, so to be able to collaborate with him and get to know him was incredibly rewarding. And I think this film, more than any he's made in recent years, is squarely in his wheelhouse. It's exactly the kind of film you want to see Oliver Stone direct."

Opportunities such as these are not something he takes for granted.

"I've been really grateful. When I was a kid and decided I wanted to become an actor, I only ever thought so far ahead. It was like, I just want to work," says Quinto, who is dating model Miles McMillan, 25.

"So to have moved beyond that and be in a place where I actually get to participate in the decision of what I do next - which is a luxury so many actors never get - I don't take that lightly. I try to be as grateful as I am ambitious."

•Hitman: Agent 47 opens in Singapore tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Quinto keen on exploring'. Print Edition | Subscribe