Zachary Quinto Pays it Forward with “The Chair”

Zachary QuintoOne screenplay. Two directors. And a film career could be born.

That’s the short version of The Chair, the upcoming docuseries on Starz.. Two young filmmakers are given the same script and must individually go through the process of making their film– with everything from decisions about craft services, choosing the right director of photography and casting.

If this sounds a little like the Ben Affleck and Matt Damon produced Project  Greenlight, which ran on HBO and Bravo in the early 2000s, then it’s no surprise that The Chair is Exec Produced by Chris Moore, who worked alongside Damon and Affleck on Greenlight. For The Chair, however, Moore is working with actor/producer Zachary Quinto and Quinto’s Before The Door Pictures, which has produced films like last year’s All Is Lost  with Robert Redford and 2011’s Margin Call.

Quinto sat down with TheBacklot recently to talk about the project and what he sees for his career moving forward. And, as he moves closer to his 40s, whether settling down with a husband and kids is in his future.

TheBacklot: You were obviously once at a point where you were wanting to break into the business. so is The Chair a way to kind of pay that back? Or pay it forward?

Zachary Quinto: That’s funny. I just used that very phrase. For me, and when I started my production company six years ago, that was one of the huge things that I really talked a lot about. I’ve had amazing opportunities, I’m in the position that I’m in because people recognized something that they chose to support and amplify and nurture, and I’m most grateful that I can do that for other people.

And the idea of “a rising tide lifts all boats” is something that I really used as a tenet of my company when we started. We’ve made six movies in the last six years and four of them were with first time feature directors– and the other two were with Jay Z, whose first feature we produced. So it is a big thing for me. I love nurturing new voices, I love giving them new opportunities to find themselves, and this is a prime opportunity for me to do that.

And you’re not a director, at least at this point.

ZQ: Not yet.

Do you have aspirations?

ZQ: I do.

Does doing a project like this educate you in a way?

ZQ: One hundred percent. And unfortunately I wasn’t able to be on set for both of these movies as much as I would like to be. I ended up getting a job that took me out of the country just as they were getting ready to start shooting. I was involved in a more remote way, but all of the experiences that I’ve had on set have taught me more and more about directing each time I see somebody else do it. And so watching these guys go through the process really gave me a lot of understanding about execution of style, point of view, perspective and understanding of the process, and I’m really grateful for that.

Starz, The Chair, Chris Moore, Shane Dawson, Anna Martemucci, Zachary Quinto,

At the TCA panel this month: Chris Moore, Shane Dawson , Anna Martemucci & Quinto (Getty)

For your film company– or maybe you as a viewer– what makes a good film in your eyes?

ZQ: That is a big question. The place where I always am most interested in starting is a place of character. I’m really interested in relationships, I’m really interested in the power dynamic or the interpersonal psychological dynamic between people. And then beyond that I’m interested in the integrity and the liberty with which a director is able to capture that visually. So that really turns then to cinematography and to finding the best way to bring those characters to life or to convey a certain feeling, to draw an audience in, in a way that compels them and makes them think and feel in a way that they wouldn’t in lesser hands. Yeah. I mean those are the things that I look for, I would say.

In the particular case of this show and these two filmmakers, when do you decide that they do need a little help and when do you decide, ‘you know, they need to figure this out for themselves?’ That can be a fine line.

ZQ: I think a lot of the show is them figuring it out for themselves. I think my job as a producer is to create an environment in which these filmmakers feel safe and protected and able to realize their own vision, but they need to understand what that vision is. So I was involved on the front end in a big way in development and reading their scripts, giving them notes, making suggestions. And then I wasn’t as involved during production. I sort of got more involved during postproduction after I would see cuts and give them notes on those cuts, but I wish I had been able to be on the ground more, be there on a daily basis.

But you know unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I have other lives to cultivate and other ambitions of my own that I need to pursue…my role as executive producer was a little bit more at arm’s length and that may have been different if I was available to be there every day.

Your experience as a producer with your film company, how has that affected your acting? I’m guessing it could get in the way of the acting process. Or in other ways, maybe it can actually help the process because you understand the production end.

ZQ: It helps me entirely. When I’m sitting around for 12 hours a day on a set as an actor who’s not a producer and I get frustrated– I just understand how it goes more. I understand what the components are, I understand what they need to get. I have more of an awareness when I’m at work, which I think is good.

The one negative that I would say is that being a producer has taught me how arbitrary the process of casting and putting a movie together can be. There’s basically a value that is assigned to every actor, a monetary value, in terms of what is this actor worth in overseas distribution or to this studio this actor is worth this much money, and its complete fucking bullshit. And it’s so often fueled by the wrong criteria, the wrong motivations– and it’s really demoralizing.

So when I’m trying to produce a movie, or put it together, and I come to the table with five ideas for amazing actors that I know personally, that I’ve worked with, that I think would slaughter these roles, and they just get dismissed out of hand because the particular studio executive or the particular financier doesn’t see it the way I see it…I mean, it’s so painful and it’s so unfair, and it’s so unreasonably arbitrary. I would say that’s the one negative, and I would never wish it on any actor.

And I actually have gotten to a point with my producing partners where I’ll say, ‘I will not go to financier meetings until I talk about actors and until you give me a list of 10 actors that I can then weigh in on. I know this person I can call them,’ or ‘I’m not interested in hearing actors being talked about and slandered and disrespected the way we are,’ and that’s hard. But I also feel grateful because it allows me to take things much less personally.

Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto

Hannah Ware and Quinto discussing the film Agent 47 at last weekend’s Comic Con event.

Sounds like having your own production company as well as the projects you’ve been involved with in the last five, six years does give you a license to do that.

ZQ: Yeah. A little bit. Certainly with stuff that I’m putting together and if there’s somebody that I really believe in and really need to go to bat for, I will. But I just feel like that’s the one thing that makes me feel like ‘oh, I wish I didn’t need to know that.’

In maybe the last decade of your career, do you see a through-line in your roles? I know in the beginning an actor is just trying to get work. Spock, Heroes, and I saw you in The Glass Menagerie on Broadway. Is there a through line for those things?

ZQ: Yeah. If you look at the characters that I play, that I’m probably most identified with, which would be Spock, Sylar [on Heroes], maybe [Dr.] Thredson on American Horror Story. Those are all characters that have a really contained, dualistic internal life. So I think there’s a duality to the characters that I played and an internal quietude in them that I’m really trying to break away from.

Playing the role of Tom in The Glass Menagerie was something that allowed me to do that in a very big way. A couple of the movies that I’m putting together for myself with my company right now are really moving in that direction. I want to break out. If someone has an expectation of me I want to defy it. If I have an expectation of myself, I want to defy it. I want to do as much and as varied work as I can do and now that I’ve had a little bit of experience and have a little more ground under my feet I’m really working to cultivate that for myself.

Any plans to get back on Broadway anytime soon?

ZQ: I’ll be back there. You’ll get to see me again. For sure.

Matt Bomer, Zachary Quinto

Did the sight of Matt Bomer with Quinto at this year’s Tonys incite a gay gasp in anyone else? (Getty)

You’re in your late thirties now. Is forty something you’re worried about or thinking about?

ZQ: I’m thinking about it. I’m not worried about it. I just turned 37. I’m grateful for the experience of age. I try to be really connected to this journey of life that we’re all on and, obviously, the older we get the clearer it becomes that it doesn’t last forever. And I’m really working on celebrating and being grateful and really making positive choices in my life to do good work and be a good person and appreciate everything that I have.

It’s easy to look at what you don’t have. It’s easy, I think, especially in this business to feel like there’s always more and what I’m trying to remind myself is, there may be always more but I have a lot and I’m really, really grateful for it. And I think that’s what I want to try to encourage in myself as I hurdle toward the big 40.

If you have a personal bucket list, is marriage and kids on it? Is that something you see for yourself?

ZQ: It’s so funny. I’m going to get in so much trouble for saying this, but I’ve always really wanted to have a kid but now all of my friends have kids and I’ll come in from a trip or hang out with my friends and their kids. I’m thrilled to hang out with them, but by the time they’re ready to go home I’m so ready for them to go home. I’m kind of like, ‘I need to re-evaluate this. I don’t know.’ I feel like one day at a time. I’m open to any of it, but I’m not locked into any of it either. I feel like it will all unfold as it’s meant to. The balance is delicate.

The Chair premieres September 6th on Starz. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, enter the #ImInTheChair contest. For more on Quinto, follow him on Twitter and the Before The Door Pictures website.