The ''Star Trek'' actor, up for an Emmy on Sept. 22, is boldly going where few action-movie stars have gone before: to Broadway, for a revivial of Tennessee Williams' ''The Glass Menagerie''

By Adam Markovitz
Updated August 30, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

There’s an unwritten playbook — a trove of conventional wisdom stored in the minds of publicists, agents, and actors — for what a rising star should do in Hollywood. He should land a juicy role in a big franchise, make a name for himself working with A-list directors, and parlay that fame into awards-caliber roles, maybe even on a prestige TV network. At 36, Zachary Quinto has done all of these things, starring as Spock in J.J. Abrams’ megahit Star Trek franchise and earning his first Emmy nomination this year for his turn as a murderer on FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum. But the playbook also has plenty of don’ts, like wasting valuable time on low-publicity endeavors such as theater, turning down starring roles for ensemble parts, and moving away from Los Angeles, where careers are made over poolside drinks.

Quinto is doing all of these things, too. The actor recently rented out his L.A. house, where he’s lived for 15 years, to relocate to NYC. He told his agent to find him plays, putting his film and TV career on pause. And he’ll soon make his Broadway debut in a revival of the Tennessee Williams classic The Glass Menagerie, which starts previews on Sept. 5 before opening on Sept. 26. For Quinto, who studied drama at Carnegie Mellon and appeared in a 2010 Off Broadway production of Angels in America, the show isn’t a sidestep from his film-career momentum; it’s part of his master plan to chase creative challenges wherever they appear. ”Star Trek was my first movie. Ever. So I have this weird reverse…. Usually people do plays on Broadway or independent films for a couple of years and then get noticed and build toward the kind of experiences that I started with,” says the actor, fiddling with one of the eight bracelets — a hair tie, a metal bangle, an elastic band — that he sports along with a baseball cap and jeans. ”I think doing this play is striking while the iron is hot.”

According to Abrams, Quinto’s wide-ranging résumé is proof of how much the actor cares about his work. ”I think that what could be construed as odd selectivity or overthinking his film roles is truly just good taste,” says the director. ”He reminds me of an old-school actor, someone who is less of a personality or attention whore, but more someone who brings other souls to life.”

In The Glass Menagerie, Quinto plays Tom Wingfield, the narrator and Williams avatar who presides over a caustic drama about the shattered dreams of a Southern mother (24’s Cherry Jones) and her unwed daughter (two-time Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger). Director John Tiffany, who first staged the production last winter in Cambridge, Mass., specifically sought out Quinto to play Tom after seeing the actor’s work in Angels in America, Star Trek, and NBC’s Heroes. ”There’s a kind of dark brooding intensity to him and his performances,” says Tiffany. ”It’s exactly what I wanted to capture in Tom.”

That intensity isn’t just for show. Ask Quinto about Williams’ appeal and he seems to lose himself in theater-geek reverie. ”The effortless poeticism. His language. His ability to capture a feeling, to articulate a feeling and put it into words, is almost unparalleled,” he says, lowering his formidable brow to drive his point home. ”Tennessee brought in this languid poetry that is so opulent and beautiful and yet so brutal. It’s unrelenting. Because he was unrelenting. He was an unrelenting seeker of himself.”

So is Quinto, judging by the passionate way he talks about his artistic and professional choices, including his decision to flout one of Hollywood’s old cardinal rules by coming out in 2011. ”When I was growing up, there was no one in a movie the size or scale of Star Trek who was openly gay,” says Quinto, who hopes his decision will help other actors — but not define his own career. ”It really shouldn’t be a f—ing issue, you know what I mean? I understand people’s interest in having a conversation with me about it, but I also feel like, ‘Let’s stop having that conversation and just have the conversation about how we can continue to encourage the evolution and the change that’s already brought us so far.”’

And as for the playbook? ”I feel like the rules don’t really apply to the journey that I’ve taken,” he says. ”And I’m interested in configuring them for myself.”

5 More Starry New Fall Shows

After Midnight, Broadway
Fantasia Barrino and Dulé Hill (Psych) star in a song-and-dance revue featuring classic Cotton Club-era hits performed by Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars band. Previews begin Oct. 18; opens Nov. 3

All The Way, Cambridge, Mass.
In a new drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) portrays Lyndon B. Johnson in his first year in the White House. Previews begin Sept. 13; opens Sept. 19

Betrayal, Broadway
Real-life couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz play husband and (adulterous) wife in director Mike Nichols’ sure-to-sell-out revival of Harold Pinter’s backward- unfolding drama. Previews begin Oct. 1; opens Oct. 27

No Man’s Land & Waiting For Godot, Broadway
X-Men vets Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart star in two 20th-century classics by Pinter (Land) and Samuel Beckett (Godot), staged in repertory. Previews begin Oct. 26; opens Nov. 24

The Sunshine Boys, Los Angeles
After appearing in 2012 in a London staging of Neil Simon’s 1972 comedy about a feuding vaudeville duo, Danny DeVito reteams with his Taxi costar Judd Hirsch. Previews begin Sept. 24; opens Oct. 2