Anton Yelchin, who died in 2016 at the age of 27, would have celebrated his 30th birthday Monday.
The late actor is the subject of a new documentary, Love, Antosha, which pays equal attention to his extraordinary life as it does to his dynamic career. Critics and audiences adored Yelchin, who had evolved over a decade and a half from a child star to one of Hollywood’s most promising young talents, but his friends and collaborators remember him just as much for his kindness and playfulness, his insatiable curiosity, his profound devotion to his parents, and his strength as he struggled with cystic fibrosis.
“There’s a whole audience that needs to learn more about Anton,” editor and first-time director Garret Price tells EW. “I met with Viktor and Irina, and they started telling me stories about Anton, and I was hooked from day one. I knew the story needed to be told.”
Viktor and Irina first approached Drake Doremus, who directed Anton in 2011’s Like Crazy, to possibly make a documentary about their son. The filmmaker felt too close to the subject to direct the movie himself, so he recommended Price, whom he met in film school, and stayed on as a producer. “He was one of my favorite people I ever met in my life,” Doremus says of the late actor. “I loved him so much, and we had such a special, life-changing experience together, so obviously I really wanted to be a part of the film and really wanted to help bring this movie to life.”
Yelchin’s star was still on the rise at the time of his tragic death, the result of a freak accident with his car. Critically adored for his work in indies like Charlie Bartlett, Alpha Dog, Like Crazy, and Green Room, he had also entered blockbuster territory as part of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, playing Pavel Chekov in the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot series. A devoted student of all kinds of cinema, Yelchin had already developed a unique and wide-ranging résumé at the time of his death and was starting to work toward making his own directorial debut.
Price conducted 60 interviews with Yelchin’s friends and collaborators — including Abrams, Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart, Chris Pine, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Frank Langella, Ben Foster, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Simon Pegg — speaking with great candor and love about him as both an artist and a person (one particularly raunchy recollection from Lawrence is “a favorite moment when you view it with an audience,” Doremus says, laughing).
As far as assembling the star-studded lineup, “It wasn’t hard to get them,” Price says. “It really wasn’t. Everybody wanted to be a part of this. All people wanted to do was talk about Anton.”
“They all would say, ‘Thank you very much to make us a part of the movie,’” Viktor says. “They would say ‘honored,” Irina elaborates. “Because everybody wants to see him alive.”
“That’s true,” Doremus says. “Such an extraordinary life, such a unique life. For anybody, all of us to be a part of it is just an absolute gift.”
Viktor and Irina knew that a film would be the most fitting way to honor their late son, though “when we started, we couldn’t imagine the final product,” Viktor admits to EW. “So when I saw the movie from the beginning to the end, once, [it was] exactly what we wanted to see.” (Irina saw it up until the moment of the TV announcement of Anton’s death, “and then I couldn’t watch any further,” she says.)
“The first thing Viktor said when he saw it was Anton would have loved the film,” Doremus recalls. “Although he would say, ‘A film about me?’” Irina adds. “‘Those people are talking about me so nicely!’”
“That’s so true,” Doremus agrees. “But at the same time, if he would have made the film, I feel like he would have made something that feels like this. He wouldn’t have made a straight-ahead movie, [and] Garret made a more kaleidoscopic, sort of emotional journey in his head, the chaotic harvest of finding, and searching. It’s not your standard documentary at all.”
So naturally, Love, Antosha premiered at Sundance, one of Hollywood’s leading venues for not-your-standard-fare. “It’s a home away from home for him,” says Doremus, fondly recalling the 2011 Like Crazy premiere they celebrated there together. Five of the actor’s films screened at the Utah fest — now six.
“To be able to have the opportunity to show this one to this crowd is what he would have wanted, I think,” Price says. “It’s a love letter to family and to cinema, and that’s what I wanted to make. Those are the two things Anton loved most in life, movies and his parents.”
“And masturbating,” Doremus jokes (which, yes, a few anecdotes in the doc support this).
“And life!” Irina reminds them. That too.