brightcove.createExperiences(); While Anton Yelchin might be best remembered for his role in the blockbuster Star Trek franchise, the young actor led a fascinating life before his tragic and untimely death on Sunday.
Yelchin was born in Leningrad, Soviet Union, in 1989, roughly two years before the city became St. Petersburg, Russia, after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. His parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchinwere, were famous pair figure skaters who reached celebrity status in Russia as stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet for 15 years.
But despite their popularity and relative wealth, Irina and Viktor fled Russia to make a better life for their son. When Yelchin was 6 months old, his parents left Leningrad with his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother and relocated to Los Angeles, where they stayed with Yelchin’s uncle, Eugene.
Asked why they left their home and careers behind, both Yelchin’s parents told The Los Angeles Times in unison: “Anton.” Viktor then elaborated, “We were afraid for our son. It is a very bad situation over there. I would get angry, too – I’d say, ‘Why should we have to buy things on the black market? Why should we have to stand in line?’ ”
The Yelchins, who are Jewish, also faced religious oppression in Russia. In 1972 they qualified for the Olympics as the third-ranked pair team in Russia, but were not allowed to participate because of their religion, according to the L.A. Times. Years later, when Eugene Yelchin moved to the United States and married an American woman he had met in Leningrad, the skaters were not allowed to perform outside Russia.
Moving to the United States, the Yelchins were able to find work performing, but they soon realized their Russian star power was not translating to the States. “We were stars in Leningrad, but that did not have the same meaning as here,” Viktor explained.
But their son would start down the path to fame in his family’s adoptive country from a young age. In fact, his parents had an inkling about his future career before Anton was even old enough to speak.
“Everyone here wants to make movies. My brother studied at USC and wants to direct an independent film,” Korina told the L.A. Times. “A woman came up, saw Anton, and said, ‘He’s beautiful. He will be actor.’ ”
Skating was never Yelchin’s strong suit, but his love for TV and the movies was apparent from a young age. After landing a role opposite Hope Davis and Anthony Hopkins in 2001’s Hearts in Atlantis at 11 years old, he became serious about making a career in film.
Yelchin found early success in the indie scene, appearing in films like Fierce People and House of D before landing a breakout starring role in 2007’s Charlie Bartlett. Not long after, he landed an iconic part in J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboot playing Pavel Chekov.
Speaking about the transition from indie films to summer blockbusters, Yelchin told PEOPLE, “It’s bizarre. My past experience has been working on movies that take a month and a half to shoot. Then, suddenly, I’m there for six or seven months.”
And Star Trek was not the only mega franchise Yelchin would join that year. Also in 2009, the young actor starred alongside Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation as Kyle Reese.
“I look at them as really interesting, great characters,” he told PEOPLE. “Both of these characters – Chekov and Kyle Reese – are challenges because they have been these iconic, previous characters and previous performances that were great, and that established this legacy.”
One of those pervious performers, Walter Koenig, who played Chekov in the TV series, offered Yelchin some advice. “He came on set after I had, thankfully, finished most of my scenes. I was so paranoid to do them in front of him,” he explained. “Walter said, ‘Don’t let this become your life.’ ” he added. “That’s perfectly understandable. With me it’s always a desire to work with different characters. This is just another character It happens to be an iconic role.”
VIDEO: Costars and Other Celebs Remember Star Trek Actor Anton Yelchin
If Koenig was worried Yelchin would become consumed by Star Trek, he needn’t have worried. The actor had too much nervous energy – something he described as “an intrinsically Russian” paranoia – to become preoccupied with any one thing. After finishing the first Star Trek film, he told Flaunt Magazine he started a punk rock band called The Hammerheads to pass the time between scripts. “I’ve been playing music because I love what I do so much, and acting is incredibly important to me – just the involvement in it, and the sort of mental and spiritual involvement in it – when it’s not there, I need to do something that at least sort of mirrors that. Music does that in a way,” he told the magazine.
When Yelchin spoke with Flaunt he was 20 years old, the star of two major franchise films and was still living with his parents. After deciding to skip college, he became a voracious reader and embarked on teaching himself critical theory when he wasn’t working, writing his screenplay or playing guitar.
Yelchin’s body was found Sunday pinned between the car and the gate of his home in Studio City, California, after the 27-year-old’s vehicle rolled backward down the steep driveway, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson told PEOPLE.
California police are now investigating whether the Jeep Grand Cherokee had a design that didn’t adequately alert drivers that the vehicle was in “park” mode. But while the circumstances of his death remain unclear, Hollywood has certainly lost one of its brightest and dynamic young stars.