“He and I were really good friends for two years, and then he kind of, like, broke my heart,” the now 29-year-old actress says with a tear in her eye in the documentary “Love, Antosha,” a film celebrating the life and career of Yelchin, who tragically died in 2016 at the age of 27.
“We didn’t talk about it with anyone because it was kind of this insulated little thing,” Stewart said of their young romance, admitting that Yelchin sort of shaped her into the person she is today. “I wanted to listen to all the music that he fucking listened to, and kind of absorb all of his interests and his stuff. I wanted to be better, smarter, cooler, but couldn’t even hang with him.”
Stewart is just one of the many celebrities who commemorate Yelchin in the documentary, debuting three years after his death shook the industry. Yelchin was a wide-eyed, charismatic on-screen dynamo, delivering nuanced performances that ranged from an unaware teen held hostage in “Alpha Dog” to the “Star Trek” reboot’s beloved Chekov. In his short life, Yelchin appeared in 69 projects, including critically acclaimed films such as “Green Room” and “Thoroughbreds.” As “Love, Antosha” producer Drake Doremus told HuffPost, “he was not afraid to fail.”
That might explain why Stewart was drawn to him.
“A few years ago we kind of chatted about it and what kind of influence he had on her, but she had a whole different light on it” for the film, Doremus, who directed Yelchin in the 2011 Sundance darling “Like Crazy,” said over the phone this week. “Everyone I came in contact with who worked with him or met him was affected by and changed by him. Her, specifically. It’s just so amazing that she opened up and told the truth. She’s so special and cool to have done that.”
Doremus and “Love, Antosha” director Garret Price secured interviews with everyone from Yelchin’s “Star Trek” co-stars Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana and John Cho to Willem Dafoe, Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster. Nicholas Cage, who worked with Yelchin on “Dying of the Light,” provides the voice-over for the film, reading Yelchin’s journal entries, emails and letters aloud. The filmmakers said Cage agreed to the project right away due to his “emotional connection” with the late actor.
“Anton apparently loved working with Nic and respected him so much as an actor,” Price told HuffPost. “And Drake and I thought Anton’s trajectory as an actor kind of lined up with Nic and where he is now. He just loves making films, is a true cinephile …”
“And eccentric like Anton,” Doremus chimed in. “He really does speak to the older Anton soul. It really does feel like the kindred spirit he would become.”
Yelchin was beloved for his eccentricity. The devoted son of Russian-Jewish ice dancers Viktor and Irina Yelchin, his family immigrated to the U.S. to escape religious persecution when he was 6 months old. As an imaginative child obsessed with movie-making, Yelchin was always performing and eventually excelled in acting classes. As a young boy, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disorder that the Mayo Clinic says causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs. In order to protect his emotions, Yelchin’s parents hid the illness from him until he was old enough to understand its severity.
“With a huge imagination, we didn’t know how he would react,” his mother Irina says in the documentary. “I said to Viktor, ‘We just have to believe that acting is the best medicine for him.’”
When he was 18 or so, his parents finally told him about his illness, knowing his symptoms would get worse with age. Yelchin decided to keep his diagnosis a secret, however, and continued to take on project after project, despite ongoing health challenges. Knowing the life expectancy for cystic fibrosis patients was estimated to be 37 years, friends said he squeezed in as many jobs as he could.
However, it wasn’t illness that ended his life. Yelchin died after he was pinned between his SUV, which had been subject to a recall, and a driveway gate in a freak accident at his home in Los Angeles on June 19, 2016.
“Here’s a guy who struggled with his lungs as long as I knew him, and he’s pinned so he can’t breathe,” Chris Pine says in the film. “Like, out of all fucking things. Out of all fucking things. That’s it?”
Some speculate in “Love, Antosha” whether cystic fibrosis had anything to do with his death. But, all in all, the film is much more a celebration of Yelchin’s artistic achievements, and the undeniable bond he shared with his parents.
At the end of the documentary, Jennifer Lawrence says “no one ever loved their child like they loved Anton,” as photos and home videos of the trio flash across the screen.
“Digging into someone’s life that was probably never meant to be looked at in this way was scary. But at the same time, if no one ever sees this movie, at least I can give these broken parents a tool to keep sharing their son’s story,” Price said. “That’s the purpose of a film like this.”
“Love, Antosha” is out now in limited release.
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