sundance 2019

Everything We Learned About Anton Yelchin From the New Sundance Documentary Love, Antosha

Love, Antosha. Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Two years ago at Sundance, Anton Yelchin turned in one of the best performances of his short career in Thoroughbreds, which he completed only weeks before his accidental death at the age of 27. Now, Yelchin is the subject of his own Sundance movie, the documentary Love, Antosha, which will almost certainly make you cry. It’s a poignant tribute to his life and talent, and it’s hard not to come away from the film hoping that you, too, could stand to be a little more like Anton Yelchin. Here’s a rundown of the most interesting things we learned about the late actor.

His parents’ story could be a film of its own.
As the Soviet Union crumbled in the late ’80s, a wave of anti-Semitic attacks convinced two of the nation’s top figure skaters, Viktor Yelchin and Irina Korina, that they needed to leave the country. So they sold everything they owned. As Irina mournfully recalls in the film, their worldly possessions netted them only $8,000, but that was enough for them to move to America with their infant son in tow. They settled in the Los Angeles area, where Anton grew up fluent in English and Russian.

Yelchin might have been the world’s greatest son.
The film takes its title from Yelchin’s sign-off in letters and emails to his мамуля, many of which are read onscreen. (In a fascinating choice, the narrator of Yelchin’s writing is Nicolas Cage, his co-star in 2014’s Dying of the Light.) In one typical story, when he was a child and his mother was sick, Yelchin gave her hand-drawn love notes every day, then he kept it up after she got better. The actor’s relationship with his parents is the film’s emotional anchor, and I suspect Love, Antosha may end up one of 2019’s top “call your mom” movies.

He lived with cystic fibrosis, but kept it under wraps.
As a child, Yelchin was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, which necessitated hours of treatments and breathing exercises each day. (The average life expectancy for someone with cystic fibrosis is about 37 years; not wanting to upset him, Yelchin’s parents didn’t reveal the diagnosis to him until he was a teenager.) When he was young, Yelchin’s symptoms were less acute than other children with CF, but as he got into his 20s, the condition became more severe. Friends in the documentary speculate that part of his impossible work ethic — he acted in 69 projects over the course of his short career — could be attributed to his knowledge that he didn’t have as much time as the average person. Yelchin didn’t speak publicly about the disease, but after his death his parents donated $1 million to USC’s cystic fibrosis center, where he received treatment throughout his life.

He was practicing Hamlet monologues as a preteen.
Much of the documentary’s first hour consists of personal footage of Yelchin, initially home movies shot by his parents of him hamming it up, and then short movies he would make with his friends. He would often record himself trying out scenes alone, and in one memorable moment, an adolescent Yelchin turns in a credible Hamlet soliloquy while dressed in his pj’s. A few years later, he recorded himself getting drunk on his parents’ liquor so he’d be more believably intoxicated in Alpha Dog.

He broke Kristen Stewart’s heart, and taught Jennifer Lawrence how to act.
Plenty of former co-stars pop up in Love, Antosha to pay their respects. Kristen Stewart, who acted opposite him in 2005’s Fierce People, recalls her unrequited crush on him; Jennifer Lawrence, his co-star in 2011’s The Beaver, remembers him as the person who helped her play around with different ways of acting a scene, instead of just committing to her first idea. The Star Trek cast talks about him like a beloved younger brother, while veterans like Willem Dafoe, Martin Landau, and Frank Langella speak on his dedication to his craft. Dafoe is also the one who reveals that, though Yelchin tried to avoid playing the Hollywood-star games, as an adult he was still insecure about his receding hairline — an issue the craggy character actor could identify with. “Just because you take the road less traveled,” Dafoe says with a laugh, “doesn’t mean you don’t think about the road that’s more traveled.”

He struggled with the blockbusters-or-indies question.
Yelchin grew up wanting to make great cinema like his heroes Scorsese and Fellini, which didn’t always gel with the realities of 21st-century moviemaking. He was sometimes frustrated with starring in tiny indies that no one saw, and he took his fair share of paycheck gigs. Yelchin’s most fulfilling acting experiences seem to be the improvisatory 2011 film Like Crazy (whose director, Drake Doremus, is one of Love, Antosha’s producers) and the 2011 vampire film Fright Night, where he convinced director Craig Gillespie to set him on fire.

He was fascinated with the dark side of L.A.
Once he moved out of his parents’ house, Yelchin took to hanging around the seedy underbelly of the Valley, photographing the weirdos and perverts he met there. (He and a friend called themselves “the lurkers.”) Even Chris Pine was shocked by the things Anton would get up to on his off days, and as a co-star recalls, if even Chris Pine is shocked, you know it’s pretty out there.

He was an fanatical student of filmmaking.
Yelchin’s father introduced him to the great works of 20th-century cinema, starting with Taxi Driver, and young Antosha was immediately entranced. Friends in the film recall him obsessively studying his favorites, and on his own movies he filled his script pages to the margins with detailed notes about character and plot. At the time of his death, he had written his own script and had recently secured funding to shoot it. It was called Travis, in a nod to his first cinematic love.

Everything We Learned From the New Anton Yelchin Documentary