‘Love, Antosha’: Touching Documentary Remembers Late Actor Anton Yelchin

It has been three years since actor Anton Yelchin lost his life at age 27 as a result of a freak accident outside of his Studio City home. Even if Yelchin, who is best known for playing Pavel Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” trilogy, wasn’t quite a household name, his loss was felt by Hollywood and beyond, as is evident in the moving documentary, “Love, Antosha.” Director Garret Price and producer Drake Doremus do justice to Yelchin’s memory with this striking portrait of a man who was not only a gifted actor, but a true Renaissance man.

This film is a deeply personal one for Doremus, as he was a close friend of Yelchin’s, having directed him in “Like Crazy.” For the sake of objectivity, he brought on Price to helm the project. Both men had to earn the trust of Irina and Viktor Yelchin, Anton’s parents, former figure skaters who fled to Los Angeles from the Soviet Union with their infant son amidst the rise of anti-sementism. Once we meet the Yelchins and hear them speak about their son and their loss, it becomes obvious that there’s no way this doc could have been made without their cooperation, as not only do they give access to home videos and Anton’s private journals, they serve as the emotional cental of the story. 

Irina especially had a deep bond with her only child, and in one of the more heartbreaking moments, she explains how she and her husband try to think of Anton’s being gone from this earth as his being away on a long film shoot. Each day that passes brings them one day closer to being reunited. We learn how the pair nurtured young Anton’s creative impulses, eventually heeding the advice of a friend who recommended putting him in an acting class, which led to commercial jobs, and from their came film and television roles. Through clip after clip, we see Yelchin’s growth as a performer, and from a young age he showed impressive range. In one clip he’s crying on “E.R.,” in the next he’s outsmarting Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

“Love, Antosha” is framed with Anton’s letters to Irina, and the title comes from his heartfelt signature. None other than Nicolas Cage, Yelchin’s co-star in “Dying of the Light,” does the voiceover for these letters, as well as for his journal entries. Cage’s voice can first be heard about 20 minutes in, and while it’s a little bizarre to hear him narrate young Anton’s first kiss, which happened onscreen with Mika Boorem in “Hearts in Atlantis,” it becomes more natural as they story progresses. Cage, like so many other, no doubt had a real respect, even affection, for his late colleague, so much so that he broke down crying in the recording booth, as Doremus and Price revealed at a recent SAG-AFTRA panel.

As a testament to not only how giving Yelchin was as an actor, but also to how much humanity he had as a person, a host of actors took the time to speak in “Love Antosha,” including Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Willem Dafoe. Anton’s “Star Trek” co-stars Chris Pine, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana and Zachary Quinto, as well as Abrams, talk of him almost as if he were a family member. Kristen Stewart opens up about how he broke her heart when they were teenagers. Jennifer Lawrence recounts a bawdy story he told her about sitting next to Cindy Crawford on a plane. Martin Landau laments Yelchin’s untimely death in an interview made all the more poignant due to Landau’s own passing a year later. The running theme throughout all these interviews was that Anton inspired the subjects to improve themselves, not only as actors, but also as learners, as Yelchin wowed all those around them for being a well-read and overall knowledgeable guy, something made all the more impressive by the fact that his being a child and young adult actor meant that he was most likely largely self-taught.

Yelchin, like everyone else, had his fair share of insecurities. Despite having appeared in over 69 films and TV shows during his lifetime, he never could get past being a “rising star,” to his frustration. He receding hairline also apparently caused him some anxiety. But Anton’s biggest challenge in life was his Cystic Fibrosis, which we learn about mainly from his parents, as he kept it a secret from Hollywood. The CF story we see here is very different from the ones we’re used to seeing in movies. He never had to spend extensive time in a hospital or receive a lung transplant, and, most shockingly, his parents got away with not even telling him he had the disorder until he was almost 18. Yes, long days on set took more of a toll on him than most others, but nothing stood in his way of living a full and active life. He was even able to create art outside of acting. The explicit yet arty photos he took in Van Nuys sex clubs are a sight to behold; the viewer feels like they’ve been let in on a naughty secret. He also found the time to play bass in the band of a childhood friend. Indeed, Yelchin’s life is an inspiration and a testament to what one can accomplish with drive and discipline. 

 “Love, Antosha” opens Aug. 2 in select theaters.