Anton Yelchin: 1989-2016

Few actors of any generation could segue as seamlessly as Anton Yelchin did from genre to genre, stealing movies big and small in his too-brief career. The talented young star passed away this weekend after what is being reported as a freak car accident. He packed a remarkable amount of memorable roles into his 27 years on this planet, working with directors as notable as Jim Jarmusch (“Only Lovers Left Alive”), Jodie Foster (“The Beaver”) and J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”). The diversity of his resume hints at the range of his talent, starring in films like “Alpha Dog,” “Like Crazy,” “Fright Night,” “Rudderless,” “Experimenter” and this year’s “Green Room.”

Yelchin was born in Leningrad, Russia in 1989 to two stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet. His whole family moved to the United States later that year after his parents received political refugee status. Before long, Yelchin was acting, starting in the profession when he was just a child. He made several notable television appearances when he was young, including turns on “ER,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

Yelchin’s film breakthrough came in the 2001 adaptation of Stephen King’s “Hearts in Atlantis,” but it was “Alpha Dog” in 2007 that really put him on the map, and he never turned back. Yelchin never felt artificial. His characters were always in the moment—listening, responding, reacting as if what was happening to them were real. Yelchin’s work was never showy, and always felt so unbelievably grounded that most people took it for granted.

Jeremy Saulnier’s recent, phenomenal “Green Room” simply doesn’t work without such a performance at its center. As Pat in “Green Room,” he is our eyes and ears, responding to each twist and turn of the story as if they’re happening to him for the first time. Many great actors are great at selling the act of performance, but Yelchin was great at hiding performance, making his characters resonate through their realism, even in genre flicks like “Green Room” and “Fright Night." He had so many great performances ahead of him that it really feels like a loss for everyone who loves movies.

We send our deepest condolences to his friends and family.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also the Editor of Magill's Cinema Annual, a writer for The New York Times, Vulture, The AV Club, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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