Anton Yelchin’s tragic death Sunday came just three weeks before the 27-year-old actor was set to start shooting his directorial debut, “Travis,” which he also wrote.
The crime thriller was scheduled to start production on July 11 in what Yelchin called “the lonely landscape of the San Fernando Valley,” said his friend and collaborator Keith Kjarval, a producer on the movie. Callum Turner was set to play the title character alongside co-stars Alia Shawkat and Milla Jovovich. The film centered on an actor and amateur photographer who witnesses the murder of a young woman after following her back to her apartment.
“We were calling it a voyeuristic crime thriller,” Kjarval said. “It was neo-noir, very urgent in morality, like a Dardennes brothers film.” Marilyn Manson was in talks to do the score for the movie, which was going to be shot by director of photography Sean Price Williams (“Heaven Knows What”).
“The patient exploration of the moments where we are the most human is what Anton was interested in with this film,” Kjarval said. “It was a deeply personal film and I’m convinced it would have been one of many films he directed.”
“Travis” would have been the third collaboration between Yelchin and Kjarval, who produced 2015’s “The Driftless Area” and 2014’s “Rudderless.” Yelchin named the lead character in his directorial debut after Robert De Niro’s character Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” Yelchin’s favorite film.
“I know for sure that this film was going to reveal the undeniable and indisputable fact that Anton is a very rare and exceptionally gifted artist,” Kjarval said. “The amount of research and photography and art that he was pouring into this film was inspiring.”
For producer Gary Schultz, who co-produced “The Driftless Area” and “Rudderless” and was also working on “Travis,” Yelchin’s future as an actor-director seemed inevitable. “A lot of the time when actors say they’re going to direct a movie, you kind of roll your eyes, but with Anton, he was such a student of film that I just assumed someday he would,” Schultz said. “He had such an interest in storytelling.”
Yelchin’s passion for acting allowed him to be one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, taking role after role with little or no break between jobs. “Anton was always really into the way the old studio actors would work on four, five, or six movies a year, going from project to project, just immersing themselves,” Schultz said. “That’s why he had such a big body of work at 27.”
Yelchin was also obsessive about film history, watching two to three films per day at times, according to Kjarval. “When he becomes interested in something, he immerses himself in it and becomes somewhat of an expert in it,” Kjarval said. “The thing that he loved most was film and cinema.”
On the day Yelchin died, Kjarval spoke to him on the phone about his plans to watch a Gaspar Noé movie as a part of his research for “Travis.”
“He said, ‘There are a couple of shoes that I remember a character wearing that I think I want Callum to wear in this film,’” Kjarval said. “That’s kind of Anton. He had such a meticulous vision for the things he was interested in and the stories he wanted to tell.”