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Anton Yelchin’s shoot in Victoria remembered

Actor Anton Yelchin’s death on Sunday at age 27 has prompted flashbacks for his creative collaborators on Fierce People, the dark comedy he filmed in Victoria in 2004. “It’s just incomprehensible.
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Anton Yelchin in Fierce People, which was filmed in the capital region in 2004.

 

Actor Anton Yelchin’s death on Sunday at age 27 has prompted flashbacks for his creative collaborators on Fierce People, the dark comedy he filmed in Victoria in 2004.

“It’s just incomprehensible. He’s such a sweet kid, and this is such a freakish, horrible thing,” said the film’s director Griffin Dunne.

The Leningrad-born actor died in a freak accident. According to Los Angeles police, Yelchin’s 2015 Jeep Cherokee rolled backwards down a steep driveway at his Studio City home, pinning him against his brick mailbox pillar and security fence.

“I have a million memories of that shoot in Victoria,” Dunne recalled from upstate New York. “It was an angelic kind of experience spending our time there. It was a big deal for all of us.”

Yelchin, 15 at the time, played Finn Earl, the troubled New York teenager whose drug-addicted, but well-intentioned, mother, Liz (Diane Lane), accepts an offer from her eccentric sugar daddy Ogden Osbourne (Donald Sutherland) for them to visit his New Jersey estate depicted by Hatley Castle.

While Liz cleans up her act and tries to win back Finn’s trust, he learns there’s a dark side to this world of wealth and privilege.

While spending his time with this “tribe” of country clubbers, he begins dating Maya, Osbourne’s granddaughter, played by Kristen Stewart, and befriends her spoiled brother Bryce (Chris Evans).

“It was his youth, the intense curiosity that just read on his face,” Dunne (Practical Magic, Addicted to Love) said of Yelchin. “His eyes were so expressive it looked like he was up for any adventure that came ahead.”

Yelchin perfectly captured Finn’s love for his offscreen father, an absent anthropologist, and his desire to try anything beyond his life with his dysfunctional mother, Dunne said.

“The movie could have been a silent movie because of the way Anton made you understand what this kid was going through,” said Dunne, who acted in After Hours and An American Werewolf in London.

Fierce People paved the way for Yelchin’s heart-wrenching performance as an impressionable teenager kidnapped by drug dealers in Alpha Dog, to his role as Russian ensign Chekov in the Star Trek series reboot.

Bob Akester, the veteran motion picture and Iraq war photographer who was Fierce People’s unit photographer, worked closely with Yelchin and said he was immensely likable.

“He’s a wonderful person, one of the few actors I’ve ever given a gift to,” said Akester, who gave the curly-haired actor a Holga, a primitive 120-film camera.

“We talked a lot about photography and cameras on set, so I said I can get you one.”

The Vancouver-based photographer reunited with Yelchin last year in Vancouver during filming of The Driftless Area, an independent film co-starring Zooey Deschanel, Frank Langella and John Hawkes.

“Again, he was just a lovely person to work with,” Akester said. “Set photographers can be pretty intrusive. You need to push in a bit, and he’s willing to give you that and your time afterwards.”

Akester said he was “heartbroken” when he heard the promising actor, with whom he first worked “when he was just a kid,” had died at such a young age. “I’ve done a lot of war photography, so I’ve seen so many dead or dying people,” he said. “I get really shaken up when I see people who shouldn’t be dying, but do.”

While Yelchin’s character had a tumultuous relationship with his dysfunctional mother in Fierce People, it was the opposite in real life, said Bill Vigars, the film’s until publicist.

“He was a wonderful, kind and gentle young man when I worked with him. Humble and very talented,” Vigars recalled. “He was very close to his mother.”

mreid@timescolonist.com