Exclusive: Damon Lindelof Talks STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS; Talks Bigger Sets, Redshirt Deaths, the Writing Process, the Timeline, Studio Requests, Easter Eggs, Benedict Cumberbatch, and More!

     December 26, 2012

star-trek-into-darkness-poster-closeupI think that the first film nails it in terms of in the beginning you’re ready to cry, then through the middle you’re laughing with the crew.  It has a great balance.  Will be any nods for the fans who have read the comics or have played the upcoming videogame?

Lindelof: I think that the nods will probably becoming more in the spirit of, if you read the comics or you play the videogames, the nods will come from that direction versus the movie towards those things.  If you play the game or read the comic books you will understand what role they have in connecting to the new movie versus the movie is going to be winking and if you played the game you’re the only one who got that line, because that kind of stuff has the risk of alienating the people who haven’t gone for the plus version. 

How did the script change, if at all, when Benedict Cumberbatch signed on?

Lindelof: Well, it changed in terms of anytime you cast any actor, even though you think that Kirk is a fixed thing and you’re not going to change him at all, when we cast Chris we rewrote the part to basically match up with what we viewed Chris was doing.  Because these parts are not off the rack suits where you put them on and they fit like a glove.  You make the suit and then the actor puts it on and then you say, “I’ve got to now tailor this thing so it fits them perfectly.” So Benedict was no different.  The kind of actor that he is-

Which is spectacular.

benedict-cumberbatch-lightersLindelof: Which is spectacular, necessitated a certain shift in just the way that the character was going to sound, you know?  Our own inner ear for that character we were like, “O.K.  we wrote this character John Harrison and this is what he said and this is what he did, but now we’ve got Benedict Cumberbatch playing him so let’s rewrite the movie with that in mind.” And that didn’t mean that John Harrison did anything differently, or it didn’t change the story in anyway, but it did change the words coming out of his mouth. 

How early did you guys have the plot nailed down for the follow up?

Lindelof: What do you mean by how early?

As in when you guys were plotting the first movie did you guys at that time have this idea or a knowledge of where you wanted to go?  Or was it that once the first one was a success then you started brainstorming?

Lindelof: While we were making the first movie there were certainly conversations about what a potential sequel would be and how closely tied to the first movie that it would be.  For example, the idea of saying let’s just tie the second movie entirely to the destruction of Vulcan because that’s a big deal and many tributaries of story could flow out of that.  Should we do that?  Or should this in many ways feel like The Dark Knight where you need not have seen Batman Begins at all in order to understand the circumstances in which The Dark Knight opens.  The Dark Knight opens much in the same way that Tim Burton’s Batman opens which is Batman is living in Gotham and he is an established figure there and he is beating up bad guys.  This is an introduction to a new bad guy who is creating all sorts of problems for Batman.  So if you’ve seen Batman Begins there are really no references back to it other than Rachael, and she’s been recast, so you understand that Maggie Gyllenhaal, or Rachael and Bruce have a relationship, but you may not have seen the first movie.  In fact, maybe it helps you to attach to Bruce and Rachel’s relationship more if you haven’t seen the first movie, but in the third movie, Dark Knight Rises you have to have seen Batman Begins in order to make any sense of it whatsoever.  I think the conversation that we were having is, we’re going to have to pay for what we did in the first movie because it’s a big deal.  Do we want to pay for it now, or do we want to pay for it later?  That was the first creative conversations that we had related to a potential sequel.  Then the movie came out and it did well and Paramount wanted to make another one so we started to get excited about some of the ideas that we had and started developing them further.

In the first nine minutes and the little bit that they show at the end we can clearly see that some of the movie takes place on Earth and some of the movie takes place in space.  Is there a big percentage of the movie that’s on Earth?  Is it just a tiny percentage of it?

Lindelof: I don’t want to get into percentages of how much takes place on Earth and how much takes place off Earth, suffice to say I think one of the things we felt a lot of people didn’t know about Star Trek was that they didn’t think that Star Trek was the future.  You take something like Star Wars; Star Wars is not the future.  It’s a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and Luke Skywalker is not a human being and isn’t from the planet Earth.  The idea in Star Trek, they are.  They’re in the 23rd century and these people are from Earth.  The Earth needed to play more of a role in these movies, especially in the sense of giving the audience a degree of relatability.  I think that in the same way that New York City becomes this anchor point for people in the Marvel movies; that’s Spidey’s stomping ground, that was the stomping ground for Tony Stark, that was the stomping ground for The Avengers, it’s New York.  We wanted to do the same thing with Earth in the Star Trek movies.

I really like the beginning of the prologue, just the little touches in the hospital.  You know just with the thing being pushed, little future touches, little J.J. touches.

Lindelof: Yes, indeed.

damon_lindelof_star-trek-into-darknessNow that all the characters have gotten to know each other in the previous movie, what was it like the write their interactions now?  Are you pulling a lot from the previous cannon?  Are you trying to create new stuff because it’s a new timeline?

Lindelof: Our guiding principle was that there was a certain level of excitement in that if the first movie was to use Mrs.  Pacman terminology, “they meet”, the second intermission is going to be the falling in love part.  The idea that the characters are all sort of getting to know each other, but don’t know each other all that well yet.  Certainly Kirk and Bones have a relationship because we established that they met each other and were fairly close all though the academy.  So those guys are tight, and were tight in the first and remain tight.  But a lot of the others, especially now that Kirk is in command of these people as opposed to I’m the insolent rabble-rouser running around the ship trying to tell everybody what I think they need to be doing.  Now he’s in charge.  That was a very interesting dynamic to play with because, again, it wasn’t something that we’ve seen before.  The only Enterprise that were familiar with is where Kirk has been the Captain, nobody ever questions his judgment, he knows what he’s doing and occasionally gets in trouble, but he has the trust and love of everybody under his command.  But there was a phase that preceded that and that’s the phase into which Into Darkness plays.  So that’s very exciting for us.

I cannot read star dates.  I’m not nerd enough to do it.

Lindelof:  Don’t look at me, talk to Bob Orci about it.  Star dates drive me insane.

damon_lindelof_star-trek-into-darknessAt the beginning of the prologue there’s clearly a star date.

Lindelof: Yes.

I don’t know what the ended star date was in the last movie, but you guys have clearly specified how much time has passed.  So how much time has passed between the first and second movie?

Lindelof: Without any insular knowledge of star dates my understanding is that it’s roughly six months since the end of the first movie to the Nibiru mission of the new movie. 

O.K.  thank you.  I knew some time had passed because they were obviously on a mission.

Lindelof: Yes, and it’s not their first mission.

Exactly.  Are we going to see or talk about the long term impact of destruction of Vulcan?  You mentioned earlier that that’s obviously a major thing, is that something you guys address?  Or was that lets kick it down to another one?

Lindelof: It’s too specific of a plot question to answer, suffice to say we understood when we did it in the first movie that it was going to have a 9-11 level impact on that universe.  In the same way that 9-11 happened over ten years ago, but we’re still talking about it and it still influences everything about our daily lives.  Anytime you want to fly on a plane and you take your shoes off we’re still reliving that experience in a certain way.  Anything that happens in our new timeline has to walk in lockstep with Vulcan was destroyed and what is the impact of that on the federation?  And what is the impact of that on Spock?  What is the impact of that on Kirk?  What is the impact of that on the geo-politics of the galaxy itself?  We had to enter in to it.  How directly this movie relates to the destruction of Vulcan is not anything that we’re willing to talk about. 

star-trek-into-darkness-alice-eveWhile walking around Bad Robot today I learned that Alice Eve plays Dr.  Carol Marcus.  I definitely have to ask you how much debate was there in writing her in this movie?

Lindelof: There was not a lot of debate.  It was an idea that, of all the ideas that we had about the sequel and the movie, having Carol in the second movie was something that we all agreed was a good idea.  The follow up question is how are we going to use her?  What role is she going to play?  Is she going to be a love interest for Kirk or something else?  And what would that something else be?  We have so many phenomenal characters and actors to service in this movie that it feels, on the surface, like it’s an embarrassment of riches, but in the actual execution of making a two hour and ten minute long movie, or however long this movie ends up being, you want to give the audience- you want to satiate their appetite for Bones, and Chekov, and Uhura, and Scotty, and Kirk, and Spock; so you’ve got all those guys to service and Pike from the first movie and obviously [Bruce] Greenwood is back for this one.  The idea of introducing any new character, in addition to servicing Benedict, is going to take away from the screen time or storylines that are being connected to those other guys.  So we had to look at Carol as, as opposed to she’s a new character that we want you to pay attention to, how can she interact with all those other guys in a way that doesn’t take away from them, but enhances them? 

What did you learn from making the first movie that you tried to avoid in the second?  And what things did you try to incorporate more of, if any?

alex_kurtzman_and_bob_orciLindelof: It’s a great question but one of the things I’ve learned is there’s no lesson to be learned.  You have to resign yourself to the fact that mistakes are going to be made at any time in the creative process and it’s a little bit of “An Appointment in Sammara” in that the more you go out of your way to not make a mistake you discover a whole new mistake.  At the end of the day, right or wrong, you have to go with your gut on this is the movie that I would want to see.  And like you said a fair amount of anxiety is taken off the table for me personally because of the collaboration.  Because of writing with Bob and Alex, bouncing ideas off of Burk and most importantly the buck stops with J.J., he’s going to have to direct this movie.  so if there’s something that all five of us are really psyched about, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be great, but it gives us confidence.  The things that we were psyched about in the first movie, other people ended up being psyched about.  There’s not much in the first movie that didn’t work, or that we regretted when push came to shove. 

eric_bana_nero_star_trek_movie_imageIf you buy the DVD for 2009 Trek one of the things we found in the process of editing the movie was that here was just too much Nero.  Nero had a whole story where he was basically taken to a Klingon prison planet and tortured, because we felt like we needed to account for his time in between the opening of the movie, the destruction of the Kelvin and when we re-experience him in the present-tense of the movie, prior the attack on Vulcan.  And it turned out that we didn’t.  So that idea of saying really even though we’ve got Benedict, who’s just incredible, the idea of using the force of antagonism to complement whatever conflicts and themes are happening amongst the crew that we know and love, that’s what we learned during the first movie and we try to apply again here.  So the idea of, “Wait a second we just got Benedict Cumberbatch maybe we should write like five more scenes for that guy and understand a lot more about that guy.” That temptation was huge.  From the moment that we not just cast him, but the moment that he came in and we started doing fittings with him we all became completely and totally enamored of Benedict and it was just like, “God, should we do that?” But from the first movie it was just, nope, always leave them wanting more.

For more on Star Trek Into Darkness, click here.

And if you missed Lindelof talking about how he’s not writing the Prometheus sequel, Brad Bird’s 1952, or his thoughts on The Walking Dead and Homeland, just click the links.

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