Playing a Romulan had Clifton Collins Jr. looking into the deepest, darkest part of himself.
Although he was not a Trekkie, Collins was aware of Star Trek, especially Leonard Nimoy. “I’ve got to say to you that I am not a Trekkie,” he said. “I think we all grew up watching Star Trek, whether you are a Trekkie or not. Not to mention, just the sound of Leonard Nimoy’s voice; it is something just so familiar to us growing up, in those earlier years of your childhood. There is something very comforting about it.”
Collins had worked with J.J. Abrams before Star Trek XI and had a high opinion of Abrams as a director. “J.J. Abrams is a different kind of director,” he said. “I think if every director were like J.J., Hollywood would be like this really wonderful, just place. There wouldn’t be any strikes. There wouldn’t be any of that stuff. We were putting 18 hours a day and there wasn’t a single person on that set that wouldn’t do anything for J.J. He’s just that kind of a director.”
Seeing himself as a Romulan for the first time spooked Collins a bit. “I must confess that when I saw myself for the first time I thought: ‘Wow! If I were able to peel all the layers of skin off my past lives, this is what I would look like in my pure evilest form.’ Believe me, it scared me too. I looked and I thought: ‘Oh my God! Is this who I am deep down inside?’ It’s funny because you are in outer space so you think: ‘What do I pull from here? What do I research? Do I call NASA? What do I do?'”
Even though he was a Romulan and one of the villains, working on Star Trek XI was a thrill for Collins. “…there is something really heart-stopping when you get to set,” he said. “I remember a specific point when the grandeur of the whole endeavor just kind of hit me like a big bag of bricks. I tried to pinch myself desperately because I just wanted to wake up, and I realized that I wasn’t going to wake up because I was on set and we were, in fact, shooting Star Trek, and it is in fact going to be a whole revival that everybody all over the world was going to enjoy and embrace wholeheartedly.”
Collins’s most recent film, The Perfect Game, in which he plays the coach of an underdog team who wins the Little League World Series, opened last month.