Zachary Quinto on ‘Margin Call,’ Iconic Characters and the Most Challenging Thing He’s Done as an Actor

"If another villainous character comes along that has dimensions, I certainly wouldn't pass up the opportunity just because I've done it in a different context."

Playing a Wall Street trader might not be the most likable role at the moment, but Zachary Quinto has experience playing both heroes and villains in his past acting roles. Quinto had a lot to say about the role in the upcoming financial crime film Margin Call to New York Magazine, particularly focusing on how the demonizing of the profession is a bit unfair and how he manages to find a balance between his villainous and uplifting roles.

“I spent a couple afternoons with some guys at Citibank. I spent days on their desks, listening to their conversations, listening in on trading calls, getting to know them, having lunch with them, which was actually the most interesting part of it for me because it allowed me to see a little bit more of the humanity of their job,” he said.

Quinto admits that this enabled him to see beyond the cell phones and shouting on the trade floor.  “For me to be exposed to these guys and their personalities, their camaraderie and their relationships, to see the ways in which their jobs affect every aspect of their lives, because they’re so all-consumed by the responsibilities, it was a pretty valuable insight for me.”   Quinto received some of his biggest exposure as the villainous Sylar on Heroes.  Was he worried that his character’s evil nature would send a different impression of him?  He explained that he likes playing the villain, “if another villainous character comes along that has dimensions, I certainly wouldn’t pass up the opportunity just because I’ve done it in a different context.”

On the iconic nature of his characters — not just Sylar but, of course, Mr. Spock — he adds, “I think because both of the characters I’ve become most associated with tend to be pretty iconic in nature, archetypal, there’s a lot of expectation that comes from people. Those projections are really just — they have nothing to do with me, so it’s been an interesting road to navigate. I was on TV for four years and I was coming into peoples’ homes, so there’s a familiarity that people tend to have, which can sometimes be jarring or borderline off-putting to me because I’m not really — I’m a pretty low-key person in general, so sometimes I get jolted out of my own path or my own thoughts by someone on the street.”

Almost immediately after wrapping on Margin Call, Quinto was back at work starring in the revival of Angels in America, a quick turnaround that Quinto says was difficult but yet rewarding.  “I wrapped Margin Call, I started rehearsals for Angels in America two days later. It was incredible. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as an actor. And the most rewarding, hands-down. I had not been on stage in six years and so for me to do my first play in New York and to have it be this epic masterwork that, you know, went right to the heart of so many matters that were and still are circulating both in society and in my life personally, it was an enormously rewarding and terrifying journey for sure.”

Recently coming out as gay, Quinto admits that doing Angels in America and The Normal Heart was troubling for him as he realized the horrors that AIDS wracked on a generation of homosexual men, explaining, “Doing [those plays] made me realize how fortunate I am to have been born when I was born. And to not have to witness the decimation of an entire generation of amazingly talented and otherwise vital men. And at the same time, as a gay man, it made me feel like I — there’s still so much work to be done.”

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