At HIFF: Anton Yelchin Explains His Unlikely Space Jam/Taxi Driver Influence

Youth seized the Hamptons this afternoon, as the ongoing film festival here featured a fun Breakthrough Artists panel comprising actors Anton Yelchin (Like Crazy), Alexander Skarsgård (Melancholia), Emily Browning (Sleeping Beauty), Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) and Stine Fischer Christensen (Cracks in the Shell). It was a wide-ranging chat veering from the subjects of stage parents to confronting vulnerability, but things didn't really get going until Yelchin and Miller (pictured above) replied to a question about their early influences. Hint: They both involve megastars. And, uh, animated rabbits.

"For me, I'd have to say Space Jam, because..." Yelchin began, interrupted by a gale of audience laughter. "I was obsessed with Michael Jordan and wanted to play basketball like him. And when I realized that was not happening, I kind of fell in love with this because I went to an acting class. But that film was actually shot by Michael Chapman, who's an amazing D.P. that I've worked with. And he shot my favorite movie, which is Taxi Driver. And that's probably the film that inspired me the most. But I was talking about basketball with him, and was like, 'Oh, it's like Space Jam!' And he looked at me and said, 'I shot that movie.' 'You fucking shot Space Jam? And Raging Bull and Taxi Driver?' How is this happening?"

"Three of the greatest movies!" noted Miller.

"Of all time!" Yelchin said. "But probably Taxi Driver. I think that was the performance that's moved me consistently since I was very young, because first you relate to it on an emotional level. And then the more you learn about film, the more you appreciate the craft of cinema in general."

Miller followed slightly more poignantly. "When I was 9," he said, "I was working in the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus, and I did Tosca. It was Luciano Pavarotti's last American stage performance. It was his last performance, period -- the last thing he did. And he couldn't even stand up. He would bring a stool onstage to his mark, and he would sit down on the stool. I remember watching from the side of the stage before we went on, and he was singing an aria. And the man couldn't stand, but he was singing this aria better than anyone will sing an aria again. And there was something like a realization of full-on, to-the-end-of-your-life devotion to a craft, and I felt very confident in what I wanted to do.

"That and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" he continued. "Christopher Lloyd's performance in there? Where he plays the insane..." And here Miller adopted Lloyd's shrieking voice and cadence from the film's climax: "'But I talk like this!' And his eyes bulge? It was somewhere between those two."

"So both of you have got the animated/live-action thing," observed panel moderator Rajendra Roy.

"Two rabbits!" Miller said.

"Two rabbits," Yelchin said. "And Michael Jordan and Pavarotti."

"Michael Jordan and Pavarotti are the same person disguised as each other," Miller noted.

I mean, obviously. Stay tuned to Movieline this weekend for more from the Hamptons International Film Festival...