New Director! New Aliens! New 'Enterprise'! Secrets of the 'Star Trek Beyond' Set

Marcus Errico
Deputy Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

‘Star Trek Beyond’ cast on Enterprise bridge: (from left) Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, and John Cho. (Paramount/Twitter)

The Borg. Tribbles. Romulans. Klingons. Khan. Mere trifles compared to the daunting new adversary staring down the crew of the starship Enterprise: time. It’s the middle of July 2015, and the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond, just three weeks into filming, are already feeling the crunch. Chris Pine wheezes as sawdust relentlessly rains down on the soundstage, one of three otherwise nondescript warehouse-size buildings tucked under train tracks in suburban Vancouver, B.C., where the sprawling galaxy of Beyond will eventually be housed. Now, however, the setting feels more like a construction site than a film shoot.

With J.J. Abrams, the director of the previous two Treks, off in a galaxy far, far away, Roberto Orci, a co-writer on Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), was tapped to write and direct Beyond. But his script didn’t fly with Paramount executives: Simon Pegg, the Enterprise’s stalwart chief engineer Montgomery Scott, was brought on to rewrite the screenplay with Doug Jung, best known for his work on HBO’s Big Love. Abrams, still a producer and architect of the rebooted Trek franchise, recruited Justin Lin, the director of several Fast and Furious films. While most projects of this scale have a year or more of prep time, Star Trek Beyond only had months.

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“When I got the call from J.J., it was in December. And to mount a movie of this [scope] from ground up in about five months — it takes a lot of great people,” says a surprisingly calm Lin between takes on a scene involving Kirk (Chris Pine), Scotty (Pegg), and a new female alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, the blade-legged assassin in Kingsmen: The Secret Service) — a scene that devolves into laughter as Pegg screams out, “Holy f***balls!” at one point.

Justin Lin flanked by Danny Pudi and Kim Kold as Beyond aliens. (Justin Lin)

“On the Fast movies when I didn’t have any time, I had more time than this,” Lin says.

After kicking around the soundstages, meeting with Lin and the cast, and walking the halls of the Enterprise, we gleaned plenty of intel on the new Trek, from the redesigned ships and costumes to the cavalcade of never-before-seen aliens to the cast’s utter obsession with Dubsmash. Read on to learn just how beyond this installment is boldly going.

This is the (new) voyage of the starship Enterprise

When last we saw the crew of the Enterprise, at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, they had survived the terror attacks of Khan and were ready to embark on a journey of exploration, with Kirk (Chris Pine) reciting Trek’s classic “Space, the final frontier…” mantra as the ship warps off and the credits roll.

“This is the five-year mission now,” says Pine, setting the scene for Beyond. “We’re a couple of years into it. You get a sense of what it’s like being on a ship for that many years with the same people.” As the crew goes through the motions, they suddenly come under attack by swarming fighters, which thoroughly trash the starship. Kirk orders the ship abandoned, scattering the crew into the void.

The Enterprise under attack. (Paramount)

“The other films that we’ve made have been about this group coming together, forging a sense of unity,” says Zachary Quinto, returning as Spock. “In this film there’s a lot of fragmentation. Circumstances dictate that we’re not all in it together; we have to divide in order to conquer. We’re off in unconventional pairings. … There’s a sense of scrambling to defeat our common enemy and not being in the same place to do that.”

More: New ‘Star Trek Beyond’ Trailer ‘Now Reflects What We Were Hoping to Achieve’

Kirk spends much of the film with Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban), who always butted heads on the original series, are thrown together. “We’re exploring new territory,” says Urban. “The fact that Bones and Spock get to spend so much time together and come to a deeper understanding is going to be a true treasure to moviegoers.” “These are two characters that are historically diametrically opposed,” adds Quinto. “There’s a lot of humor that comes from that and, as Karl says, a lot of depth.” Adds Pine: “It has aspects of a buddy comedy.”

Spock (Quinto) and McCoy (Urban) get stuck with each other. (Paramount)

Pegg, meanwhile, suggests that some familiar faces might be not be around for the next Trek. “It’s fun to be able to dip into their lives. It’s not to say that these characters are safe in any way. This is a different reality, you know. Just because [the original] Kirk and those guys lived until they were in their 70s doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in this universe…. It’s nice to have that element of unpredictability.”

She’s purring like a kitten, Captain

The characters might be familiar — the main cast is intact from the past two films — but the ship itself is updated. Lin, perhaps channeling his Fast background, made some modifications to the venerable Enterprise, both inside and out. Astute observers will notice differences from the bridge in Into Darkness. The ship’s corridors are brand-new, built on an elevated, metal-trussed hydraulic “rotator rig” capable of spinning 360 degrees when the Enterprise comes under attack by the minions of Idris Elba’s antagonist, Krall. (Gone are the days when the cast would have to jerk back and forth to simulate the ship’s movement.)

The uniforms have also been upgraded. The crew’s wardrobe now includes a thick blue “survival suit,” as modeled by Kirk and Chekov in the trailers.

Kirk sporting his survival suit. (Paramount)

Another notable development: Uhura finally has sleeves. Zoe Saldana proudly shows off her new duds, which pay homage to the Enterprise uniform worn by Nichelle Nichols in the original 1960s series. “I do have my stripes, just like each and every crew member on the ship. I’m very happy about that,” she says. But the sleeves are the only part of her uniform that were elongated.

Saladana smiles and points to her skirt. “It’s still short. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But you know what? I just had twins and the fact that I’m able to wear this little dress seven months later, I’m grateful!” (Saldana and her husband, Italian artist Marco Perego, welcomed sons Cy and Bowie in November 2014.)

Speaking of Uhura, she and Spock “need a break,” says Saldana, no doubt sending shippers everywhere into a panic. “They’ve been together for a while; they have not been home. They’re tired, and though they love and respect each other a great deal, they need a break. I think that all the relationships in the movie, in this third installment, at the start, they kind of feel like they need a break.”

New life and new civilizations

“We have a new creative team. This is a new production designer, new costume designer, new director, new cinematographer. We’re shooting on digital for the first time, but we’re still shooting anamorphic so we’ll have that big, epic scope,” says Pine.

More: Inside the First ‘Star Trek Beyond’ Trailer

New is a word the cast and crew of Beyond toss around a lot. And nowhere is that more evident than with the the species that inhabit the film. Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek series, the filmmakers thought it would be appropriate to come up with 50 different kinds of creatures never before seen in the Trekverse. “We’re creating brand-new worlds, new species,” says Lin with a smile. “I went to Joel Harlow’s studio — he does all the effects makeup for the creatures. He showed me three bins for the last two Star Treks, and we have 15 bins.”

“With this one, it felt like they needed to be out there now, they needed to be doing what those characters did in the series, which is to explore the universe,” explains Pegg. “And that means they’re off in parts of the galaxy we haven’t seen before. They’re not going to run into the same people again.”

That’s Idris Elba under the alien mask; he’s just boarded the Enterprise. (Paramount)

Although he’s unrecognizable beneath all that makeup, Elba’s Krall is engineered to be a formidable villain. “We were talking about having that historic and icon Star Trek antagonist,” recounts Lin. “So Idris and I get on the phone. I explained that for the 50th anniversary, one of the things I really wanted to do was challenge the idea of the Federation, the philosophy of the Federation and what that means. And I needed an actor of his caliber to come in with conviction and establish his own philosophy.”

Sofia Boutella battling aliens in Beyond. (Paramount)

The other key newcomer is Boutella’s Jaylah. “First week, we’re in the forest, and I’m putting Sofia through hell in her intro fight,” says Lin. “And we had to go take after take after take. It was four days of really pushing it. She was so pumped up, and she just went for it. I’m already cutting that. I’m excited for that.”

Life without Leonard Nimoy

One person involved in the previous two movies but missing for Beyond is Leonard Nimoy, who died in February 2015 at age 83. No one in the cast feels the loss harder than Quinto, who developed a strong friendship with his fellow Spock.

“Leonard long ago gave me the legacy of Spock and the responsibility of carrying it forward,” the actor says. “I spent a lot of time dealing with the personal impact that Leonard’s death had on me emotionally … then I came up here and started the movie and was washed over again with this whole new wave of emotion for stepping into the role for the first time without him.

“I think he’s very much a part of this — with me, for me. … I feel him with me in a very powerful way all the time. And doing this film, I feel he’s a part of it for all of us. Everybody feels his absence. We want to honor him with continuing to tell these stories with integrity.”

Words With Friends was so last movie

Working intensely with the same group of people for three films over eight years might lead to some off-camera issues. After all, the original Trek TV cast members were not all buddy buddy away from the Enterprise. But the new Trek crew genuinely like each other — Saldana calls it a "lovefest” — and find time to bond over their mutual love of a certain lip-syncing app.

“There’s been a lot of Dubsmash energy on this set, which has been a lot of of fun,“ Pine tells us. “Everybody brings they’re own flavor to it. John Cho [Sulu] has been surprisingly aggressive in his Dubsmashiness.”

“It became an epidemic. I can’t remember, it might have Zoe who started it,” says Pegg, noting that Words With Friends was their obsession of choice on Into Darkness. “As soon as we’re done saying lines, we just sit in our chairs and Dubsmash something,” says Saldana. “It’s our comic relief. John, Simon, and Karl have a knack for it. They are so spot-on.”

Beyond what?

While Pegg states that the title has “specific meaning that will become apparent as you watch the movie,” the word has different connotations for the cast.

“The first film was about establishing the characters. The second film was about taking it into a darker place, which was the in vogue thing circa the Batman/Dark Knight era,” Pine says. “For us, Beyond is reestablishing, especially in the 50th anniversary of the Enterprise, the world of Star Trek, reestablishing why Star Trek is uniquely its own beast. It’s not super-dark like Dark Knight, it’s not super-campy like Guardians of the Galaxy — it’s its own thing.”

Pegg and co-writer Doug Jung on the Beyond set. (Twitter)

Pegg, who had made headlines for saying the original treatment for Beyond was “too Trek-y” a few weeks earlier, sought to clarify his remarks in describing his vision. “That was a misnomer,” he says. “I’ve never read the original script, so [my comment] was a bit of a generalization. … In the end it came down to trying to write a great screenplay that embodied everything that made Star Trek great through the years. And make that accessible to a person who has just discovered the story.”

Star Trek Beyond beams into theaters on July 22, and we’ll see whether Pegg, Lin, and the rest of the gang can make their voyage pay off.