WASHINGTON -- When Zachary Quinto quietly entered the headquarters of the Motion Picture Association of America for a special screening of "Star Trek Into Darkness" on Wednesday, the scene was nothing short of a "House of Cards" episode. DC movers and shakers sipped cocktails and nibbled on hors d'oeuvres as they mingled with a smattering of congressional lawmakers. Some momentarily turned away from their conversations to snap photos of Quinto from their smartphones, before going back to hobnobbing.
Spotted in the crowd were Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York. Hoyer told reporters he was "a big space fan," though he and Nadler have attended MPAA events before (since 2011, the group has been led by former Democratic senator Chris Dodd).
It came as no surprise that Quinto was comfortable in their presence, at one point quipping to a relative he had to "go greet the congressman." The 35-year-old actor has never been one to shy away from political causes. He served as a fierce advocate for LGBT rights after coming out in 2011 and campaigned for President Barack Obama's reelection in 2012.
But the actor, who inhabits the iconic role of pointy-eared Spock, the first officer of the starship Enterprise, admitted on the red carpet that he has no desire to become a politician. Quinto had more positive things to say about the political philosophy of the "Star Trek" saga than the polarized climate in Washington.
"I think Gene Roddenberry was a visionary and used the forum of 'Star Trek: The Original Series' as an avenue to present society with allegorical stories that allowed them to generate dialogue about things that people weren't talking about at the time," Quinto told The Huffington Post.
"Interracial relationships and just the diversity of the crew of the Enterprise is indicative of that," he said. "This movie obviously goes into some darker territory, and I think that's because it's reflective of the time we live in."
Two issues reflective of today's times that Quinto signaled are important to him are gay marriage and gun control. The Obama administration deserves credit, he said, for taking a far more progressive stance on equal rights than its predecessors.
"Being the first sitting president in the history of the United States to acknowledge his support for marriage equality is a huge step and is not to be underestimated," Quinto said. "I think we have a lot more work to do, but I think everybody's unified behind the cause."
"You can see now we have 13 states in the union that have adopted marriage equality, and that's an unstoppable wave as far as I'm concerned," he added. "Whether it comes from the federal government or all 50 states just find their way to it, I feel like it's only a matter of time at this point."
Quinto, a Pennsylvania native, first assumed the role of half-Vulcan/half-human Spock in 2009. Between then and the time Quinto declared he was gay, a controversial Newsweek article took Hollywood by storm for positing that gay actors could not convincingly play straight men. "Doesn’t it mean something that no openly gay actor like that exists?" the writer concluded.
Two years later Quinto is one of several actors who defy that claim. And in "Star Trek Into Darkness," he's no less capable than any other action star while performing the film's combat sequences (his character jumps from volcanos). HuffPost asked the actor what he would say now to those who stereotype gay actors.
"I feel incredibly proud of the position that I'm in -- I arrived here on my own time and on my own terms and made some very personal decisions along the way," Quinto said. "I don't feel limited in any way by acknowledging who I am. I feel like I can live an authentic life and do more authentic work now as a result of now."
"Also, I can be somebody," he continued. "When I was growing up and I was aspiring to the life that I'm living now … there was nobody for me to look [up] to that was in a movie like this, that played a role like this, and I think that's suggestive of the progress that we're making as a culture."
Quinto said he was grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution so that the next generation of people could enter a society where homosexuality no longer carried the same stigma.
"I'm thrilled to be a part of that, but I'm only one part of it," he said. "There are so many people who are braver than me, who lived lives in complete denial and shame because they didn't feel like they could acknowledge who they were."
If anything, Quinto said embracing his true identity had helped him both personally and professionally.
"I feel like it's a blessing in my life and my work has only been enriched by it," he said.