The Star Trek actor, who has died in a freak car accident, was beginning to mature into a performer of heartbreaking sensitivity and impressive range

Fans of Jeremy Saulniers ultraviolent horror Green Room will have enjoyed an irony in the casting maybe even suspected a deliberate extra-textual joke. A struggling punk band find themselves stranded in the middle of Oregon, their van conked out in a field, and desperate for some cash agree to play at a roadhouse exclusively patronised by neo-Nazi skinheads. They want to do the gig, get paid and get out, but things get complicated when they chance across a dead body backstage. The venue is run by a very sinister old white bald guy called Darcy, played by Patrick Stewart associated by many with his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The bands moody-yet sympathetic bass guitarist Pat is played by Anton Yelchin widely associated with his breakout role as Chekov, in the rebooted first-gen movie series of Star Trek.

Yelchin, far left, as Chekov in the 2008 Star Trek reboot Photograph: Photo Credit: Industrial Light a/Publicity image from film company

It hardly seems credible, but Yelchin, tipped as one of the most exciting and charismatic of the new twentysomething generation, has now been killed in a freak car accident an event as sad and shocking as Paul Walkers death in 2013 or Heath Ledgers in 2008.

Yelchins charm and openness as a performer had earned him a wide following: he had a gentle, at certain angles almost babyish face: a cherubic face in fact, with its flecks of bum-fluff, which nonetheless was growing leaner and more chiselled as he was growing into his late 20s. And how grim that thought is now. It was a face suitable for any kind of all-American boy next door role: but he was a very shrewd choice to play Star Treks 17-year-old Russian navigator Chekov. Unlike Walter Koenig, who played the role originally, Yelchin was actually Russian: born in St Petersburg (or at that time, Leningrad) to two figure-skating Olympians who moved to the United States as political refugees shortly after his birth in 1989.

Star Trek was Yelchins breakout moment, and he relished giving interviews and press conferences in Russian for the movies junket tours in Russia. But in the movies he had to speak English in the understood hammy Ryussian accyent which of course was far from his actual English voice as a California resident. His Chekov was a more comic role, his relative youth and vulnerability being ratcheted up, saucer-eyed with earnest self-importance as he relayed vital information to Kirk or Spock on the bridge.

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Anton Yelchin: actor of cherubic charm who inspired huge affection | Peter Bradshaw