John Cho had big shoes to fill on Star Trek (2009), assuming the role of Hikaru Sulu from George Takei. He pulled it off nicely, delivering a performance that tipped its cap to Takei while also sending Sulu in new directions. Now, with Star Trek Into Darkness, Cho returns as Sulu and, as anyone who’s seen footage from the movie can attest, he’s thrust right back into the action. StarTrek.com caught up with Cho for an interview in which he discussed Star Trek Into Darkness, filled us in on his other current and upcoming projects, and revealed that he’d love to played a Jedi in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars film, even at the risk of the universe imploding.
How satisfied were you with Star Trek (2009), specifically the way it rebooted the franchise and the character of Sulu?
CHO: From my vantage point, I was thrilled. I’ll start with Sulu. I thought, the way he was written, it was fresh. I thought the film was a nod to the original series. I thought the story moved and that it was exciting. The movie was reverential and yet tried to do its own thing. I would say that extends to the character and the movie as a whole. It’s hard to judge in the sense that I was really close to it and to the people that were involved in making it. I’m probably not the best person to ask, but I thought the movie came out great. I was thrilled. I think, for me, going into it, I was really worried that I wasn’t going to do George (Takei) justice, and I was sort of afraid of the Trekkers’ wrath. Maybe they can be cruel if they don’t like you, but on the other side of the coin, I think fans of that series, if they like you, they really like you. My own experience with the fans was that they were really warm.
You got to meet George a handful of times. You even shared a stage with him in Las Vegas at a convention a couple of years ago. What did it mean to you to pick his brain, to get his seal of approval and to get friendly with him?
CHO: I think the old adage “Don’t meet your heroes” doesn’t apply here because George is a very special person. He’s unique and he’s uniquely generous. I don’t know that there’s another actor – including myself, if there’s ever another Sulu – who’d be as generous as he was to me and as warm. I count myself very lucky that he’s a person who not only cares about that character, but is also a humanitarian. He looks at the big picture and wants to make sure the franchise and the character is in good hands. And I think he, as an Asian-American, wants to make sure another Asian-American goes forward feeling supported. So, he’s just an extraordinary person, and I think that’s what the transition went well, because he’s so special.
Give us some sense of how involved Sulu is this go-round?
CHO: I’m not sure how much I can tell you. I’ll say that he’s there, he’s growing and he’s challenged. I hope that people enjoy watching him as much as I enjoyed myself on the bridge again. I guess I can talk about the opening sequence, since it was part of the nine minutes that a lot of people saw. That was me, Zach (Quinto) and Zoe (Saldana). That was fun. It was some high-flying antics for Sulu. It was a chance to be in another ship; that’s what I took away from it. It was so cool. I can’t tell you how nifty it is to be in one of those vehicles and to pretend that you’re piloting it, because nobody gets to see what we see, which is that every detail of the design is so perfect. It makes our job, one, easy, because you don’t have to pretend to be doing things. You can feel like you’re really just doing them. And, two, it’s just a beautiful design. It doesn’t make it on to the screen, a lot of it. Let’s just say I took a lot of video.
The film was shot in 3D and, at times, with the IMAX camera. How did that affect you?
CHO: The IMAX camera was used for certain sequences and I didn’t see it that much. But it was limiting. It takes a long time to light correctly and it is loud. So it’s just another complication. The 3D thing was interesting because we’d had to do a separate pass for FX. But that was when we left the room. So I guess, in a sense, it took a little time away, but it was remarkably unobtrusive. I shot a 3D movie, Harold and Kumar 3, and I felt that the rigging was so large that it limited an independent production like ours, because we had so little time that the extra 15 minutes it took to set up that camera really hurt us if you counted up the number of shots. But the way they were doing it on Star Trek, shooting it conventionally and then shooting a separate pass, was pretty unobtrusive, plus we had the benefit of time.
What’s your gut instinct on the film?
CHO: The parts I’ve seen are so thrilling. I’m assuming that everyone has seen the nine-minute trailer, and I’ve probably seen another 20 minutes. I was completely thrilled with what I’ve seen so far. What I got from it is, as always, the characterizations are en pointe. The adventure sequences are unbelievable. Something the last movie did that this movie does too is that it’s grand fun. I love the action sequences. I love seeing the different locations. From what I can tell, the humor is intact. I was just really happy with what I saw.
What do you make of J.J. Abrams doing Star Wars and the possible impact that could have on him doing the next Star Trek movie?
CHO: I hope we don’t lose him. Though it would be sad, I, as a Star Wars fan, am excited to see what he’ll do for that franchise. What can I tell you? He’s a fan of that franchise and he has the intelligence and the talent to do the job. I, for one, can’t wait.
Do you want in on Star Wars?
CHO: I’ll play a Jedi. What the hell? I think the universe might break, but I’ll play a Jedi.
You’ve got several other projects that are current or on the way. How has Go On been as an experience? And what can you tell us about the films That Burning Feeling and Get a Job?
CHO: Go On has been fun. It’s been nice for me to stay in town while I’m raising my progeny. In comedy, Matthew Perry is sort of my Yoda. He doesn’t know it, but I stole so much of what I think is funny from him, so it’s been fun to work with him. Get a Job was a real small part. I send off Miles (Teller), the kid who stars in the movie. I fire him from his job and basically tell him to get a job, another job. I may utter the title of the movie. And in That Burning Feeling, it’s a coincidence, I think, but I fire the main character in that, too, and send Paulo Costanzo on his employment journey as well.
Can we just point out that you told us more about the plots of That Burning Feeling and Get a Job than you did about Star Trek Into Darkness?
CHO: That’s sad. You know, it’s tough for us, but, on the other hand, seeing J.J.’s work, I’m appreciative of it now that I’m on the other side. I can see how, in a way, he’s so protective of the moviegoer’s experience.
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