John Cho is loving every minute of it. It’s August 14, 2011, and Cho is kicking back in a seat in a conference room a stone’s throw from the thousands of fans who’ve gathered to celebrate everything Star Trek during Creation Entertainment’s Official 45th Anniversary Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. He’s spent the day signing autographs, posing for photos with George Takei and fans of both Sulu actors, and he’s joined Takei on stage for the first-ever Sulu Summit. Now, taking a break, Cho sits down for an interview with StarTrek.com. Over the course of our conversation, he shares his excitement about the day’s events, looks back at Star Trek (2009), reveals what he’d like to see for Sulu in the next feature, and fills us in on his upcoming projects, in the processing explaining why he’s sporting a mustache. Below is part one of our two-part talk, and check back again tomorrow for the second half.
You just finished posing for photos with George Takei and hundreds of fans, and you also shared the stage with him in front of several thousand very amped people. What were those experiences like for you?
Cho: Oh, those were fun. First of all, I love George and I love seeing him, period. So it’s always cool when our paths cross. These were my very first convention events, and it’s very fitting that George ushered me into this world. I was nervous today, when the day started, about getting in front of so many people, but now I’m excited. It’s funny, but I’m actually a little camera-shy. I know that’s weird, but it’s something I deal with and, my God, the people were all so warm. I was really bowled over by how welcoming everyone was, and I felt like they were taking care of me.
What has it meant to you to get to know George a little bit?
Cho: He’s always been a hero of mine. He’s the one that brought me into Star Trek, as a kid. I think every person of color in America knows what I’m talking about. When you’re switching the channels and you see someone who looks like you, you freak out. Especially in the 1960s and 1970s and even the 1980s, there just weren’t as many faces of color on television as there are today. So, George is someone who’s been a hero and been on my radar ever since I came to this country. So being connected to him in this way is a real honor.
If you can be objective, how satisfied were you with the first film and with Sulu’s role in it?
Cho: It is impossible for me to be objective. But I can only tell you what my reaction was. I was just screaming the first time we screened the movie. It was on the Paramount lot. The main cast was there and everyone was going nuts, as I was. I kind of forgot that I was in the movie. A lot of actors watch movies, watch themselves, in a very critical way and they start nitpicking. The movie was so exciting that I actually forgot to beat myself up. And I thought the guy playing Sulu was OK.
Did you have enough to do in the film?
Cho: Yes. I was happy. When I took the role I hadn’t read the script, even. I just knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I wasn’t sure how it’d juggle out. There were just a lot of characters to get to, it was a big story to tell, and I wasn’t expecting a huge arc. But that scene, the fight, was spectacular. It was something I hadn’t done before. It was new territory for me. So I was very happy with what I had, to answer your question.
If we play John Cho in Fantasyland, what do you hope to see for Sulu in the second film?
Cho: Sulu’s battle was external in the first one, and I think it’d be interesting to see him have an internal battle of some sort. That would be fun for me, for him to struggle with a decision.
You happen to be Korean-American, but for many people you’re just John Cho, actor. Your background, skin color and nationality don’t really seem to matter, especially in a lot of the roles you’re doing. How hard is it not to take that for granted, and, building on what you said about George Takei a few moments ago, how important is it to you to remember the people who helped paved the way for you?
Cho: I think about it all the time. That’s not something I can forget. As much as other people forget it, I don’t.
You’ve been turning up in some very intriguing and offbeat projects lately. Let’s go through a few of them. How did “The Birthday Party That Was Neither” episode of NTSF:SD:SUV that aired at the end of July come about?
Cho: I know (writer-star) Paul Scheer and somebody just called me up and said, “Do you want to do this?” I said, “Sure,” because I really wanted to work with Paul. And he gave me the funniest script, with Kate Mulgrew cutting my head off. I said, “Let’s do it!”
Visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two of our interview with John Cho. In it, he talks about his upcoming films A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Total Recall and American Reunion, and shares an anecdote about his young son playing with a Sulu doll.