John Cho ('Star Trek')
At first glance, the casting of Korean-born John Cho as the iconic Sulu in J.J. Abramsí Star Trek reboot may not be an obvious choice, until one sees what he does with the once chair-driven character.
While Cho is best known for his comedic work, audiences will see a new side of him as the much-anticipated Trek adventure blasts off in theatres this summer.
Sitting down one-on-one with John during the recent Star Trek press junket, I put it to him that apart from the Asian heritage that he and George Takei share, having seen him do his comedy work, that one might assume that he might not be the obvious choice for this role in 'Star Trek.' So what was it he thought that JJ Abrams ultimately saw in him that convinced him to cast him? "You know, and this is spitballing here, because we havenít had a discussion about it, but I assumed there was some deliberation, because it took a couple of months for me to hear back after my one audition. The fact you kindly point out that Iím not the obvious choice Ė the fact that Iím not the obvious choice might have been attractive for him. That he enjoys kind of engineering a little bit of a paradigm shift."
"I know that he got a real kick out of the fact that Karl Urban, for instance, whoís known for being kind of a badass and a New Zealander and he was the assassin from 'The Bourne Supremacy.' So to put him in a comedic role was a kick for him. I wonder if that was the same for me. Plus, I also wonder if the comedy chops were attractive. Heís talked about the need for them when handling this franchise, because itís been the butt of jokes a little bit. So I think as a collective group, Iím not sure how much of it shows on screen. But I think he needed actors with a sense of humor to come on board."
It seems that Sulu is not nearly as iconic a character as others. Is that an advantage, then, to you, to be able to make this character a lot more your own? "I donít know that it does, because George has stayed in the public eye more than some of the other cast members. Heís also just got a distinctive presence, and voice, so I actually felt a little bit of the heat. I was wondering how much Ė heís just so well-known as a person now, that it was just a little dangerous for me to go into the parroting territory."
Was it refreshing for you to read that Sulu was going to be out of his chair? "Yeah. I mean, thatíd probably be my one issue with the original series, just as the Asian viewer, wanted to see him get out of the chair more often. And so it was great for me to see him in a physically demanding role, and I really perked up when I read that."
And in fact, itís one of your most pivotal moments in the movie. How much preparation did you undertake for that? "A good deal. I wonder if it was to do with me never having done that," he laughs. "So I started from scratch, really, and came in a couple of months beforehand and just started training every day. And there was a lot to learn, so that was just Ė you know, you always enjoy picking up a new skill, or learning something new on a movie. And that was it for me. Plus the fight kept changing, so I had to pick up one skill after another. First it was two sticks, and then it just kept changing, so it was cool to kind of start becoming kind of a jack of all trades, when it comes to combat."
How strictly choreographed are these? fights Is it very strict, or is there any wiggle room at all? "You do it as much as you can. You choreograph it as tight as you can. And then on the day then you get the cameras up. And then itís whatís best for camera. And, you know, you may have an idea of something that may play, little moments here and there. But the bulk of it is pretty mapped out, and you and your stunt man have to both learn that routine. So, itís mapped out."
What are the dangers/challenges of being in a huge summer tent pole movie, for an actor? "Well, you know, itís funny. I just didnít feel any of that at all. I felt it was really JJís responsibility and he deals with it so gracefully, I donít think any of us ever felt that pressure. I donít know how he managed to do it Ė he kept it very light on set. And part of it was probably starting out the process by not gathering us around for a discussion of, ďOkay, how do we deal with the legacy of the series?Ē
"There werenít these serious talks, laboring over the past, and our project. It was just, jump right in and have a good time. As simple and as silly as it sounds, I think it was really effective, in terms of bringing us together as a cast. It shows. And Ė you know, giving us freedom to not feel that burden, and go forward, and Ė you know. Create."
The 'Star Trek' series was both ahead of its time, and of its time. And Iím just wondering what you think the relevance of Star Trek is for this generation, and for this time? "Well, Iíve been thinking about that myself a little bit, because weíve been having an unusually warm receptions to the film. Itís been so warmly received that Iíve been thinking about Ė what is it now? And my best guess is that, again, the movie has this sense of optimism that we need right now. You know, it just seems like the whole world is feeling Ė has a little case of the blues. And the movie is just so hopeful in its attitude of cooperation, you know. the story is about people who find it within themselves to rise to a massive occasion. So maybe thatís what we need to see and hear right now."
You signed up for two more of these 'Star Trek' movies, as I understand. The standard contract for franchises. In your own mind, what would you ideally like to see happen to Sulu? And where would you like to see the character go? "Well, I donít know. Thatís a hard question to answer. I guess I can answer vaguely. I would love it if Sulu had Ė I mean, he had a crisis here that was very external. Fighting with people, and whatnot. I guess to switch it around Ė which was great. I loved having him do that. Because again, like I say, it got him out of the chair, and beamed him down. But I guess Iíd like to see maybe Ė as a change-up Ė more of an internal battle."
What are you planning to do next, do you know? "Well, I just completed a pilot for ABC called Flash Forward."
Which is about what? "Well, itís a good script, written by David Goyer, who did 'Batman Begins,' so when I read it, that was a passion moment for me. I just got really excited, even though TV wasnít really on my mind. But, everyone in the world blacks out for two minutes at the beginning of the show. Thereís an event that causes everyone to black out and they all see a vision of their own future for two minutes. Everyone on the planet. And Joseph Fiennes and I play FBI agents who are trying to piece the whole mess together."
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