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Star Trek star fills historic shoes

John Cho may be Sulu in the new Star Trek, but he’s still alright with the occasional Harold call-out from his two-film run in Harold and Kumar. Do not worry John, after Star Trek debuts May 8, audiences will forget Harold completely and begin shouting Sulu.

Learning stunts and perfecting the Star Trek world was only the beginning of the daunting challenges for Cho arriving on the JJ Abrams (Lost) set. The actor was inheriting a role that broke barriers and a show that smashed television ceilings.

After scene-stealing turns in Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty, Cho sits down for an exclusive interview with SheKnows about one of the summer’s most anticipated films — Star Trek.

Cho feels the weight of history

SheKnows: You’ve been talking about Star Trek all day. It’s a fantastic film, but does it get tiring?John Cho: It really helps if it the movie’s good and people like it (laughs).

Chris Pine is Kirk and John Cho is Sulu in JJ Abrams' Star Trek

SheKnows: At the screening last night on the Paramount lot, people broke into applause about six to eight times.

John Cho: Wow. Really?SheKnows: Yeah, certain lines or when you overcame someone in your big fight scene — there was a big roar after that.

John Cho: Wow, man.

SheKnows: Yeah, I know.John Cho: I don’t know how to exactly figure it. There’s people liking the movie and then there’s good will towards the movie. They are two separate things. Liking the movie, I get, because I think we’ve made a good one. I know we worked hard on it. I’m such a fan of everyone in the movie and behind the camera. That doesn’t surprise me that we’ve made a good movie. I felt that all along. But, the goodwill has taken me by surprise. It’s interesting. I think people are rooting for us.

John Cho is now Sulu

SheKnows: Something I wanted to ask you about is how George (Takei), was one of the first, if not the first, Asian-American actors on TV…

John Cho: Yeah…(sighs)SheKnows: What an influence that was on you. In the press conference you said you used to yell at your parents to come quick because you didn’t know when the Asian man would disappear.John Cho: Yes (laughs)!SheKnows: Are there any nerves about tackling that particular role?

The Star Trek cast, circa 2009

John Cho: It’s just kind of sacred. Even, for me, I wasn’t a big Trekkie growing up and I thought the costumes were silly as a kid. I didn’t have that connection with the show. But, even then, I knew, this guy is important. The show is important. His presence for people who look like me is important. I’ve always known that. I’ve always thought he was a real touchtone for us Asian-Americans artists and the larger community. So, I didn’t want to ‘F’ it up (laughs). You know, I told him so and he was really cool about it. I think he knew what it took to work — which was to release me from that. There’s this kind of paralysis about something like that.

JJ Abrams’ vivacious vision

SheKnows: That’s true. You’re heard a lot, I’m sure, about JJ Abrams, how did that compare to what you experienced on the set?

JJ directs his cast and crew in Star Trek

John Cho: I knew a little something about him. I was a day-player on the first season of Felicity. I was made aware of this whiz-kid. Then, it’s like, ‘hey, that JJ Abrams guy is doing this. This JJ Abrams guy is doing that.’ Then I saw Mission Impossible 3 and I couldn’t believe the work he’d done. It’s similar to what he’s done in Star Trek in that he’s inheriting something and putting his own twist on it. What I loved about his work in Mission Impossible 3 — which I thought was so sophisticated and so mature as a storyteller — was to put the emphasis on family. He put the emphasis on personal relationships and also hired great actors so that then the action becomes so much sharper, so much more weighted. The explosions in that Mission Impossible for me were bigger, brighter…I just felt the peril so much more because of his emphasis on relationships. That was what he brought to Star Trek. His emphasis was on the human component of the story. Then, the special effects take care of themselves. That opening sequence with Kirk’s birth, I couldn’t believe — that was such an unbelievable way to begin the story. Those are some dazzling first few minutes. It was dazzling because it was so heartbreaking.

SheKnows: Have you ever had a chance to work with so many special effects before?John Cho: You know, I haven’t been in anything with this many special effects, however, on set there was so much to work with, it didn’t feel like I was in a special effects movie. That’s the funny part of it. There was a lot of set. There was a lot to touch and grab. It didn’t feel CG at all. I wondered how much they would add. Then I saw it (laughs). That’s what they added (laughs).

Star Trek readies for battle

SheKnows: You have that breathtaking fight scene atop a platform miles above the ground, John, did you have any experience with stage fighting?John Cho: I had a little. Every actor goes through this and that. I actually fenced briefly in Hamlet years ago. That was the closest I’ve come. I was pretty much starting from scratch — especially for an Asian actor, no martial arts training whatsoever (laughs). I’ve avoided that stuff for years, so now; I was in the thick of it. That was the primarily challenge of the role was to get up to speed on that stuff. It was fun and hard because these stunt guys have an enormously high pain threshold (laughs). They don’t know what regular people feel. Regular, meaning weaklings (laughs). That was fun, it was intense.SheKnows: What is so amazing about that entire scene is how your face, as well as your entire body, is reflecting someone who is truly new at sword fighting thousands of feet in the air.

The platform for John Cho's biggest Star Trek scene

John Cho: In any other job I’ve had, it’s about getting the emotions right. This was about getting the emotions and the physicality right. I wasn’t used to doing that. Having to do physical movements correctly was a new sensation. I just had to get this kick right with the crew watching.

SheKnows: Was it enjoyable?John Cho: It was cool when you got it right. It was really awesome when you got it right.

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