EXCLUSIVE: Interview with John Cho | TrekMovie.com
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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with John Cho May 6, 2009

by Anthony Pascale , Filed under: Interview,Star Trek (2009 film) , trackback

Up until recently John Cho was best known for his role in the Harold and Kumar stoner comedies, but that is all about to change. In his first interview with TrekMovie, Cho talks about going after the role of Sulu to give himself a challenge, how fight training shaped the role, his relationship with George Takei, and just how far he will go to honor Star Trek tradition. [interview contains SPOILERS]

 

Interview with Jon Cho
 

Cho: Nice to meet you.

TrekMovie: We have actually met before very briefly. In 2006 at the [Atrios Awards] I was there to run into JJ and no casting had been done yet. And I talked to you briefly in the green room and I asked you if you would be interested in playing Sulu and you said "yeah that would be great, I would love to do anything George Takei did" or something like that. Probably before it was on your radar.

Cho: Did you tell me the project was happening? You were probably the first person.

TrekMovie: Well it was from even before they said Sulu was in the movie, very early days, about a year before you were cast. But tell me about your audition process, were you like Zach and went after the role aggressively? 

Cho: I know the instant I heard about it, I picked up the phone and told my agent I need to be involved. I am not a person who reads the trades, so I just don’t hear about them incidentally. I am thinking you were the first?

TrekMovie: Come on? So, you are in the movie because of me?

Cho: You know what, you are making a joke, I sense some joke, but that is exactly — that may be exactly what happened?…You know what, I might have called him the next day…I only went to one audition. It was Bob [Orci] and JJ [Abrams] in the room. It was a bit of a hassle getting the material, because I had to sign secrecy documents. I felt the weight of the world because they gave me this whole rigmarole about ‘don’t let these sides get anywhere’ and I am kind of absent minded, especially on audition day. I also have this habit of throwing away audition material as I leave the building because it is a way of letting the audition go. Don’t sweat it, just let it go. I had to remember not to do that because it had ‘John Cho’ written on it and if someone get it and posts it, it would be very clear who Paramount had to kill. But it was almost amounted to a couple of monologs that they had written specifically for the audition…There was a trial sequence, I was in front of some sort of magistrate and there was an action sequence, in the middle of a battle with lots of tecnho stuff. I think they wanted to see how I handled that stuff. I was sweating it. This came along at such a perfect time for me. You go through peaks and valleys of being interested in your craft. At the moment there was nothing that was exciting me and I wasn’t thrilled by anything that came across my desk for a little while.

TrekMovie: Because of the Harold and Kumar and American Pie, were you getting a lot of that R rated comedy stuff?

Cho: Yeah, there was that problem and I was just in a funk not being passionate. And the danger of not being passionate is you do bad work. And the danger in that is that you don’t get work again. So I was in a little bit of a funk and I was phoning it in. I got this thing and I was just like on fire, I wanted it! And I really put a lot of work into it.


Cho was known for roles in films like "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle"

TrekMovie: So even without reading the script you wanted it. Was that because you believed in JJ or the franchise or Bob and Alex?

Cho: All of the above. I knew that those guys were going to do an amazing job, particularly watching Mission Impossible III and what JJ did with that, I was really impressed with his focus on the characters and making all of the action so much more interesting as a result. And I thought Star Trek was the source of so many big ideas and then you got great characters. And then for me there was a George [Takei] connection and that emotional connection.

TrekMovie: You worked with him at the [The East West Players].

Cho: Yeah, he is on the board of directors at that theater company and I had done some plays there. We had met, but hadn’t had a whole lot of contact.

TrekMovie: Did you talk to him during the process or not until after you were cast?

Cho: Not until after. I didn’t want to bother him and get him involved in lobbying or anything like that. I didn’t want to compromise him and thought that would be inappropriate. So I waited until I got the role and promptly wrote him a letter and asked him if we could get together, primarily because I was nervous.

TrekMovie: I have talked to him about it and he couldn’t be happier that you were cast.

Cho: Dude, that makes me so happy, really it does.

TrekMovie: Once you got the script, what was it like for you, since Sulu is a little different than he was in the show and has a lot of action. Were you nervous about that or excited?

Cho: A little bit of both. I was thrilled he was out of his chair and getting into the mix. If I had one complaint about the old show, as an Asian-American, I wanted to see Sulu get involved a little more and kick some booty. And this is it, this is happening. I can’t believe I am fulfilling my own personal dream and having Sulu shaking it. And secondly, I was like ‘I have never done this before’, I have never done action before so it was a completely different way of working for me, where I led with my body. Strangely, that stunt work we did a couple of months prior informed everything else. I was surprised by that. That the way my body changed as a result of doing all that training, kind of made me a different person. I was like ‘I like this, I am going with this’ it was a little like an Academy experience for us. It informed how I sat in the chair, how I attacked every line. It was surprisingly useful.


Cho’s Sulu is out of the chair and kicking butt in new Star Trek

TrekMovie: You talk about getting back into the chair. You and Anton [Yelchin] still do a lot of ‘in the chair’ work in this movie. So you and he worked out some system so you know what does what at that consoles? Like you guys have figured out a system where you know what to do if Kirk says ‘fire the photon torpedoes’?

Cho: Not precisely, but vaguely, yeah. We made decisions and it was building from scratch. I went in there and I called JJ over and I was looking at the set and I said ‘what is the language?’ I realized we are setting something here, we have got to feel confident going forward. The set was an in interesting mixture of the digital vibe of the original show, and kind of the — I hate to bring this up — but the analog vibe of Star Wars. The bumpiness and used feel and the real dials. It was funny, Star Trek was such a smooth sleek view of the future and how do you combine that. Do you depress things? We could have gone in a bunch of ways. We relied on the touch screen more than anything else. 


Cho (left – back to camera) on set working with JJ Abrams

TrekMovie: You talked about how this film was important to your craft. Well they have already commissioned a script for a second film. Are you up for it?

Cho: I really am. I had a great time doing it, which sounds so cliché, but I don’t think I would be eager to come back even if it was a good thing for my career if you don’t have a good time on set. We did get lucky. Maybe it wasn’t luck, maybe it was JJ’s doing. But I am also just proud to be connected with it. Star Trek says something good about our potential as a race. It is corny. I am going to be really proud to leave this to my son. So yeah, I’ll do a second one, a third one, I am signed up.

TrekMovie: But going back to challenging yourself as an actor and working on your craft as you were saying earlier, what would you like to see Sulu do both as a character and as an actor?

Cho: That is turf for the writers so I hesitate to go there. But I will offer one thing. It was great to see Sulu do an external thing – fight, to get physical. Maybe it would be cool to see him have an internal battle in the second one.

TrekMovie: I know honoring the Star Trek tradition is important to you, so with that in mind, have you considered starting a feud with Chris Pine?

Cho: [laughs]…DONE!


Cho would like to see Sulu get an internal struggle in the next one

 

Up Next – TrekMovie talks to Karl Urban
The next final pre-movie interview lined up is with the good doctor, Karl Urban talks about what it was like as a Trek fan to be the new Bones.

Other final pre-movie exclusive interviews at TrekMovie:

 

 

 

Comments

1. Minitrap - May 6, 2009

Cho is great, can’t wait to see him in the movie

2. Locke for President - May 6, 2009

I never really cared for the stoner movies, but “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” was better than most. I like him, and I’d like to see if he can do a serious role.

On another note, some Sisko look-alike dude from the New York Press broke the 100 percent run for the new movie. There are already 28 comments responding to his review.

I think he better watch out, one of us geeks might poke his eye out with a protractor, ha ha ha.

3. Mike in Iowa - May 6, 2009

Great interview with John Cho, Anthony.

It’s a little weird, though, that he found out about the movie from you, in the past and now you’re interviewing him here about being in the movie … maybe that was really Anthony Pascale Prime and now we’re all on an alternative timeline blog.

That makes my head hurt.

Love the comment about the feud with Pine. Hilarious.

Keep up the great work.

Maybe first … then again, maybe not. Who really cares, anyway?

4. Locke for President - May 6, 2009

Addition to my post: I was referring to the Rotten Tomatoes web site.

It’s been fun watching the positive reviews flowing in. It’s now 46 fresh, 1 rotten.

I haven’t been reading the reviews, because there wouldn’t be anything left to learn when I watched the actual movie.

5. marvin - May 6, 2009

off topic but in light of all these recent interviews Anthony, congrats on the incredible job you and your team have been doing!

6. marvin - May 6, 2009

@ 4. the first rotten review is from guy who gave TDK first rotten as well. good omen perhaps

7. cyranojones - May 6, 2009

Great stuff, Anthony. It’s amazing to see how this site has developed and grown side-by-side with the development of the new movie. You’ve definitely accomplished your mission of being “THE source for everything new in Trek”. Keep it up!

It’s interesting to see Cho possibly acknowledge some regret from the stoner-comedy work…

8. Raphael Salgado - May 6, 2009

John Cho is The Man! Great interview, Anthony.

Who’s next?

9. Matt Wright - May 6, 2009

Liking all these interviews, every one seems really into the Trek experience and happy to do it.

10. Daoud - May 6, 2009

#8 Karl Urban! Woo hoo! I’ve got aviaphobia all over!

11. Millennium Vulcan - May 6, 2009

Hikaru and Harold have at least one interest in common: botany.

12. Daoud - May 6, 2009

Well, as long as he doesn’t pick up any buds off of retlaw plants, he should be okay. ;)

13. Kevin Rubio - May 6, 2009

Oh, my. (C’mon someone had to say it) ;-)

14. bee - May 6, 2009

you see, anthony escape from the Romulan spaceship by jumping into their time machine and came back to earth in the year 2006 to hinted Cho of the movie. Luckly, Cho wasn’t that stoned. Now 3 years later, we see the present day Anthony interviewing Cho just like how the future Anthony wanted it.

15. Jorg Sacul - May 6, 2009

So, aside from fencing, does this Sulu still like botany? WILL WE SEE BEAUREGARD??? ;-)

16. I am not Herbert - May 6, 2009

Can’t wait to see Sulu in the movie! Cho is perfect for Sulu!

Interesting comments about his station… not surprising that the controls were not well thought out…

having a throttle is not realistic IMHO, but I guess it makes a good “shot”… =P

Does he have a joystick as well? disappointing how Star Wars mentality is having so much influence…

17. Chris Rod - May 6, 2009

JOHN CHO AS SULU!!… eh ooh,….. i think hes going to take the enterprise heading to WHITE CASTLE!!!!!

AHHHHHHH!!!!!

18. Chris Rod - May 6, 2009

JOHN CHO! WATCH OUT! OVER RIDING MANUAL HELM CONTROLLS, HEADING STRAIGHT TO WHITE CASTLE!!!

19. Jim Smith - May 6, 2009

@ 16 – Enterprise E had a joystick in INSURRECTION

20. JDM - May 6, 2009

John Cho was in a first-season episode of “House, MD” and it was ALL serious – at least, he played a very… neurotic, fetishistic character. No overt comedy, anyhow. I don’t know if that’s anything to go on – I haven’t really seen him in anything else except for a few minutes of the first “Harold and Kumar” on Comedy Central (I changed channels). Anyhow, one thing I hope this new movie and its sequels (it’s pretty much inevitable, right?) does is use the whole “reboot” opportunity to even out if not shift the focus away from JUST the so-called holy trinity of Kirk-Spock-McCoy all the time, especially since they’re trying to expand the Star Trek universe to show lives off ship and off-duty in some scenes. I’ve thought about it, though, and as much as I like the original cast, since they’re doing this, I hope they go all the way and do things REALLY differently than the first cast’s films, even in terms of stories. I think you can make an equally good Star Trek movie without plagiarizing “Khan” all the time.

21. I am not Herbert - May 6, 2009

I just saw that he DOES have two TEENY joysticks on his console…

IMHO, it’s pretty ridiculous to think that a 2500′ starship would be maneuvered with stick and throttle…

…hope that’s not the case…

22. Will_H - May 6, 2009

John Cho is pretty much one cool mo-fo. Looks like he was well cast.

23. Andrew C - May 6, 2009

19

Yes, and Insurrection sucked. Not because of that one thing, but it was one sucky element in a larger sucky dynamic.

24. Andrew C - May 6, 2009

For instance, a whiny villain who throws temper tantrums and gets facelifts throughout the movie, the Starfleet admiral being played by an actor otherwise known for being a two bit lackey in a weak James Bond movie (License to Kill), Picard having a romance (but not really) with a big nosed ugly woman, Data’s line about being a flotation device, Troi and Crusher comparing breast revitalization, the inescapable sense that the movie is an overblown television episode…..

25. TREKKIE369 - May 6, 2009

Locke for President–Now it’s down to 95% with 59 fresh and 3 rotten.

Andrew C–Insurrection was pretty bad, but I really liked the idea. I wish that they had just written the concept a bit better.

1 MORE DAY!!!!!! YAY!!!!!

26. I am not Herbert - May 6, 2009

Yeah, Insurrection sucked pretty bad; even Riker agreed, IIRC…

27. Will_H - May 6, 2009

#20, I think they’ve changed the holy trinity and swapped out McCoy for Uhura, which Im not too cool with, because I think the trinity worked, Spock was cold and logical, McCoy was passionate and tempered, and Kirk was kind of the balance, and I dont see how Uhura can take that place. I still do like the idea of putting the others more in the mix, though. I think that was one of the best aspects of TNG, it wasnt just about Picard, Riker, and Data, we really got to know LaForge, Crusher, Troi, and good old Worf to. Hell, even the minor people like Guinan we got to know, and it worked. So I’m all for seeing more of that.

28. I am not Herbert - May 6, 2009

15. Jorg Sacul: “So, aside from fencing, does this Sulu still like botany?”

I’ll bet he has developed some pretty sweet cannabis strains for off-duty use after those stressful away missions / bridge shifts… ;-)

He ALWAYS had the KGB back at the Academy… xP

“WILL WE SEE BEAUREGARD??? ;-)” Dude! That would be SWEET! =)
Although, Sulu insisted that “Gertrude” was a more appropriate name…

29. Third Remata'Klan - May 6, 2009

Start a feud with Chris Pine?

Sweet. ;P

30. Daoud - May 6, 2009

#15 Well, from the horses’ mouth, the official startrekmovie.com website, if you look at the Dossier for Hikaru Sulu… you’ll see:
Top of his class in… “Advanced Botany”. ;)

(Enter the site, click on the NAV, choose DOSSIERS, choose Hikaru.)

31. ehaehaehwerheh - May 6, 2009

Dude, I see White Castle light years ahead.

32. Leonel - May 6, 2009

#19: @ 16 – Enterprise E had a joystick in INSURRECTION

EEWWW!!

(don’t remind me, that singular moment makes my skin crawl)

33. S. John Ross - May 6, 2009

This is the first of these interviews where I cried a little. Really (and I mean the happy sappy kind of cry).

34. Gary Seven of Nine - May 6, 2009

I’m having a total brain fart; didn’t the Enterprise have a hand throttle in one of the earlier episodes or in TMP?

Also, It’s not ridiculous to have a large starship with a stick and throttle. A lot of new ships, both large and small are coming with joysticks at the helm because of drive by wire, new maneuvering thrusters, and (on sub-yacht sized boats) new out drive designs.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

21. I am not Herbert – May 6, 2009

I just saw that he DOES have two TEENY joysticks on his console…

IMHO, it’s pretty ridiculous to think that a 2500′ starship would be maneuvered with stick and throttle…

…hope that’s not the case…

35. SFoxx - May 7, 2009

I hate to be picky on this issue and I’m sure Mr. Cho will do a fine job with the part but, am I the only one who noticed that he is not Japanese? I used to watch MASH and get a kick out of the way they would cast some actors as Korean just because they are Asian. There is a difference.

36. Andy D - May 8, 2009

Cho’s Sulu, IMO, was the only character who was nothing like the original. I know he didnt want to do Sulu’s voice, but at least act a little like Sulu. He seemed like he just acted like John Cho. Has he ever watched the original series?

I dont mean to be hard on him, but all the others nailed the role so perfectly. Pine, Quinto, Zoe, Anton, Pegg, I give them all an A+!!! Cho’s Sulu was weak, im sorry.

37. Chen - May 9, 2009

Another Euro American thinks that all Asians look alike.

John Cho is Korean, not Japanese. One look at him and it is obvious, except to a racist, of course!

38. Mary - May 16, 2009

Well, to get even pickier, “Sulu” is not a Japanese name and in fact makes no sense as a Japanese name. “Suru” is a verb that more or less means “to do” and would be very strange as a person’s surname.

Roddenberry intended the character as “pan-Asian” (which is a whole different area of racial weirdness) and this is what George Takei cited when he gave his blessing for Cho to play the part. My take on it is if Takei’s cool, I’m cool.

I think Cho was really good in the movie – he’s good at taking less flashy characters and imbuing them with charm and personality, which is why he made such a good straight man to Kal Penn in the Harold & Kumar movies. And yes, I *loved* that he got an ass-kicking sequence. Sulu’s fencing chops were always underrated on the original show. I also liked that they didn’t go with the stereotypical “Asian guy knows martial arts” thing, but had Sulu brawling right alongside Kirk.

39. Dissembly - June 12, 2009

It doesn’t seem fair to say that Cho’s Sulu was nothing like Takei’s. He barely had any screen time at all. Give him more time, and Cho could have delivered a perfect Sulu.

Now Uhura’s character had PLENTY of screen time, and somehow, she was NOTHING like Nicholls’s Uhura. They just wrote her as the generic Holyywood “Girl” character!! They wrote her as Raymond’s wife in Everybody Loves Raymond!! Wtf?? Not the actors fault; just crappy writing.

According to George Takei, Sulu is the name of a region in the South China Sea; apparently Roddenbury named the character Sulu because that sea touches all the shores in Asia, so Sulu would be representing a large swath of the Earth. Takei told Abrams this, to make him feel okay at casting Cho as Sulu. So they were aware of it.

I loved Cho’s performance, i always love his performances. My only misgiving is that i find it hard to beleive they couldn’t find a single decent young male Japanese actor in Hollywood… which was Abrams’s reason for needing to be reassured by Takei.

I don’t think thats true. I think they couldn’t find a single young male FAMOUS Japanese actor in Hollywood, who had the pop-cred of Cho. And Abrams was all about making this movie for the pop-cred generation.

Cynical, but thats my theory. I dont think much of Hollywood directors/casting agents/etc, no matter how talented Abrams is. he’s a cyncial moneymaker like the rest of them, ultimately.

But it’s not Cho’s fault. I think he was great. All he needed was MORE SCREEN TIME, and less of fricking Eric Bana. We care about Sulu more than this Nero guy nobody’s ever heard of before!!

40. wholesale hair extensions - June 4, 2011

I dont think much of Hollywood directors/casting agents/etc, no matter how talented

41. wholesale hair weave - June 4, 2011

i always love his performances. My only misgiving is that i find it hard to beleive they

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