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 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: