TrekMovie sat down with John Cho to talk Sulu, his family (including a scene cut from the script for Star Trek Beyond), and his hopes for the character of Sulu in ‘Star Trek 4’.
Beware of light spoilers (nothing we haven’t seen in trailers, clips, or learned from interviews).
You can also listen to the interview in a supplemental edition of the Shuttle Pod podcast in the player below.
Throughout the film, the main crew of the Enterprise are paired off into teams of two that have to find their way back to one another. Sulu ends up traveling with Uhura, and the two get the chance to reveal a lot about their lives to each other.
But, as John Cho revealed to us, there was a scene written into the script, that was later cut before filming, which let us understand Sulu’s turmoil over putting his husband and daughter into harms way.
“There was a scene that is not in the film but was written which is very revealing, where Sulu makes a confession to Uhura and says that his husband didn’t want to move out to [starbase] Yorktown, which is this remote outpost, but he made that sacrifice for Sulu’s career. Sulu felt a very heavy sense of guilt about having made that move and now had inadvertently endangered is family, and then Uhura comforts him. You know, that was a color that wouldn’t have come out if we hadn’t been paired off, and I thought that was cool.
You see little moments, here and there, holding one another back or this ‘looking out for one another’ thing that happens throughout the cast in different ways. Caring for each other in these pairing that comes out a little bit more than if we were on the bridge, where our relationships are primarily with Kirk, so you see different things. I found that to be a fun color to add to a Trek movie.”
The character of Sulu is being portrayed for the first time in Beyond as gay in a simple, really lovely no-big-deal scene. This is a huge boon for the LGBTQ community, and many people say it’s been a long time coming in Trek, which has historically been ahead of the social curve. Cho says that he thinks Sulu’s sexuality, but especially the way in which it was portrayed, is in keeping with Gene Roddenberry’s vision.
“I feel like it’s in keeping with – this is my personal opinion, because obviously Roddenberry isn’t here to say yea or nay, but I personally think it’s in keeping with the goals he laid out. It feels of a piece with all the progressive things that he did. Also, our treatment of it is progressive. You know, it’s news today, but it’s not news in the film, which I like, and in 10 years it won’t play like news, and that would’ve aged our film.”
Fans going back and watching The Original Series through a modern lens will get a similar sense, where certain aspects that were, at the time, extremely progressive and even unheard of are seen as no big deal or even go unnoticed in 2016.
“I mean, that’s another thing we’re not bringing up in all this talk of diversity, that it was the middle of the Cold War, and there’s a Russian – ‘we’re trusting this guy?’ I just watched Trumbo, and I was just reminded of how fervent the anti-Communist thing was in this country and anti-Russian thing and we destroyed people over this. Absolutely destroyed people’s lives over this fear.”
John Cho has also helped spur progress for the Asian community. He was recently the subject of a twitter hashtag #StarringJohnCho, which sparked a conversation about Asian Americans in popular culture and their perception. Twitter users photoshopped Cho into leading roles of popular films. We asked him what movie he would most like to see himself star in retroactively.
“We, the Star Trek cast, saw The Martian in Dubai. You know, maybe because it’s kind of near-future space movie, you know maybe it was about bringing a member of the team home, that familial camaraderie thing, was very moving for us as a cast, and I remember, to a man, each of us being emotionally effected by that film, so I’ll pick that one because it’s so fresh in my mind and so meaningful to this group I’m with in this hotel today.
Now that a fourth film has been officially announced, where does John Cho see the character of Sulu going from here?
“I could go for a lot of stuff. I could go for some action, return to the action we had in the first one. I could go for a personal crisis, an existential crisis.
I would go further into [the story of Sulu and his family], too. You know, the conversation I talked about that’s not in the movie – THAT conversation. “I[Sulu] want to move to Yorktown, I want to chase this commission, come with me.” “No I don’t want to go that far, I don’t want to take the kid out…”. That kind of scene would be great.”
In Beyond co-writer Doug Jung plays Ben, Sulu’s husband. According to John Cho, it was his idea to cast an Asian man in that particular role.
“Doug [Jung] is in the movie, our screenwriter, as my husband. I think they were having trouble finding Asian actors in Dubai who were willing the play gay and I had requested an Asian husband as a sort of tribute to…I think it’s extra difficult for Asian men to come out of the closet. I have some friends, they take longer to come out of the closet…
Asian men are very rarely with Asian men, and I always personally thought that it was because the family thing was a little extra heavy, and so they’re less likely to be with people that look like their family as a result. That was my personal pet theory about why my friends were never with Asian men. So in the future I thought it would be cool that it was totally normalized so that it kind of looked like a heterosexual couple. On the one hand it was very traditional, and on the other hand, from a gay politics side, it was kind of radical.”
Sulu and Ben’s daughter is assumed by many to be Demora Sulu, Hikaru Sulu’s daughter introduced in Star Trek: Generations. But, it’s not actually clear that this is the case in Beyond. When asked if the character’s name is explicitly Demora, Cho said, “I don’t think it is. I don’t remember whether there is a name.” So, who knows. We’ll have to wait until the next film to find out more about Sulu’s Kelvin daughter.
Editor’s note: Many thanks to Aaron Harvey and the team at trek.fm.