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INTERVIEW: John Cho Talks Sulu’s Journey, Cut Scene in Star Trek Beyond

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.”

sulufamily

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.

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I’m actually a huge fan of this decision to make Sulu gay. I just watched The Naked Time last night and Sulu grabbed Uhura as he was swashbuckling the bridge, but that did not mean he was straight.

I look forward to this movie more and more. And I’m getting stoked about the 4th one as well.

There was nothing “straight” about the way he grabbed Uhura. He was playing a part in his fantasy.

Exactly, that was him living out the swashbuckling fantasy and grabbing a “fair maiden.” It felt more like a kid playing pirate or something, not anything more serious than that.

Actually, it felt like a gay man playing Errol Flynn, in a staged number at La Cage aux Folles.

Yeah thats a stretch…if Sulu was gay he would have acted differently IMO. GT made it clear , Sulu was not gay, so any amount of doing the mind twist doesnt change it. Sulu is however gay in the new (as they call it) Kelvin verse. Those are the facts as are GT disappointment with the change and his reasons for it are public record.

ThePhaige, how would he have acted differently?

His character was NOT gay and that has been confirmed…those are the facts, I am not going to debate the issue because its a fallacious argument to do so. People tend to act in accordance with their perspective alignments is the main point I am making.

Good to know we have someone from TOS on this board, ThePhaige. Sulu was gay. Embrace it. Heck, embrace HIM. It wont rub off man…

He likely means Sulu would have been stereotypically flamboyant. And he can’t prove it by anything in canon. He has to rely on an off-camera explanation, by the actor. It’s just too bad it makes no difference what the actor says if it doesn’t show up on screen. And then he seems to be saying gay people see gay where it’s not true, and straight people see straight when it’s not necessarily true. So if we see Sulu’s performance in TOS as being “gay”, then we must be gay. There is a third option, which is that Takei himself is gay, and isn’t that good of an actor, so what we got was his personality on screen. Because whether the character is gay or straight, without displaying the defining characteristic, which is a relationship with someone of the same sex, the reality is there would otherwise not necessarily be any noticible difference in the way they behaved, regardless of the observers “perspective”.

GT would take any excuse to get his name out. He’s pathetic. And as far as him making anything clear, he doesnt get to make any decisions about characters he doesnt own. The idea Nero’s arrival made Sulu gay is idiotic. Sulu was gay in either universe. Maybe in the prime universe he was closeted. That sucks. Welcome to 2016 George. Please go away.

“I’m actually a huge fan of this decision to make Sulu gay. I just watched The Naked Time last night and Sulu grabbed Uhura as he was swashbuckling the bridge, but that did not mean he was straight. ”

Really? I assumed that’s what it meant, as well as when the showgirls in “Shore Leave” cozied up to him, or when he imagined that woman in “The Lorelei Signal,” or when he and Chekov were pursuing the Klingon woman (Vixis?) in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, or when Mirror Sulu was making aggressive passes at Uhura, or when we found out Sulu had a daughter in Star Trek: Generations, etc.

DrH, I’m gay and have done all those things. The thing with the Klingon woman was not oh, she’s hot, it was like two kids following around this Amazon of a woman. It felt like “oh my god she’s big” not “oh my god she’s hot.” Chekov says “she has wonderful muscles” which to play devil’s advocate could be construed in many different ways. Again, I’m gay, I’ve had girls flirt with me openly at bars and I was flattered. Mirror Sulu could be straight, he also came off as pervy which prime universe Sulu wasn’t. If you believe in alternate universes there are infinite derivatives of yourself out there. In DS9 we saw some characters who had lesbian counterparts in that universe. I just don’t get what the big deal is. It’s not like you’re taking someone like Kirk and saying after all of his womanizing, he’s now gay.

Fine, PEB. All I’m saying is that you could just as well see all those things as indications of Sulu being straight. I mean, I don’t recall seeing one single indication that he was anything but straight in “Star Trek.”

It’s Occam’s razor. What is the most likely conclusion based on the evidence? Plus, how did the actor play him? We know Takei played the character straight, because that was his backstory as written by Gene Roddenberry.

If Sulu wasn’t straight in the original “Star Trek,” then it was all an act and he was in the closet, something that shouldn’t occur in the progressive society shown on Star Trek, as pointed out by George Takei.

Sorry, but I’m with Mr. Takei on this. Sulu-Prime was straight, as Sulu-Kelvin should be, according to the entire thesis for the Kelvin characters.

That said, I do agree that Curious Cadet’s explanation, accounting for the “butterfly effect” caused by Nero’s incursion where the timeline split occurs, could possibly lead to a Sulu genetically different from the original one, that is, a sibling. But, then again, as I said, that kind of violates the very goal of the reboot, that these are indeed the same characters at their core as the originals.

As a Star Trek fan, and a gay man who’s a Star Trek fan, I liked the idea of Sulu being gay but hearing Cho’s words on it make me respect the decision and him THAT much more than I already did. It sounds like it was really well thought out, well executed, and I’ve got to say I’m disappointed that they never filmed that scene. More of this and hopefully more of this type of writing in the tv series that’s coming from CBS. Inclusion is a good thing, representation is a good thing, but when you execute it the right way, it’s pretty amazing and organic.

“Weren’t you straight when I came in?”
“Could be.”
“I tend to notice little things like that. Whether a guy is straight or gay.”
“And which do you prefer?”
“Oh, providing the cuffs and collars match uh(shrugs).”

What, doesn’t anybody here remember DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and the Tiffany Case intro?

Thanks kmart. I love brain teaser references.

Love this and everything about Sulu being gay. In the new trailer when he “hits the gas” you can see his wedding ring on his hand as he pushed the lever. Truly awesome. Going to a 3 movie marathon tomorrow here in NYC with my fiancé that ends with Beyond in IMAX 3D and he is just as excited as I am. #SpaceGays #AboutTime Live long and come out. <3

In a way, I’m glad Star Trek didn’t get on the gay bandwagon until now. Imagine if this happened in the 80s. Say, a TNG season 2 or 3. I bet they wouldn’t be able to resist making it a full episode centered on a gay couple – complete with a mandatory tragic death of one of the partners, presumably to serve as a metaphor of the inherent tragicness of being gay. It would be much like that cringeworthy Trill episode, but worse.

So yea, it may be decades late, but at least it’s done tastefully, without any leather hats and rainbow flags anywhere in sight. Let’s be thankful for that. ;)

lol You mean like Blood & Fire? The script that was to be a TNG episode? The script where one of the couple dies? You’re absolutely right sir. I enjoyed what Phase 2 did with that script but man, it’s not the way I’d like to see it handled in a modern Trek story.

Oh, I wasn’t aware of that one. Now I have to see it! :D

Gays tragically dying was such a trope back then. So many gays died in the 80s and 90s TV, it was a damn genocide…

Perhaps in the fourth movie we can have a little more exploration and adventure that doesn’t involve a villain. If it’s true that Kirks father is back, a movie with the Guardian of Forever would be fantastic and a logical way for him to be in the film.

As a straight guy, I don’t care if you’re gay or straight. Be a compelling character. THAT is what matters. (You know… the content of your character?)

True very true and well-said, but you also want to make sure to have gay characters that are visible and part of Trek. As a gay man, who was deeply involved with a gay man in the us military, this type of character beat means so much more than I could even put into words. It’s representation which was part of what Trek was about in its beginnings.

So, the agenda is really more important than the story. Got it.

dswynne – it’s only an agenda if you notice it. For the rest of us, yeah, it’s just a story.

It’s an agenda if the original poster says, “…but you also want to make sure to have gay characters are visible and part of Trek”. That says “agenda” to me. When I heard /read that NuSulu would not only be depicted as “gay”, but also will be a family man, with a gay husband, you know what the first thing that popped into my head? “Huh, neat”. That’s it. I’ve long accepted an openly gay character in ‘Trek because I am a fan of STAR TREK. You know, IDIC? Let’s not go “there”, friend. Okay?

So, to sum up, you interpret PEB’s strong positive feelings about inclusion and representation as an agenda over story (a seeming negative) despite the fact that you yourself seem quite pleased with the possibility as well.

I guess that’s OK, But this is equating his feelings with a process of creation/recreation he had nothing to do with.

Mirror Sulu certainly didn’t strike me as gay, but I suppose he could have been bi-.

Again, as we’re actually forced to think about this and revisit the character, I continue to ask what about his performance would have been different if he was gay or straight? And the answer I keep coming back to, is nothing. Sulu was such an underdeveloped character compared to every one of the other main characters, there’s no real basis for making the call either way. The default depiction of every character in the 1960s was straight, no matter how unrealistic that may have been. For instance, there was nothing straight about any of the “straight” characters Paul Lynde played. But as a kid, I never knew there was an alternative — he was just the funny uncle on Bewitched. But that stereotypical flamboyant behavior isn’t required to make a character gay. Sulu was almost always portrayed in his professional capacity, with few if any glimpses of his personal life, and none of his romantic life. With such a limited depiction of a character, and given the time period in which he existed, there’s no reason to think of Sulu any other way than straight. But that doesn’t mean the character ever was, despite what the actor thinks he may have been doing, and given the fact there’s not even anything to retcon in canon. So there’s absolutely no reason to not expand the character’s limited background in another direction than what was assumed of all TV characters created in the 1960s.

” The default depiction of every character in the 1960s was straight, no matter how unrealistic that may have been. ”

It’s not an unrealistic assumption at all, even to this day, based on current polling:

“The demographics of sexual orientation and gender identity in the United States have been more accurately studied in the social sciences in recent decades. In the first large-scale government survey measuring Americans’ sexual orientation, the NHIS reported in July 2014 that 1.6 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent identify as bisexual.[1] In a Williams Institute review based on an June–September 2012 Gallup poll, approximately 3.4 percent of American adults identify themselves as being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender).[2] An earlier report published in April 2011 by the Williams Institute estimated that 3.8 percent of Americans identified as gay/lesbian, bisexual, or transgender: 1.7 percent as lesbian or gay, 1.8 percent as bisexual, and 0.3 percent as transgender.”

Mirror Sulu was pretty lusty and scheming, there was more material there than about regular Sulu during the rest of the eps.

Gay

Great interview. And yes I wouldve loved to see that scene but its cool they just gave Sulu more than a passing line about being gay which I originally assumed they did. I get people dont like Sulu being gay but I think listening to Cho talk about it, it was done really nicely.

And what I find funny about all of this, the most ironic thing to come out of it is I think this is the most developed Sulu has been in 50 years lol. Its nice the guy gets SOME actual development finally instead of just being the cool pilot/Captain.

“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.”

You’d think after they made a big deal out of announcing that Kelvin Sulu was gay and had husband that they’d at least have given his husband and daughter names.

His husband is called Ben in one behind the scenes videos. I don’t remember that they gave a name for either of them in the movie. Just came back from seeing it.

If she is Demora, she’s likely born earlier than she was in the Prime timeline. Also, do we even know if Sulu had only one daughter named Demora? I do t think we do …

Well I just read an interview with Mr. Cho saying they cut out the scene of Sulu giving his husband a kiss. Looks like Star Trek still isn’t quite there yet with presenting gay characters the same as the straight ones. Sulu will be just another “safe” gay character that offends no one by not being authentically portrayed.

Disappointed about this.

It may well have been cut for reasons related to timing or story telling that had nothing to do with the kiss. True equity means that the kiss, per se, should not have been a reason to keep it in the film.

People who probably don’t have to grapple with issues of equality probably shouldn’t tell others what “real equality” is. Can’t you just give your opinion on why it was cut without bloviating to people?

SPOILERS AHEAD: I just came back from seeing the movie so don’t read on if you want to be surprised.
All these discussions are completely out of proportion. In the movie, Sulu is the same character that he has always been. He is NOT suddenly the stereotypical gay guy you often see portrayed in the media. There is just one scene where he’s greeted by his daughter and his husband. Imagine being at the airport and seeing a family reuniting after one of them has been on a trip.

I know some “stereotypical gay dudes” and I think all of us are tired of male femininity being talked about as if it’s some kind of problem or deficiency. I’m fine with George Takei, John Cho, and their Sulus being “butch”. That’s a part of being in an action movie. But “sissy” Paul Lynde was every bit of a man no matter how much he sashayed.

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