Actor John Cho talks ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

Actor John Cho – whose film credits include “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas,” “Total Recall” and “Identity Thief” – recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about his role as Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

In “Star Trek Into Darkness,” Chris Pine reprises his role of Captain Kirk who, after the crew of the Enterprise finds an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Question: Tell me about Sulu’s psychological framework this time around. What defines this outing on the Enterprise for him?

Answer: He was a young man that was thrust into an insane circumstance. I feel like everyone has matured a little bit and has grown closer. They were all strangers at the beginning of the first movie. One of the traits that we discussed from the first one that I felt might be useful accentuating in this one is [Sulu’s] ambition. That is something that I personally thought about for Sulu. I don’t know if it showed on screen or not but it was one of those things that I kept with me because I have always wished that it had shown more in the original television series. And in this film, I think [Sulu] got a taste of something that he can never forget. He wants his own ship. He wants his own situation. Once you have had it, you can never go back.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the overall theme in this film? What lesson is being imparted upon the audience?
A: It is questioning how easily we assume someone or something is good or bad. Being mature is not rushing to those judgments. I think that sets into what the movie is saying. Who do you label enemy and who do you label friend? I find that [theme] interesting to watch. And I find it interesting, as an actor, to watch Benedict [Cumberbatch] parse it out on screen. He was a formidable villain and a formidable actor.

Q: And what was the lesson for you? What was your greatest takeaway from this film?

A: I can’t remember whether it was during filming or during rehearsal but J.J. [Abrams] said something about wanting his son to watch this movie at some point because it is saying something about leadership, growth and maturity that he would want his child to think about. I feel the same way now having seen it. If I had to choose one of my films for [my son] to watch, maybe this would be it when he is old enough because it has something to say about manhood and wisdom that I think would be good for him.

Q: Is it any easier portraying a character the second time around? And, if so, how if the experience different for you as an actor?

A: Maybe it is an illusion that it is easier or maybe it is just an excuse to be lazy but you do feel a little more comfortable going in the second time. I always think of doing a new movie as going to a new school. I switched schools a lot when I was a kid. Half of entering a project is meeting everyone, learning what everyone’s personalities are and trying to find your place in the group dynamic. It takes a minute to do that and it is always nerve-racking. It could be a day, it could be a week, it could be a month just to try to find your place in the new school. And when you go into a project for the second iteration, you don’t waste your time with that. You fit right in and it feels good.

Q: So then what was the overall feeling on the set with your co-stars?

A: It is one thing to gather everyone back together for a film, which I have done before with other franchises. But this was particularly strange because we are all wearing the same clothes again and we are in the same literal place again. So it is really an extreme sense of déjà vu. But we actually continued conversations that we had ended during the first one. It was unbelievable how we sort of got back into the groove of things.

Q: Would you be interested in playing Sulu a third time? And what is the appeal of the “Star Trek” franchise for you as an actor and for audiences in general?

A: I like playing Sulu. He is a cool dude. He is a stud. He is more heroic than myself and he is more capable than myself. I am going to say something that seems obvious but it is fun to fly a spaceship and it is fun to be in that world. It is also an honor to be associated with a storytelling franchise that means something to people and, in my opinion, is very hopeful and optimistic about humanity. There are a lot of projects that have a pessimistic view of humanity. But “Star Trek” has – and maybe part of its enduring quality has been – a very hopeful outlook on our species. It has people of different cultures and backgrounds getting together for a scientific mission in space. I think that is maybe something that people need to hear.

Q: Finally, will we be seeing any more of “Harold & Kumar?” And, if so, what would you like to see those characters get into next?

A: We are doing an animated show right now so watch out for that on Adult Swim. There is no word on another movie but I would love to see Harold and Kumar with kids. I think that would be funny. And awful. The worst thing for them to do would be to have kids but that would be funny to me.

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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