“Star Trek Beyond” marks a big reunion for actor John Cho, and not just with the cast he’s worked with on now three films of the franchise.
Way back in 2002, Cho was in a critically acclaimed indie film called “Better Luck Tomorrow,” which was directed by a young up-and-comer named Justin Lin, who would later go on to direct four films in the “Fast & Furious” franchise and now the latest “Star Trek” film.
So how does Cho, who plays helmsman Hikaru Sulu, think his old pal did in his first turn with the venerable series?
“So-so,” he deadpans. Silence. Then, “No. It was awesome. We kept sharing these glances. Every once and a while we’d look at each other and it was a ‘Can you believe how far we’ve come?’ kind of thing. We started on an independent movie that was financed on credit cards.”
Cho says that Lin, a huge fan of “Star Trek,” did a “bang-up job” with what he calls a “tall order in front of him.”
“It’s a tough task, which is to work with a cast that has been established, that has their own dynamic,” Cho says. “‘Star Trek’ movies are tough to begin with because there are so many characters and you have to give something to everyone.
“It’s kind of like a very complicated math problem, doing that to begin with,” he continues. “But to take it over from a formidable director in J.J. [Abrams], and then to have the ‘Star Trek’ canon to deal with, the actors and then also be charged to bring in your own sense of action and movement. To bring those elements together in a truncated timeline, it was quite the achievement and I thought he excelled.”
amNewYork spoke with Cho, 44, about the film.
With your third run as Sulu, how have you made the character your own?
I don’t know. I’m just a dumb actor. I say the lines, I wear makeup and get my hair done by somebody else. Somebody else wrote that character for me. However, I like playing with the humor. There are moments of humor in it. I like that in this iteration we saw some of his private life and that to me gave shape to the stakes of the movie and personalized the stakes. His family was on Yorktown, the base that was being attacked. It gave a different shade to every other action scene ... that for Sulu he was doing all that to get back to his family.
This film splits you guys up. How was it sharing screen time with Zoe Saldana?
It was great hanging out with Zoe Saldana, and it was cool, because usually the crew members are relating to Kirk — we’re all relating to Kirk individually. We don’t speak much to one another. It was cool to have, just to mix it up, to be relating to Uhura. I thought it brought out some different stuff, just the way that an employee is one way in speaking to the boss and is another in the break room with another employee.
Where would you like to see Sulu go in the future?
Who knows? I’d like to see him achieve more of his dreams and get to have more responsibility professionally. I’d like to see more of his personal life and get more into that. And I’d like for him to have his own existential crisis. It would be interesting to see where that goes.
What dreams do you want to achieve as an actor?
I have really basic, unexciting dreams as an actor. I would like to be in a film version of a Shakespeare play, that would be fun. Then the kid side of me wants to be in a Western. The adult side of me just really wants to increase the complexity of the characters I’m doing. I don’t really have a pat answer for you, I just really want to go deep as I can with a role.
What do you have coming up next?
After I finish talking to everybody on planet Earth about “Star Trek,” I’m going to do a movie called “Columbus” that I’m really excited about. It’s an independent film being produced by the Weitz brothers who I’ve worked with before. It’s a film about two people who are losing their parents in different ways who meet one another in Columbus, Indiana. That, and I have a TV project that I’m producing and acting in and I’m very excited about.
How has being in “Star Trek” changed your life?
It’s changed my life in the sense that it has a very unique kind of notoriety and it’s very beautiful. “Star Trek” has been around for 50 years so it’s a very unique kind of fandom in that there are many generations that have watched it and watched it in many iterations. It’s the most diverse fanbase you can think of. ... If you think you know what a Trekker is, you don’t know what a Trekker is. They look different. They look like all of us. They’re everywhere. It’s a privilege and an honor to be associated with something that I feel has been, as far as a pop culture goes, put out a lot of positive energy into the universe. So I just feel like I have friends wherever I go.