‘Star Trek’ acting 101: How to play Scotty, Sulu
An interview with ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ actors Simon Pegg, John Cho and Alice Eve, who visited Seattle in early May.
Special to The Seattle Times
’Star Trek Into Darkness’
Opens at some IMAX theaters Wednesday, and opens widely at many local theaters late Thursday night. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence. For Soren Andersen’s 3.5-star review, go Wednesday to seattletimes.com/movies or look in Friday’s MovieTimes.
‘Star Trek: Secrets of the Universe’
10 p.m. May 15 on the History channel: A look behind the scenes, on the set and into the science of the new “Star Trek” movie.
“To boldly go where no one has gone before” is instantly recognizable as the guiding mantra of the crew of the starship Enterprise. But when actors Simon Pegg, John Cho and Alice Eve visited Seattle last week, it became apparent that the famous catchphrase could use a little tweaking.
That’s because Pegg, Cho and Eve have all gone boldly, yet at the same time carefully, where other very well-known actors have gone before. The three play members of the new crew of a new Enterprise, and their characters bear the names and many of the personality traits of characters played by James Doohan, George Takei and Bibi Besch, the latter a lesser-known member of the “Trek” universe.
Stepping into the shoes of their iconic predecessors in 2009’s hit reboot “Star Trek,” and again in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” this week’s blockbuster-in-waiting sequel, was a tricky challenge, they noted on a recent publicity-tour stop in Seattle.
The thing to remember at all times is to “play the character and not the actor,” said Cho.
“We have to conform to some of the choices of our forebears, but never to the degree that we seem to be aping them,” said Pegg, who plays excitable Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the role originated by the late Doohan. “I sometimes try to channel a little bit of Jimmy Doohan in the way he says some of his little Scottishisms. And that’s fun to do.” However, Pegg continued, he and other members of the new crew were always very careful to “never look like we were trying to parody them in some way.”
Cho, who plays unflappable senior helmsman Hikaru Sulu, confessed to being very nervous when director J.J. Abrams chose him for the part. A Korean-American, Cho said, “I was afraid that because I wasn’t Japanese that people would not like me.” So for advice and reassurance he sought out George Takei, the Japanese-American star who played Sulu in the original TV series and the movies derived from it.
“I needed his blessing,” Cho said. And he got it. The two men got together before the filming of the 2009 “Trek,” and at that time Takei told Cho that series creator Gene Roddenberry had not originally envisioned Sulu as being of Japanese extraction. He had named the character after the Sulu Sea southwest of the Philippines, which Roddenberry said, “touches on several Asian shores.” That was his way of having the character be a symbol of many Asian cultures and would fit in with his concept of the Enterprise crew being made up of representatives of Earth’s many nations (with some extraterrestrials, like a certain Vulcan, thrown in).
When the cast gathered for “Into Darkness,” it was like a family reunion for most of the actors. But not all. Carol Marcus, the character played by English actress Eve, was a new addition to the picture, and she said at first she felt like a new kid on the first day of school. That feeling didn’t last long, though, because she had worked on other projects with fellow Brits Pegg and Benedict Cumberbatch, and that helped to break the ice. (Cumberbatch joins the “Star Trek” cast in this edition, playing a role as yet shrouded in secrecy.)
The actors said they aren’t worried about becoming typecast by their “Trek” roles. Pegg, after all, has starred in the cult favorite zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” and Cho developed cult cred with his work in the “Harold & Kumar” stoner flicks. (He played Harold.)
Plus, if — thanks to the sequels that will almost surely follow “Into Darkness” — they wind up being as closely identified with the “Trek” franchise as the actors who went before them, that might not be such a bad thing.
“If it all came crashing down,” Cho chimed in, “and this is all I had for the rest of my career ... BOO HOO! Do you see a single tear running down my cheek?” he said sardonically as Pegg cracked up.