STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS directed by J.J. Abrams, written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch and Bruce Greenwood. A Paramount Pictures release. 132 minutes. Now playing. For venues and times, see listings.
John Cho can't really talk right now.
Well, that's not entirely true. He can talk about all sorts of things... just not Star Trek Into Darkness, in which he reprises his role as helmsman Hikaru Sulu. With a little more than a week before the film opens in North America, the cast is still under threat of disintegration should they spill any details about the plot of the sequel.
"You know, J.J. wants to keep the box gift-wrapped for everybody," he says, sipping water in a suite at the Shangri-La. "What can I say?"
It makes for a challenging press tour. I've interviewed Cho a number of times in the past decade - most recently when he and Kal Penn were promoting A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, that other franchise with which he's indelibly associated - and he's always been affable and talkative. Today, he's overly cautious about bean-spilling, and it's weighing on him.
"I hate not telling people or having to dance around it," he says. "I'm also just paranoid that I'm gonna reveal something by accident. So now I just go into shutdown mode."
I'm more interested in the tone of the Star Trek movies than the plot, and the way Abrams has managed to restore the franchise's human element, which was ground down over the years by mechanical shows like Voyager and Enterprise.
The new movies are much more about how the big, mysterious plot twists affect the characters we've known since the 60s, I offer.
"That's to J.J.'s credit," says Cho. "I feel like what he's great at is finding the essential human relationships that are important to telling the story. Like, I look at Mission: Impossible [III] and what he did there: it was this loose band of spies, and what he did was take that and say, ‘I'm gonna make it about a husband and a wife.' And he made the Enterprise about a family, not a crew. He finds the universal human entry into a story, and that's why it works, to me. Then he adds the explosions, then he adds the 3D, then he adds the art direction, what have you. But it starts there."
Cho offers an example from the week before shooting started.
"They were still tinkering with the script, and I think he was frustrated," he says. "So he ended rehearsal early and said, ‘I'm gonna work on it tonight.' He came back the next day with the movie thematically clarified in his head. He had all these changes, and he spent 45 minutes telling us, ‘Okay, this is what the movie is about.'
"It was the most valuable 45 minutes I've ever spent in my career," Cho marvels. "I heard every theory of his on screenwriting, and it was really enlightening. His approach to telling stories, what's important to him, what the story [was] here. It was cool."