Round-Table Interview: Simon Pegg and John Cho of “Star Trek Into Darkness”

by Chad Liffmann on May 16, 2013

Simon Pegg and John Cho, reprising their roles as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott and Hikaru Sulu respectively in the newest chapter of the Star Trek film franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness, sat down with a few members of online press outlets to answer a few questions.  Dressed in casual clothing and beaming with smiles, the two actors couldn’t be more welcoming and polite.  We sat around a tiny circular table and jumped right into it…

J.J. Abrams is a huge fan of the Star Trek franchise, how does the fact that he’s such a big fan of both the Star Trek films and the original TV series translate into the fact that he’s making the new franchise…with this film especially?

Simon Pegg: I don’t think he was.  I think he was more of a Star Wars fan growing up.

John Cho: Yeah.

Simon Pegg: And I think he came to Star Trek as somewhat of an outsider…

Not my question.  I’m not taking the blame for that one.  [laughter]

SP: So he had the benefit of not being slavish, not feeling like he had to be slavish to the source material.  But becoming a fan as he made it.  Now, of course, he’s a huge fan.  It was more Damon and Alex and Bob who were the aficianados, the writers.  So, it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll approach Star Wars because he is a fan of Star Wars so he is incumbent slightly with a sense of-

JC: Is he doing Star Wars?

SP:  Star what? [laughter]  So yeah, he wasn’t a fan, which is interesting.  And I think that that kind of informed him in a way.  But I think it was good.

JC:  I think so too.

SP:  Yeah, he relaxed a little bit.  Certainly on this one as well.

What does being able to film in environments like the Lawrence Fusion Lab give to you, in terms of building this reality?

NIF (National Ignition Facility)

NIF (National Ignition Facility)

SP:  (to John) That was awesome wasn’t it?

JC:  Yeah it was.  Um, it certainly…I mean… J.J. is keen on having as much stuff around you physically as much as possible and using CG as little as possible.   It makes it easier for an actor, certainly, to look up and see things instead of a green felt cloth.

SP:  Yeah and I think NIF (National Ignition Facility) here in Northern California was just extraordinary to be part because aesthetically speaking it formed a brilliant bridge between all the clean lines and the kind of like, you know, that fantastically futuristic bridge to the industrial metal of the engine room, which is what J.J. always wanted it to look like.  Like the guts of the Titanic.  But in the middle of this you have the warp core, which kind of looks like a perfect mish mash of the two.  You got all this steel and it’s all very modern looking.

JC:  That’s what I felt like he brought from his fandom of the Star Wars universe.  It seems to be his iteration of Star Trek, aesthetically, kind of marries the two.   Instead of the (Star Trek) television show which was all clean lines and Star Wars which is very analog and dirty and he sort of, you know, married the two.

SP:  And also all the scientists there at NIF were in the film.  All those guys with the red shirts in the warp core, they’re all guys from NIF who just wanted to be in Star Trek.  And Bruno, who’s the project leader there, who’s the guy that will discover fusion and will go down as the next Edison, will win a Nobel prize at some point, he said six months to five years which kind of blew my mind.

JC:  Yeah.

SP:  He’s there.  He’s in the background in a red shirt with a big spanner.

JC:  With a what?

SP: With a big spanner. [silence]  Oh, it’s a wrench, sorry.  Wrench.

I know that the sets got a lot bigger and more detailed this time around so how would you say your familiarity is with the ship now?  Hypothetically, would you be able to find your way around?

SP:  Oh, yeah.  Easy.  But I got a small laminated map. [laughter]

JC:  Like, the um, quarterback wrist thing…

SP:  ‘Oh, man! I thought this was Engineering!’  [laughter]  Well the set he had now is the biggest ever rendering of the Starship Enterprise in the history of the Star Trek story.  We had a bridge that was connected to a corridor that went through to the med bay, engineering and the transporter room… so you could do long talking, walking scenes and have a sense of the ship’s size.  And also some of the sets, like, the hangar of the Vengeance was a gigantic set on the West side of LA.  The red forest, and um, other environments such as Kronos, which is at Sony, were just huge and amazing.

Speaking of the hangar, how many times did you actually have to run down that hangar?

(LISTEN: PEGG DISCUSSES THE HANGAR SCENE)

Simon Pegg as Montgomery "Scotty" Scott

Simon Pegg as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott

SP:  Three.  I ran the length of it three times.  I had this-

JC:  And then he died.

SP:  And then I puked.  I came over…I had a large lunch and I walked onto set and was like ‘okay, what are we doing?’ thinking it was gonna be dialogue and J.J. said ‘you have to run from there to there.’  And I did it once and I ran as fast as I’ve ever run since I was a kid.  The bike, the quad bike that was filming, couldn’t keep up.  I completely went for it.  I felt so free. It was like being a child again.  I got to the end – the whole crew applauded, I felt so good about myself.  And then J.J. said, ‘that was great, can you do it again?’  And I said, ‘yeah no worries, give me one minute’ and I did it after that and I felt slightly funny after that like something wasn’t right.  And then J.J. said, ‘just once more’ and we got it and I did it and I was convinced by the time I had slowed down that something was gonna happen so I walked off set very quietly, just waved to everbody, and threw up… everything that I’d eaten since probably ’09.  I saw things that, I’m sure in the 70’s, were quite dramatic but I felt good immediately after that.  It was just all the- …what was happening was that I was digesting food and all the blood that was doing that had to go to my limbs and left my stomach alone.  And my stomach was like-

JC:  ‘Hey!’

SP: Yeah. ‘Hey! Where’s everybody gone? Okay, get out!’  But yeah, it was hard.

There’s a shot in the movie where you and Chris Pine are running down a corridor and gravity is starting to shift.  That was a tilting and rotating set, if I’m correct…

SP:  No, it wasn’t.

It wasn’t?

SP:  No, what we actually did there, because the set was too big to put on a gimble, which is what you’ve seen in films like in Inception, say, because that is a corridor that moves.  This set was too big to move.  We are on a wire, running on our sides, which is very hard to do.  But it enabled us to have that sensation, to do that on a much bigger scale.  And it was hard work.

What was it like to come back to these characters after doing so many other projects in between, it’s kind of a long layoff.

John Cho as Hikaru Sulu

John Cho as Hikaru Sulu

JC:  It seemed like no time had passed.

SP:  When we got back on the bridge, it was odd wasn’t it?

JC:  Yeah, it was weird.  I’ve done sequels and you work with the same people again.  On the other hand, it’s unique to work with the same people in the same costumes on the same set and we found ourselves right back where we left off.

SP:  Yeah the odd thing was on the first day we actually shot a scene that was never in the movie, after the Nibiru incident when we’re all together and Kirk is doing his Captain’s log and sort of making up what happened because obviously we had broken the prime directive…and they didn’t need the scene in the end because it was already said, but I’m glad we did it because it was all of us together on the bridge and with the same supporting crew as well …these guys were kind of our crew members and it was like ‘where did those 4 years go?  Like they didn’t exist.

JC:  They did. [laughter]

So now the two of you have been working this series for four years now, do you find yourselves bigger fans of the Star Trek mythology and more involved with it at all? 

SP:  I kind of was anyway, you know?  I grew up watching Star Trek and I think me and (Karl) Urban are probably the most knowledgeable.  We’ll quote, like you know, “Mirror Mirror” or whatever.  ‘I kind of have this idea…yeah I just said this…I think that we might be the mirror crew.  I think something’s gonna go to shit, we’re all gonna turn bad, Spock’s gonna grow a beard and we’re gonna meet ourselves…'[laughter]  That could happen.

Coming back to these characters, how much did you leave from James and George, respectively, from their rendition of the characters and how much have you created anew being in this unique universe?

SP:  I think we had to approach it like they did, which is to look on the page.  Neither of us wanted to do an impression of our counterparts because that would be playing the actor not the part so we had to kinda look at the character and say ‘okay, he’s such and such, he’s an engineer or he’s a pilot…whatever, and he’s this and that’ and take it from there rather than go and be-

JC:  Nobody wants to see us do imitations of them either.  I don’t think anyone wants to pay money to see that.  So, it’s something you want to avoid and on the other hand you gotta be respectful and stay within the universe, as it is, that you’re in.

What was it like working with Mr. (Benedict) Cumberbatch?

(LISTEN: PEGG AND CHO ON WORKING WITH BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH)

SP: I fuckin’ hate that guy. [laughter]

JC:  He’s terrific…and beautiful.

SP:  Yeah, he’s beautiful.

JC:  Beautiful.

SP:  I know Ben.  I met him before at home, obviously we’re both from the UK.  He’s a great guy, a lovely man.  And he turns on that villain so well and he’s got such a beautiful voice.

JC:  You know the highest compliment I can pay him, I think, is if I hadn’t worked with him…I don’t know that I would know his physical dimensions based on his work.  In Sherlock he seems mortal, you know, and I’d say ‘wow, he’s um, 5’8”…I don’t know’ then in this he seems like he’s 6’4” and 220 lbs.  He just seems enormous and imposing and that’s a testament to how good he is.

SP:  He’s amazing.

JC:  And again, how beautiful.

SP: His voice may be pregnant.  [laughter]  True story.  True story.

JC: [imitating] Cold corpses.

You (Simon Pegg) had a lot of scenes with Deep Roy in the film and actually in the first one as well and he’s sort of a Sci-Fi legend, what was it like working with him?

Deep Roy and J.J. Abrams

Deep Roy and J.J. Abrams

SP: Initially, in the first film, Keenser was sort of Scotty’s companion on that planet, Delta Vega.  And J.J., a couple of weeks after we finished that scene, J.J. and I were talking about how sad it was that he’d been left behind on his own on a fucking snowball!  And I went ‘wait that’s not right! We need to see some sort of arc for him and see that he’s okay’.

JC: Really?

SP: Yeah.  So J.J. phoned Michael Kaplan up, our costume designer, and said ‘can you make like, a little Starfleet uniform?’  And that’s why that scene at the end happened.  It was like an afterthought…if he’s been working with Scotty and they’ve got a shorthand with each other, if he’s his assistant, then he should work with him in Engineering, hence that’s why we find Keenser aboard the Enterprise in the second film.  And it’s great because he’s just like a little- he barely speaks, he’s just a little character part for Scotty to bounce ideas off, and often it’s his (Keenser’s) silent judgement which forces Scotty to do the best thing.

Well there’s great comic timing at lot of the time, just with his silent reaction…

SP:  Yeah, he’s a riot, Deep.  I love him.  I hadn’t seen him for four years and the first time I saw him he was in makeup so it was like, ‘hey Keenser!’ [laughter]  He’s a fun guy.

JC:  It is weird.  Some of the people who are in that heavy makeup, I don’t know what they look like.

SP: I know! I know.

JC: And you know, you’ve worked all these days with them and you wouldn’t be able to recognize them on the street.

SP: There was a funny moment.  I was really interested to see if they’d use it, but there’s a point when Scotty is beamed into a prison with a couple other characters.  Into a cell.  And there’s another alien female working a console and I bang on the window to say ‘let us out’ and in one of the takes I went, ‘Hey Janet!’  [laughter]  And I was really wondering if they’d keep that in!

JC:  Janet.

SP:  She was called Janet.

In your two opinions, what makes J.J. Abrams’ filmmaking style unique?

(LISTEN: PEGG AND CHO ON J.J. ABRAMS)

JC:  (to Pegg) What do you think?

SP:  I think he’s just got boundless creativity and enthusiasm.  He loves his job.  I mean he utterly loves the art of filmmaking.  He’s been a fan of it since he was a child.  A small child.  He puts all his energy into it.  He’s a wonderful collaborator and he’s in it for the right reasons.  You know?

JC:  I think he’s a born storyteller.  He approaches it with boundless enthusiasm and his movies play like that.  They’re enthusiastic.  They’re joyful.  And I think that’s his strongest, his best trait.

(To read the Star Trek Into Darkness film review, click here)

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Star Trek Into Darkness opens in Bay Area theaters today.

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