There’s been a lot of Internet discussion about Sulu’s sexual orientation in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond. Simon Pegg wrote the script for the third film in the rebooted universe (13th for the entire Star Trek Movie Franchise) and George Takei, who played Sulu in the original series and big screen movies, didn’t see eye to eye on that change to the character. John Cho, who plays Sulu in the recently named Kelvin Timeline went into more detail in a recent interview with Vulture, revealing that the big kiss scene ended up on the editing room floor.
Here’s a portion of the interview that focused on the change in Sulu’s sexual orientation in Star Trek Beyond:
Whose idea was it to reveal that Sulu’s character is gay in Star Trek Beyond?
It was Simon’s [Pegg, the screenwriter] idea. Then he and Doug Jung, his co-writer, spoke to Justin about it. I heard about it from Justin early on, when he had accepted the gig and was at Paramount getting his team together. I went to his office and we got reacquainted, and that’s when he threw that out at me. It was very early. “You know, there’s this idea floating about. Just wanted to let you know and ask you what you thought about it.” I thought it was a beautiful idea. But I had three concerns I expressed in that office that day. They were immediate and clear to me.My primary concern was that I was wondering how George [Takei] would feel, because he’s a gay actor that played a straight part and crafted a straight character. I didn’t want him to feel that we had reduced him to his sexuality by sort of borrowing this bit, if you will, from his life. You know? And his opinion was important to me, and I would have rather had him support the decision than not, so I wanted to reach out to him. I was concerned also that there might be Asian-American backlash. There has been this feminization of Asian men, so I thought this might be seen as continuing that lineage, which I disagree with personally, but I brought it up. I was also concerned, scientifically speaking [laughs], that we’re in an alternate universe but I’m assuming that Sulu is the same genetic Sulu in both timelines, and I thought we might be implying that sexual orientation was a choice. Does this sound super overthought?
No, I’ve heard all of these concerns. What was the conversation with George like?
I reached out to him and told him that this might be happening, and I just wanted to know how he felt. His objection was the same as it was a week ago. It turned out that George’s objection was mostly, as I understand it, “This isn’t canon.” It didn’t turn out to be a political argument at all. It was interesting, but that’s who he is: He is a devotee of Roddenberry’s. Everything he does in the Star Trek universe, it’s like What Would Jesus Do: “What would Roddenberry do?” I’ve got to respect him for that.
What ultimately made you decide to support that decision?
I was like, This is good. I just thought it came from a real place, and I also thought that it personalized Sulu a little bit, which was a good move. We just see him steer the ship mostly and do his job, and I just wanted to give that some other weight. I thought that having the family deepened his character a little bit. Arguably that could’ve been with a wife and daughter, but in any case I just thought that having a personal life was a nice addition to the character. This is an important point for me and I’d like to know your opinion on this too. Early on I said to Justin, “Dude, it would be important to me to have an Asian husband.” He’s played by Doug Jung, the screenwriter.
How did that come about?
We were in Vancouver first and we finished up the production in Dubai and that scene was in Dubai and I was like, “Hey, so who’d you get?” They were like, “We can’t find anybody! Doug may have to play him!” It started out as a joke. I was like, “Haha.” And then at some point they were not joking. We definitely had trouble finding East Asians first off, and then actors willing to play gay. We had a guy and then his parents really objected. Basically, we couldn’t find an Asian actor willing to play gay in Dubai is my understanding.
Why did you push for that?
Basically it was a little Valentine to the gay Asian friends that I grew up with. This may be presumptuous, but I always felt the Asian gay men that I knew had much heavier cultural-shame issues. This is probably more so for my generation than for yours, but I felt like those guys didn’t date Asian men because of that cultural shame. So I wanted it to seem really normal in the future. I thought that would be the most normal thing, that there was zero shame in the future. I don’t know if that hit or not, but it was something that I felt in my gut and asked for that.
And they were receptive to that suggestion?
Justin was. There was talk of, Should he have a human husband? So it went that far. I wanted that relationship to feel super familiar, you know what I’m saying? I didn’t want to push the difference envelope; I just wanted it to be very, very traditional looking.
But it’s very rare to see two gay Asian men together. It’s both traditional, and in some ways radical.
Yes. That was my thought. There was something about this pairing that would seem very old-fashioned, and then something about it to gay men that would be radical.
Is there any sort of intimacy in that scene?
There was a kiss that I think is not there anymore.
They cut it?
That’s too bad.
It wasn’t like a make-out session. We’re at the airport with our daughter. It was a welcome-home kiss. I’m actually proud of that scene, because it was pretty tough. Obviously, I just met the kid, and then Doug is not an actor. I just wanted that to look convincingly intimate. We’re two straight guys and had to get to a very loving, intimate place. It was hard to do on the fly. We had to open up. It came off well, in my view.
All that hullabaloo and it ends up on the editing room floor. Was it just a publicity stunt, or was this the studio response to the backlash from the proposed change? We’ll probably never really know, so much gets cut in the editing process, sometimes scenes that everyone agrees later that should have been included, just look at the Batman V Superman edits and it’s easy to see that scenes that should have been in the movie were cut for time.
Star Trek Beyond opens this weekend.