From the moment he shouted “Milf!” in American Pie, movie fans knew John Cho was something special.

OK, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic of a debut but that good-hearted, filth-flinging comedy did launch the careers of a generation of actors. The ethnically diverse stoner franchise Harold And Kumar cemented his status as a cult comedy star and eccentric supporting roles in American Reunion, Smiley Face and Total Recall (sporting a beard and bleach job that needs to be seen to be believed) locked him in for a side career as a character actor.

And let’s not forget he was also chosen to replace the great George Takei as Sulu in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. This week, Cho returns to the role for Abrams’ high-octane sequel Star Trek Into Darkness. We got a chance to chat with Cho about replacing Takei, breaking the captain’s chair on the Enterprise, and of course how he feels about helping popularize “Milf.”

Were you much of a Star Trek fan growing up?

Not really. I grew up thinking the look was pretty cheesy in the first series. I did like it and appreciated that it was very thoughtful. It’s science fiction at its best because the genre can talk about things that are difficult to talk about in realistic dramas. I think this movie is the same in terms of discussing the state of the world as it is. I always found that interesting about the original series.

And you know, as a boy I loved that there was an Asian person on television who was a bad-ass and the helmsman of a spaceship. So I always admired it, even if I wasn’t ga-ga for it.

Apologies for asking something you’ve been asked a million times ...

I’m a Gemini.

Oh good, but I was also wondering what sort of relationship you have with George Takei? Did you spend any time with him before taking over the role?

George has been very complimentary to my face and behind my back. As for my relationship with him, we actually go back a little ways. He’s on the board of a theatre company that I started out at in Los Angeles called The East / West Players. So, we’ve been circling each other for a while. I can’t remember when I was formally introduced to him but we’ve been in the same place quite a few times. He’s been a community leader so to get validation from him was a big deal, not only obviously because he played Sulu, but also because he’s an outspoken Asian-American leader. That’s always how I saw him. He spoke about Asian-American representation before anyone else. He was open about his sexuality. He’s a pioneer. What can I say?

Can you do his voice at all?

It’s hard. Is his biology different? I don’t know. It’s a weirdly deep voice.

Since everything is so secretive at J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot, when did you even find out what Star Trek Into Darkness would be about? Was it not until the final script was ready?

I think I read it a month before shooting. They are very protective of when you get to read it. They could send out drafts, but I think they are very careful about actors getting attached to a line they love or something like that. It’s normally like, “This is finished-ish, here you go.” I remember going into an office because the script couldn’t be distributed. So I was locked in a room and presented with a script printed on special red paper that can’t be photocopied. Actually, even the daily sides were watermarked with our names and collected at the end of the day. The whole Bad Robot experience is pretty intense. They should run the C.I.A.

How tough is it to promote a film where you can’t give anything away?

Well, you rely on talking about the relationships with people you work with. But it’s tough this time because I’m excited about and proud of the movie. It’s almost like I want to hurry up and have the movie released so that we can talk about it. Because there’s a lot to talk about. It’s a movie of substance and it’s fun. I want to know how Trek fans react. I also want to know how people who aren’t Trek fans like it. So it’s frustrating. But on the other hand I know that the reason is a good one, that J.J. is very protective of the audience’s experience and doesn’t want that spoiled by expectations. He’s opening a book at bedtime and wants you to hear his story. That’s for the audience, not for him.

Hopefully, one of the things we can give away is that you get to take over the captain’s chair for a bit this time. That must have been exciting. Was it a shock when you got the script?

Yeah, it was cool. It was one of those, “Oh, that’s where they’re going” moments. It felt good sitting in that chair. It’s just the right size. It fits. Actually, it’s not very comfortable.

Did you get any crap about sitting in the chair?

Actually, ever since the first one, we’ve all been trying to get in there. Everyone jostles for it. Maybe it’s a feng shui thing. It fits the room well. Especially for the people who don’t have chairs. Because Karl Urban doesn’t have one and there’s a lot of leaning if you’re not one of the chair people. We actually broke it this time [laughs.] That was very embarrassing. It doesn’t feel good.

Who broke it?

I don’t remember.

Sounds like it was you.

Maybe it was.

I guess it was a pretty fun set then?

Yeah, I’ll give you another funny story. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto concocted a practical joke for me. We were shooting in a facility in Northern California that houses an enormous laser. I was told that it was radioactive and I was stupid enough to believe it and then I was stupid enough to enter the room with it. I was then told that to combat the radioactivity I was required to wear cream and jump up and down and wiggle my hands … and I did … all day … in front of cameras. Good stuff.

When you come back to a franchise, which you’ve done before on American Pie or Harold And Kumar, do you think at all about how to advance and change the character?

I guess to some extent. But I’m not quite as advanced as that [laughs.] I try to execute what’s on the page and if that’s an option, then maybe. But it’s not something you can push on the material. You get what you get and you try not to ruin things. I always just approach it with the attitude of “This is great, I want to be a part of this and make this work as best as I can.” I don’t really have other motives. And I’m glad I’m not involved with the writing of something like this. I mean, who am I? They’re brilliant. I would be afraid of injecting a bad idea if they tried to please me.   

How do you feel about having popularized the term “milf” through the American Pie movies?

[Laughs] Um … I’m surprised, what can I say? I’m surprised by everything about that movie. Who knew? It was one of those bizarre star-colliding situations. But I guess I’m proud of it and I apologize for it.

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