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Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - June 21, 2013

Stars 'trek' back into theater darkness

An interview with Simon Pegg and John Cho of the latest Star Trek film

by Peter Canavese

"Star Trek" fans, or Trekkers, know well that San Francisco holds a special place in the franchise's mythology, as the home of Starfleet Command. So it was something of a homecoming when three of the stars of the new film "Star Trek Into Darkness" settled into chairs at San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Hotel recently for an exclusive chat with the Palo Alto Weekly.

Simon Pegg, who plays the U.S.S. Enterprise's chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, and John Cho, who plays helmsman Hikaru Sulu, established their bona fides in 2009's "Star Trek," as they inherited roles made known by other actors in the nearly 50-year franchise. In this summer's sequel, they're joined by Alice Eve, who likewise plays a role -- astrophysicist Dr. Carol Marcus -- originated by another actor, in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

"I obviously went back and watched the 1982 film," Eve says. "Bibi Besch played Carol Marcus, Dr. Carol. And the thing with that for me which was liberating was that she was more mature in that film than I am at this stage. And she had a grown son: David Kirk, who was, you know, a teenager. So obviously she went on to invent the Genesis Project and was a very serious woman, but what I took from her was her essence. There was a real determination to not only tell Kirk what to do but to, you know, achieve her goals as an advanced physicist."

All three actors agree on a typical direction from the director of both recent "Trek" films, J.J. Abrams. As Pegg enacts it, "Energy, energy, aaaand action!"

"Intensity, intensity!" Cho adds.

Pegg can claim the greatest cardio challenge this time out. "I ran a lot," he notes. "I think that one scene, it was about a 100-meters sprint -- and full-on open sprint -- like proper fast-as-you-can running, or someone's gonna die. And I did three takes of it in less than 15 minutes, which I don't think an athlete would be happy to do. And it did lead to me being sick."

For Sulu's part, he gets a crack at the captain's chair, an opportunity for which the original Sulu, George Takei, often advocated and eventually, briefly, won. "I don't feel that need, and I feel like my idea would probably ruin the movie," Cho says, laughing. "So no, I don't particularly ... I don't myself do that. I have heard George advocate that to myself and others."

Of course, it's not all fun and games, and Pegg takes a crack at explaining the film's "darkness": "This film we join Kirk in the very infancy of his captaincy, which he got very young, and he got at a point when he wasn't really ready for it. And we see him making a bad decision 'cause he's being ... there's a whole scene in the first movie about how officers are supposed to stand down if they're emotionally compromised. And Kirk is emotionally compromised from the start of this film. You know, he's driven by something other than sense. He's driven by vengeance.

"And Scotty really is absolutely right to stand up to him and thinks that Kirk will agree with him to the point of calling his bluff and resigning, but (Kirk) doesn't. And so I think the 'darkness' in this film is less some sort of misplaced sense of kind of broody, po-faced seriousness and more to do with Kirk's kind of indecision and inexperience and inability to know what to do. At one point in the film, he says, 'I don't know what to do.' That's what the 'darkness' is. It's Kirk's kind of 'What am I? Am I a soldier, or am I an explorer?'"


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