Doug Jung does double duty in Star Trek Beyond. He not only co-wrote the script with Simon Pegg, but he plays the brief but important role of Ben, Sulu’s partner, and the co-parent of their young daughter, in the sci-fi adventure. Prior to Beyond, the New Jersey native counted among his credits the TV shows So Weird, Dark Blue (which he also co-created and produced) and Banshee, as well as the film Confidence. Another big-screen project, The God Particle, will be produced by J.J. Abrams. StarTrek.com recently talked with Jung about his love of Trek, collaborating on Beyond with Pegg, portraying Ben and more. Here’s what he had to say:
How much did you know about Trek and its history before heading into Beyond?
I, like a lot of people, grew up watching Trek on repeats on WPIX in New Jersey. And I’d always been a fan. I also, though, was able to revisit it, which is the great thing about Star Trek, which is I grew up watching The Original Series. I probably didn’t get that much of what was going on as far as the layers in it. And then as a Next Generation fan, I understood that a lot more. And then to revisit The Original Series when you’re older is amazing because you just start to see all these things that you missed as a little kid. That’s one of the unique things about Star Trek, which is you go back, and every time I go back and look at an original thing I’m like, “Oh, let’s take that in the context of history,” or “Let’s take that idea, that philosophical idea they’re playing around with.” It’s some really interesting stuff. So, to me, it was like I had two Star Trek lives, one where I just kind of sat there late at night past my bedtime watching this weird, cool show as a little kid, and then as someone more adult looking back and really respecting the writing and what they were trying to do.
What’s at the heart of the story you’re telling with Beyond?
For me, it’s a couple things. One of the things I find most interesting about Star Trek and what we hopefully did with this, is kind of address Roddenberry’s vision of this utopian world and ask those questions that he brought up in the ’60s when he thought of it. But how do we look at those things now? Can a utopian world exist? Should it exist? Is it even good for the greater thing? What does the Federation stand for and is that necessarily something that realistically everybody would want? Those questions, to me, were interesting thematic things to talk about first and try to ingrain into the characters and the story. The other thing, which is less of a lofty idea, was I just wanted to spend time with these characters and see them and evolve them in a way that we hadn’t really seen in the last couple movies. We’re introduced to them and a lot of the relationships were inferred and based upon collective history over the last 50 years. But on screen to see them paired up in certain ways, or just to really understand what their friendships and their relationships are about, that, to me, was really, really, really exciting to do.
What sort of collaborative process did you have with Simon Pegg?
Well, we were joined at the hip at times, physically, and a lot of times metaphorically. But we met for the first time with Justin, and when I say meet, Simon was in London working on Mission Impossible 5, so we weren’t able to meet until a little bit after, but we talked about everything. There were times where we talked about everything with a bunch of people. And there were times where it was just he and I going through things. Simon’s great. He’s just as smart and charming as you imagine him to be. It was cool. He was just a great partner to have and a great person to lean on when I was feeling unsure about things or whatever. It was a really amazing process.
What scene in the movie works best for you — and why?
There are a couple for me that work the best. There are actually three that I think work the best. I’ll go chronologically here. One is Kirk’s conversation with Bones in the officers’ mess on the Enterprise. And it works the best for me because you get to see what their relationship is. You see it. You understand that Bones has grown into this real confidante for Kirk, not just the other side of the triumvirate. And you see that they have a really deep understanding of each other. It works on another level because it was harkening back to the conversation they had in Wrath of Khan. It’s nice to kind of show that. I also think it was a nice character set-up for Kirk and introducing his issues in the movie. The other one that I thought worked great was pretty much every Bones/Spock scene. I just loved those. I loved writing them. Bones/Spock, I just thought they were great. The two of them, Karl and Zachary, are just great in those characters and the way they played off each other was phenomenal.
And the third scene?
The other one that I thought worked really well… (POSSIBLE MINOR SPOILER AHEAD) It’s funny, it’s a minor scene, when they’re reunited on the Franklin and Spock is talking about using the necklace to track their location and Bones is saying, “You have a radioactive piece of jewelry.” To me, in that group dynamic, it was a moment where they’re doing everything that you expect the Enterprise crew to do, which is problem solve collectively. But it’s just injected with so much personality and humor that I just wanted to be with them.
Whose voice came most naturally when you were sitting down to write?
I had the easiest time with Bones and Spock. But I also found Kirk sort of came to me pretty easily. It’s hard to say. I feel like there was a mind meld with Simon and I. Sometimes, literally, he’d start one piece of the dialogue and I’d be like, “Oh, and then he says this.” You know what I mean? But it certainly helped to have Simon because he knew the characters and the actors so well.
How did you end up playing Sulu’s partner?
From what I remember, we were in Dubai. The first scene we shot, which is not the first scene that I’m in, but the first scene with him we’re shooting the next day. They had cast an actor in Dubai and it’s very hard to cast there locally because there’s not a big pool of actors. And for some reason that actor had fallen out. So Justin and Lindsey Weber, who is the executive producer, were saying, “We’re kind of in a jam. You know the part. Cho is cool with it. Would you do it?” And I was really self-conscious about being on camera because all of those guys are much better looking and thinner than me. But I thought the way we were going to do it was really going to be interesting and I was really proud to have done it because all of us were so enamored with that idea and really thought it was right and it felt good to do. It was nice to be able to contribute to it in another way.
What was it like for you when people went ballistic over the first trailer and then the news of additional shooting?
I was not worried about the teaser. I wasn’t a huge fan of the teaser, but I knew that the movie had so much more. To me, I felt like it was an awkward first step. But I also had, and it’s probably a stupid way to go, but I wasn’t so worried because I knew that if people’s expectations were low, they were going to put a more substantial trailer out there which was going to change everybody’s thoughts, which is exactly what they did. I thought the second trailer was really the movie.
And when the outcries came up about reshoots, to anybody who really knows how movies are made in this day and age, reshoots are more or less built into the budget and it has nothing to do with missing the mark or quality control or anything like that. It can. But it can also just mean fine-tuning or we found something that needs to be brought up more, or, for whatever billions of reasons that are out there, it just didn’t work that day. So that never really concerned me. I was never really worried about either two of those issues.
How did you enjoy sitting in a theater and watching the finished movie?
You know what? I have to say, and you’re the first person I’m saying this to, I haven’t seen the fully rendered version yet. I’m going to see it at Comic-Con, at the premiere, and I cannot wait to see it on IMAX. It’s going to be amazing. I’ve seen versions of it with temp stuff. But I also bought tickets for opening weekend where I’m going to go and just sit in a theater with a live paying audience because I don’t think anything beats that experience.
How open are you to the possibility of doing the next movie?
I would be at Paramount’s gates at 8 o’clock in the morning waiting for them to open.
Last question. Can you confirm that your character’s name in this is Ben?
We gave him the name of Ben. It’s never referred to in the movie, but that’s how we referred to him in the script. So, I’m Ben.
Star Trek Beyond opens July 22.
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