Doug Jung was best known for his work on earthbound TV shows like Dark Blue and Big Love, but lately he’s been spending a lot of time in outer space. Jung co-wrote this summer’s Star Trek Beyond with Simon Pegg, and he’s also worked on next year’s God Particle, a mysterious astronaut movie that may or may not be the third entry in the Cloverfield series. All that and acting, too: Jung had a small but culturally pivotal part in Beyond, where he played Sulu’s husband, Ben. With Beyond arriving on Blu-ray this week, we talked to Jung about the film and the potential future of the franchise.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When I spoke to Simon Pegg, he said that you guys would frequently watch old episodes of Star Trek at the end of your writing days. Did you learn anything about what makes a good Star Trek story, as opposed to a less successful one?
DOUG JUNG: What I did realize, in having looked at them a little bit more as a writer than as a fan, is there are so many different kinds of stories you can tell. They vacillate wildly in the original series. I love “City on the Edge of Forever,” the ones that have that Twilight Zone-kind of feel. But “The Doomsday Machine” is one of my favorites, this fast-paced science-fiction. They contain these kind of amazing parables, commentaries. I remember thinking: It’s amazing how many different kinds of stories they can do.
You’ve both said that the writing process was quite accelerated for this movie. Did you have any big ideas or concepts that didn’t make the final draft?
We did have some ideas that were just physically out there for science-fiction, depictions of worlds and what they might be. We had other ideas that were deep sci-fi, a little bit more along the lines of The Motion Picture, extrapolating from what we know to be the near future.
To get into some spoiler alert territory, I want to ask about the character Krall, who we learn is actually a Starfleet officer named Balthazar Edison. How did you guys come up with his character and his motivation?
He was a human man caught in this time of great change, and his inability to do that is actually not completely irrational. In fact, his inability to change is more human than not. He is not the full actualization of where we want to progress to as a species. He becomes consumed with the darker impulses of who we are, but in a very understandable and relatable way.
You played Sulu’s husband in a scene that caused a lot of conversation, and some controversy, when the film came out. How do you feel looking back on how that scene played out?
I’ve always been incredibly proud of that scene, even when it was just on the page. I’m even more proud of it now. I think the way Justin [Lin] shot it, and the way John helped craft that scene — certainly more than me, I just basically stood there! — but the way it was presented, I think everybody felt incredibly good about it. We wanted to depict it as a normal part of the fabric of life. Which it is! I think it will stand the test of time. The great victory would be that, in however many years, if they look back on Beyond as part of a Star Trek retrospective, they wouldn’t even blink.
Some people were upset that Sulu and Ben don’t kiss. My personal read on that scene was that they’ve been married for awhile, and the spark is gone.
[Laughs] I don’t know. I guess I didn’t really have any reaction to it. When we did it, it was sort of like…we never talked about, “Should we kiss, should we not kiss?” The little girl who played the daughter was kind of right in there, and our focus was on her. It sort of developed that way. I never even thought, “We’re making or not making some kind of statement in the physicality of how we’re seeing each other.”
So the spark is still there in their marriage?
I think they went home and they were reunited, and it was all great.
I really liked the opening sequence of the film, with Kirk experiencing a lot of feelings about himself and Starfleet. With Star Trek, you’re always grappling with the legacy of the franchise, and it seems like he’s doing that within the movie?
We were trying to comment on all that stuff. The ennui we meet him with, he’s questioning all the stuff that was presented by Gene Roddenberry in the show. What is discovery? What does that mean? What is the relevance? What’s the point of striving for this kind of idealism when its merits aren’t apparent right away?
There’s already been some talk about another film focusing on the Enterprise crew, but it seems like in Hollywood there’s this new idea of the Rogue One-style film, a spinoff set within cinematic universe. If you could write a spinoff set in a particular corner of the Trek galaxy, where would you focus?
It’s a franchise that can support different styles of movies. There’s the big action tentpole feel of Star Trek and the Enterprise, but why not try to do something that’s the Zero Dark Thirty version of Star Trek, or one that introduces some younger characters at the Academy? It’s 50 years’ worth of discovery, and obviously they’re doing that with Star Trek Discovery, but why not blow it out to a cinematic universe that has secondary characters, and smaller storylines, more intimate storylines, ones that deal with more of an espionage element versus the large-scale exploration themes of the main Star Trek.
There have been some rumors that your next film, The God Particle, is actually a Cloverfield film. Can you address these rumors?
I don’t really think I can comment on it. I will say that I think it’s gonna be a pretty intriguing movie. It’s a little more grounded in near-future sci-fi. There’s definitely some crazy s— in there.