According to John Cho
, being a convincing actor is more important than having the same ethnic background as the character to be played.
As reported by New American Media, Gene Roddenberry meant for Sulu to represent the continent of Asia, not one specific ethnicity.
"I talked to George [Takei] about it," said Cho, "and he said that Roddenberry's original intent was that everybody on the bridge of the Enterprise was supposed to represent the entire world. He said that Sulu was supposed to represent the continent of Asia. They didn't have a specific cultural origin for him before the show was cast."
After being cast, Roddenberry had to come up with a specific name for the Asian character. "Gene was looking at a map and saw the name Sulu Sea and it bordered multiple Asian countries, and he thought that this was kind of a Pan-Asian name," explained Cho. "When they came up with a first name, George is Japanese American, so they give him the name Hikaru. But the intent was not really to create a Japanese-specific character. The intent was to create a Pan-Asian character."
Even a Japanese-American character wouldn't be a problem for the Korean-American Cho. "As far as the surname goes and cultural background, I think it's irrelevant," he said. "I think it's more, 'Can you be convincing as an actor?'" But Cho admitted that, "Sometimes you're better off casting someone who is really from that culture because the role calls for an accent that's going to be convincing. I wouldn't take a part that is Japanese from Japan, or a recent Japanese immigrant, because I don't think there is a way that I could do that accent really effectively and convincingly.
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