A homespun town that quickly became starstruck over a visiting Hollywood actor and film crew bids farewell to them today as three weeks of filming wraps up.

Much of the buzz with the low-budget, independent flick “Columbus” has focused on actor John Cho. Cast as the male lead in “Columbus,” Cho arrived in town a week after “Star Trek Beyond” opened No. 1 nationally at the box office. Cho plays Lt. Hikaru Sulu, one of the top-billed roles in that movie series starring Chris Pine as Captain James Kirk.

After co-starring in “Star Trek,” made at a reported $185 million and generating $60 million in opening weekend ticket sales, the low-budget “Columbus” represented a significant turn for Cho.

The actor — who began appearing in television and movies nearly 20 years ago — agreed to the role of Jin, a 29-year-old Korean-born writer who arrived in Columbus to be at the side of his dying architect father who came from Korea to study the city’s noted buildings.

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A crew of about 40 people shot at 16 architecturally significant sites, including First Christian Church, the Miller House and Columbus City Hall.

Cho’s attraction to the project was the passion of a Nashville, Tennessee, director who goes by the name Koganada, making his feature film debut. Long a fan of Modernism, Koganada fell in love with Columbus’ architecture a few years ago, and was inspired to write the script. He is South Korean-born, as is Cho.

“It was the director, the story, and the fact that this is a uniquely personal and artistic film,” Cho said. “Cinema today has understandably become a franchise, blockbuster business.”

Cho’s recently released “Star Trek” movie is the third in that blockbuster franchise reboot of a storyline that originated with the Gene Roddenberry TV series that aired from 1966-69, as well as television and movie spinoffs that followed.

The cast also includes:

  • Parker Posey, 47, who had a supporting role in the 2016 Woody Allen film “Cafe Society” and appeared in movies such as “Laws of Attraction,” 2004; “A Mighty Wind,” 2003; and “The Sweetest Thing,” 2002.
  • Michelle Forbes, 51, who had a supporting role in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” 2015.
  • Rory Culkin, 27, the brother of actors Macaulayand Kieran Culkin, who had the lead role in “Gabriel,” 2014, and appeared in the 2002 film, “Igby Goes Down” as young Igby

Filming impact

Erin Hawkins, director of marketing for the Columbus Area Visitors Center, acknowledged that even a small-budget arts film as this one has generated substantial goodwill, as well as a nice boost to the local economy via hotel stays and restaurant visits. Using tourism calculations, Hawkins said the crew pumped an estimated $132,000 into the local economy.

But after working closely with the group for several weeks, Hawkins suggested that the shoot’s impact would be greater than traditional marketing ever could generate.

“I think we’ve just created about 40 (Columbus) brand ambassadors that will represent us well when they head out of town,” Hawkins said.

Today’s final day of filming unfolds at a local residence being used for the film as the home of lead female character Casey, 19, played by actress Haley Lu Richardson, who’s actually 21, of ABC Family’s “Ravenswood.”

The storyline describes Casey as a blue-collar, worldly and bright young woman who wants to stay in Columbus with her mother, a recovering addict, instead of pursuing her own dreams.

Man about town

Cho, 44, has been highly visible during his time in Columbus, allowing many residents to snap a photo with him. One of his first stops came at the Columbus Farmers Market downtown at the end of July.

“I’m a real sucker for farmers markets,” he said. “It’s just too bad that I haven’t had a place to cook.”

He gave high marks to Columbus’ food offerings in general, and the variety of menu offerings from Asian to Caribbean.

Because Cho co-starred in the 2004 comedy “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle,” locals were quick to inform him immediately that Columbus boasts a White Castle of its own, the actor said.

But movie fans were more likely to spot Cho at The Savory Swine, a downtown restaurant near much of the filming which “has kept me alive,” he said.

Cho complimented ZwanzigZ pizza and said he enjoyed dining multiple times at Le Petit Caraibes and Henry Social Club.

“Actually, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how cosmopolitan a town this size really is,” he said. “I believe that diversity is so much of our strength in the United States. Really, most of the time now, I kind of expect to find it wherever I go.”

Amid the city’s renowned architecture, Cho said he most preferred Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church, one of the local backdrops in the film.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like the sanctuary there,” Cho said of the naturally lit interior. “It’s feels very holy inside. I see it as a warm place, and not at all cold.

“And I love the idea of a congregation being able to look at one another (in circular seating) rather than just focusing up front on a speaker,” said Cho, a minister’s son. “They can see each other as neighbors.”

Cho said he was determined to mix in the community from the day he arrived, although the three-week shooting schedule some days stretched from early afternoon to 3 a.m. or later.

Meeting Columbus residents has been enjoyable, he said.

“I can’t speak for other actors (on location for films),” he said. “But here we are in a small, tight-knit community. And I’d rather feel a definite part of it all than not.”

Locals actors were able to be part of the experience, as extras and as characters with bit parts.

Actor Pete Law of Hope was among those included in a few scenes. He played a visitor in an architectural tour group led by former “Saturday Night Live” actress Julia Sweeney and an extra in a scene at Henry Social Club.

“A lot of people don’t realize how long you have to wait on set, but it is all part of the process,” Law said. “It was fun to see a movie shot close to home.”

John Cho movie bio

— Co-star of “Star Trek,” 2009, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” 2013, and “Star Trek Beyond,” released this year, in role of Lt. Hikaru Sulu.

— Co-star of “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” role of Harold Lee, 2004.

— Minor roles in the “American Pie” film series, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2012.

What's next

After filming concludes today on the “Columbus” movie, it will be edited in Nashville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles while a distributor will be sought. Aaron Boyd, one of the film’s producers, said a release date cannot be projected until distribution is finalized.

He said those involved in the film would like to stage a screening of the finished version in Columbus, possibly at YES Cinema at Fourth and Jackson streets downtown.

John Cho's Orchid

Orchids to everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking with in Columbus, and for all their warmth, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.

— John Cho

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.