Somewhat of a franchise flick king, John Cho is best known as Harold in the Harold & Kumar movies, Sulu in Star Trek and the MILF guy in American Pie and its sequels. His other recent credits include supporting roles in Identity Thief, FlashForward and Sleepy Hollow.
But this TV season, Cho takes on something entirely different. In the ABC romantic comedy Selfie, a digital age spin on Pygmalion/My Fair Lady story (Tuesdays, 8/7c), he plays marketing guru Henry Higgs, who does a life makeover on Internet diva Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan).
We’ll be posting a Speakeasy with him in a few weeks. Meantime, we asked him about the new role, social media and the upcoming Harold & Kumar cartoon.
“I would call this role revolutionary. Even if Asians pop up they’re narratively insignificant—the cop or the waitress or the dead guy. Background stuff.”
Have you taken selfies?
Sure, I have. I have a Twitter account. I’m on it sporadically. But there’s something about me that can’t enjoy opening the door and letting everyone see who I am. My posture towards social media is I’m suspicious of it. I know everyone’s into it. It’s not a generational thing. But I feel super old and crusty. I’m grouchy about it.
What draws you to a role, this one in particular? Do you relate to Henry?
You read it and think, “That would fit me.” It’s hard to explain. It’s like a girl—you like her or you don’t. With this, it was a combination of the script and the idea. I thought it was an interesting idea to modernize [the story] and the sefie/social media aspect was interesting to me. I was just really flattered to be asked, and I thought the script was fantastic, and meeting with [creator] Emily Kapnek convinced me that I had to do it. Henry is unwilling to look at himself and too willing to look at other’s flaws. I have that problem too. Also, Henry Higgins was a linguistics expert, and as an immigrant from Korea I’m kind of that too—you study how the natives talk.
Even with diversity casting, Asian romantic leads are rare on TV.
I would call this revolutionary. Even if Asians pop up they’re narratively insignificant—the cop or the waitress or the dead guy. Background stuff. To be in this position, it’s a personal revolution for me. It’s wonderful to be able to do something that I don’t get an opportunity to do. Although I’m going to make him culturally specific in my mind, the fact it’s not talked about is very new and interesting to me.
Are you still recognized most from American Pie and Harold & Kumar? How do you feel about those fans?
Those are people I owe some rent money to. I tip my hat to anyone who spends time and money watching you. I went to a revival house here in Los Angeles, the New Beverly Cinema, with the American Pie cast for a screening and Q&A. I’m still close with them. You know, the filmmakers who created Harold & Kumar saw American Pie and said, “There’s an Asian guy who can play this role,” so one thing leads to another. I owe those small parts everything.
What did your minister father think about those roles?
To my knowledge he wasn’t scandalized. Like any parents, mine are just happy I’m making a living.
Did you ever think those movie parts would lead to a romantic lead in a sitcom?
No, no. My goal was to not have a second job by the age of 40. I thought It would be nice if I wasn’t waiting tables. I didn’t literally wait tables. I was a high school English teacher briefly, for a year, I worked at a community center for a year. I stopped pretty early on. But no, I had no idea.
Do you set goals for yourself now, a to-do list?
I’ve tried but not particularly successfully. I have trouble with setting a list and being disappointed if it’s not happening. I’ve become a more feel-my-way-though kind of person.
What’s the latest on the Harold & Kumar animated series for Cartoon Network?
It’s happening. It’s filthy and it’s funny. It’s good.
Photo: ABC/Eric McCandless