East West Magazine is back! And for their first issue, they interviewed John Cho about his experiences with race and acting:
He recently followed in idol George Takei’s footsteps as Sulu in the Star Trek remake and is set to star in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas when buddy Kal Penn wraps his presidential advisory gig next summer.
In the meantime, he hopes to settle in to life on the small screen and continue to make a mark in terms of diversity. While Cho admits he’s seeing many Asian Americans on TV – from Lost to Grey’s Anatomy to Melrose Place to The Office – he still sees room for improvement.
John Cho, ABC’s Flash Forward“Don’t get me wrong, the FBI agent is great – and I’m very happy to see the numbers. But I mean, they got hospital shows wrong for so many years – so to this day, I’m just happy to see Asians as doctors on TV.” says Cho. “But my character on Flash Forward was not written as Asian, and I think that’s still pretty common. When I was cast, David [David Goyer, creator of Flash Forward] asked me if I wanted to change the character’s last name to a Korean name, and I said yes, so we did.”
While this attests to the level of success Cho has reached after nearly 15 years in the business, he still sees the trend as problematic. “The landscape has changed – with the exception of Harold I haven’t played a character written as Asian for many years.
But that’s not something to brag about either,” he says. “It’s sort of double-edged. Ideally you’d want brilliant, fleshed out characters that were already written Asian. But there still is that shortage. My point of view is that things are getting better, yes, but things aren’t nearly where they should be. But I am feeling a bit more optimistic than I was before.”
He credits the surprise success of Harold & Kumar, in part, as a propeller of change. “In the beginning, I felt very concerned about representing – I felt a lot of pressure to play the right role,” he says, noting the model minority stereotype. “I sweated that, but eventually it got to the point where I wanted to go against the grain and play more vulgar characters. Harold is the straight man, but he’s also sort of an everyman.” [...]
To this day, Cho is surprised by fan reaction to the film. “It taught me a lesson in identity, and I realized that maybe there was a generational shift that I had been unaware of,” says Cho. “The moment of clarity for me was this young Asian American woman that came up to me and said, ‘Oh, thank you for Harold & Kumar, thanks for representing us. Us stoners.’ That threw me a curveball, you know. It made me see that just because we’re the same color doesn’t mean we’re the same – everyone processes identity in a different way, and that’s a very healthy thing.”