EXCLUSIVE JOHN CHO INTERVIEW
GO ON, STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS, FLASHFORWARD and more
By Abbie Bernstein
John Cho is sitting poolside at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where NBC is showcasing its new series and throwing a party for the press. Cho is here because he’s part of the cast of NBC’s half-hour comedy GO ON, which launched in fall of 2012. The series, created by Scott Silveri, stars Matthew Perry as radio sportscaster Ryan King, who joins a quirky therapy group after the death of his wife.
Cho plays Ryan’s radio station boss and friend Steven. Does Cho’s status as a series regular on GO ON mean that something bad may happen to Mr. Sulu in the upcoming film STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS, freeing the actor up to do television?
“No, no,” Cho says reassuringly. It turns out that the shooting schedules don’t conflict. “We finished the second [STAR TREK movie]. I think it just might be magnificent.”
Alas, that’s all Cho can say about the new adventures of the Enterprise crew for now. He is, however, free to talk about GO ON. The actor, born in Seoul, Korea and rasied in Los Angeles, is a bigscreen star – besides playing Sulu in STAR TREK, he’s Harold in the HAROLD & KUMAR franchise, and he was also one of the leads in the lamented-in-many-quarters science-fiction TV drama FLASHFORWARD. Cho has done half-hour comedy before, as a regular in 2001-2002’s OFF CENTRE and in 2005’s KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, but what brings him back to the form now?
“I’m a little impulsive with my career choices,” Cho says, “but it was a thing where, I can’t tell you how much I admired Matthew Perry – [he] is my comedy hero. I stole so much from him, I imitated him for years. And then Scott [Silveri] called me, and Scott’s a guy I’ve worked with before, I really admire his writing, and he came to me with this thing and I said, ‘Okay, let’s try it out. Let’s do it.’ I thought the script was about something, it moved me, and I just went with my gut.”
Given that GO ON deals in large part with group therapy, is this something Cho had an opinion about prior to working on the series? “I certainly am an advocate of therapy,” Cho replies. “I wish that our culture, meaning American culture, had less stigma attached to getting professional help for mental illness.”
As for sports radio, another of GO ON’s settings, Cho says, “I don’t know if I’m an advocate of sports radio, but I certainly am a junkie. I’ve been listening to it much more as I grow up, as I’m getting older, and I don’t know what it is about it, but I know this – my theory on sports is that it is a male way of talking about things that women talk about very freely – ethics, morality, love. Men are completely obsessed with sports – it’s not about the numbers, it’s about all these other things. It’s about character.”
In addition to GO ON, in 2012 Cho was one of the many actors returning to the AMERICAN PIE franchise for AMERICAN REUNION, which was directed by HAROLD & KUMAR creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg. Cho has in fact appeared in all of the big-screen AMERICAN PIE movies (there are four, counting REUNION), saying of the original, “It was one of my first gigs. The return was really a no-brainer for me, because I wanted to work with those guys [Hurwitz and Schlossberg] again. They cast me in HAROLD & KUMAR, or they wrote HAROLD & KUMAR because they had seen me in AMERICAN PIE, so they wrote that for me, so it was full circle for me.”
For Cho, some live theatre performing preceded his screen career. “I was doing theatre – yes, I was. For about a year, that’s all I did before I found work that paid,” he laughs.
Speaking of work that pays, does Cho think that HAROLD AND KUMAR may continue past its latest 3D installment, A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS?
“I don’t know,” Cho responds. “I would love to see it go further. I feel like it gets funnier the older they get, because it’s more preposterous, the two of them continuing their ways as they get older, but who knows. I mean, it would be funny to see them at seventy. We’ll see. Contractually, we signed a three-picture deal, so I don’t know whether the producers want to start that process up again and draw up new papers, but I’m certainly willing.”
There was a lot of 3D in CHRISTMAS. The film was shot in the 3D format, as opposed to being converted to 3D in post-production. This meant that Cho had to make some adjustments as an actor. “It was tough, I’ve got to admit to you,” Cho relates. “In some ways, it was really great. I’ll tell you the positive, which is, because it was such a big rig [holding the cameras], the camera set-up was such a complicated thing, we went back to these really classical framing techniques, where a lot of things happen without the camera moving. These days, the camera is like,” he makes a fast, swooping gesture. “Because the camera [for the 3D process] was so big, it stayed still and, as goofy as our movie was, it lent itself to a theatrical kind of performance. On the other hand, the rig was so big, because there are two cameras attached, that the over the shoulder shots, the actor couldn’t be next to the camera, so I couldn’t look at an actor for my coverage.” Cho is referring to the fact that, when one actor’s close-ups are being shot, it is customary for his scene partner to stand near the camera and say lines, so that the on-camera actor can direct his gave as his colleague, playing the scene as though they are both being filmed. “I had to look at a piece of tape. So that was really difficult. That was the worst thing about 3D. But otherwise, it was fun.”
Cho was also one of the leads in FLASHFORWARD, ABC’s intriguing but short-lived 2009-2010 dramatic science-fiction series about a worldwide blackout, during which almost everyone on Earth experiences a vision of where they’ll be in six months’ time. Cho’s character, police detective Dmitri Noh, doesn’t have a vision, leading him to believe he’ll die within six months and eventually causing him to try to change his fate.
“I wish it wouldn’t have wrapped up,” Cho says of FLASHFORWARD. “I wish we’d gotten a second season to be able to have fleshed that out, but it is what it is. It’s a big, giant gamble doing television and you may not to be able to complete [the story being told]. I guess the main regret I have is that, even for me, there were so many people – we lured them in, we didn’t get a second season and so many people come up to me on the street and say, ‘What was supposed to go on?’ or ‘I wanted to know where it went,’ and so it’s a bummer to me that we weren’t able to give that to people.”
As for where FLASHFORWARD might have gone in a second season, Cho doesn’t have many more answers than we do. “We [the actors] didn’t really know. There were discussions. There was an inclination, there were discussions and, you know.”
Back to the subject of GO ON, half-hour television comedies are reportedly among the most intensive forms of on-camera work. Is the pace taking a toll on Cho? “You know what? One of the reasons I signed on was, it seemed attractive to me to not be the lead. The hurry up situation, it’s on Matthew, and it’s him. It’s his show, and in a way, there’s a certain freedom to that.”
Perry is both Cho’s onscreen star and one of his off-screen executive producers. How is it playing the boss of one’s real-life boss?
“I don’t know,” Cho says. I’m feeling it out. Here’s my thing. Matthew Perry is such a hero of mine, I’m trying to get over the giddiness of being in a room with him and that’s what I’m trying to do,” he laughs. “Don’t tell him that.”
Cho’s Steven was originally intended to only be a guest character in the pilot. Did the producers just come back to him after he’d done it and essentially say, “Please stay?”
“Yeah,” Cho affirms. “I thought about it. As I said, my whole life has been just reacting to things on gut and I had a good time. I felt like Scott would take care of me. There wasn’t much [for Steve to do] in the pilot. I did the pilot to get a chance to work with Scott again and work with Matthew and when they came back with me, they pitched me a bunch of things that could happen in this season and in the seasons to come and I said, ‘That sounds interesting, that sounds like it could be fun.’ It’s really as simple as that. I just loved Scott and I love working with Matthew.”