John Cho’s lighting up the holiday season with his new movie, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.
Audrey Magazine got to interview the actor during his LA press tour and you can catch his article published in the Winter Issue of our magazine (featuring cover girl Mindy Kaling). Purchase here.
Below, the rest of our chat.
How was it going back to the franchise?
I love coming back to this guy. I have a lot of affection for Harold as a character. i know guys like Harold, I [actually] know Harold Lee, whom the movie was based on, so I love it. Now I’m friends with the writers and Kal so it’s a real privilege, particularly given how nomadic the actor’s life typically is, it’s cool to have this constant.
What do you think makes a franchise work?
No idea. If I knew, I’d be rich.
When is it not working?
When you have a clay penis? [Chuckles] When you have to resort to that? I don’t know. I’ve always been of the “more is better” school just from the fans side. Even when the quality [of a film] degrades, I tend to enjoy it. The more Rocky movies the better, you know?
Did you know the movie was going to be successful when you made the first one?
No, of course not. If you put yourselves in our shoes, when the movie first came out, it was like, so we’re going to release a movie with an Asian guy and an Indian guy and it’s a movie of them looking for burgers in the middle of the night… do you think that’s going to be popular? No. We didn’t even think the first one would get made. Honestly, even when we were making the first one, I kept thinking, they’re going to shut us down. One day we’re going to show up and there’s going to be no camera and they’re going to say, go home kid go home and that didn’t happen. It’s really weird.
How have fans expressed their love for the Harold and Kumar movies?
I meet them everyday, Trader Joe’s, the post office, wherever it is. There’s a lot of fist pumping. Strangely, there’s a lot of yelling. If i didn’t know what they were saying, if they didn’t say really affectionate things, I’d think they were angry with me. So it’s easy to get that mixed up but they make it really clear how they feel about the movie. Really clear.
Harold and Kumar found its success when it came out on DVD. How did you feel about the reaction it got?
I was happy somebody found it, to be honest. I knew we’d find a modest audience somehow. I just found it was too unique a take and too warm a movie that nobody would like it. I knew that somebody would like it ‘cause I liked it. I liked watching it and I knew people that liked it. I just knew there were enough of us to make an impact. It was just a question of could we get it to them? Would they be aware of it? And we found that audience through DVD. That’s just a happy accident. I feel like the technology of DVD helped us now. The opening night of the first movie, the head of Mandate got us a limo and we had a nice steak dinner and we had bought tickets to 5 theaters around LA and wanted to see how audience were reacting. We went to the first theater, no one there, second, the same. It was depressing. Nathan has never done it since with any other movie cause he thought it was bad luck. We just never get too confident because you never know. We hope this one does good– we think it’s our strongest movie and strangely enough, it has the most mass appeal. I hope that the 3D brings people to theater. It’s a funny, warm film and I’m just very proud of it.
Speaking of funny, warm films, what’s your favorite holiday movie?
My best guess is Die Hard. It’s a great Christmas movie. Bruce Willis at his finest. And I feel like it’s bad luck to not watch It’s A Wonderful Life.
[John’s father calls him and he answers]
Since your dad just called, we have to ask, how does he feel about the you in the Harold & Kumar films?
The flip side is no movies and I’m waiting tables at Applebee’s. But my parents– what they get about the movie is what a lot of people get about the movie. Harold and Kumar are very sweet, well-intentioned people and the movies– as raunchy as they are, have a very sweet side to them. The humor is not malicious or crass. It’s not creepy. So I think that has given us a pass with the audience and with my parents. Both my parents are also cognizant of how much ground this has broken and how unusual it is that we’re headlining a movie in the US. They’re definitely proud of that aspect.
Recently, I took my dad to the white house for a state dinner and we met President Lee and President Obama in one night. This movie is part of how I was there and how he was there. It’s part of my career and what took me there. So if you’re my dad you can’t hate on the movie.
What was it like filming in 3D?
It was hard for a few reasons. One, the camera is really big. Bigger than normal. So if you do over the shoulder, the actor stands next to the lens and you can maintain eye contact. But this camera was so big so you had to look at a piece of tape inside a lens and it’s just really hard to talk to a piece of tape for the whole movie. That drove me real crazy about halfway through. I was like I can’t do this, I can’t talk to a piece of tape. Lighting’s also harder. So you have to light for two areas essentially. It leaves less time for acting. So this third movie was the hardest in terms of the technical aspects of acting.
Was it nice getting a reunion with everyone on Harold & Kumar?
You see people but it’s a different feeling between working with them on set. It’s very accelerated intimacy. I think that was why I fell into acting– I was attracted to the accelerated intimacy. You rehearse for a play and you’re in a room with these people for hours at a time and you just get to know them. I found that interesting and I liked the intensity of those relationships. So even though we see each other time to time, with families, it’s harder. But with shooting, you spend all day and all night with them on this project. And this project is so fun– how do we get the most laughs? It’s really good for the soul. I really love comedies in that way. It’s good for my cholesterol level or something.
Would you ever be interested in doing any sitcoms?
I hesitate to enter TV at this point because I’m not sure I want to be the same person for 7 years. So I don’t know whether I’d do a sitcom again.
What are your thoughts on the state of Asian American media?
Better than it used to be, I’d say. When I came into town in the late 90’s, people were very bullish about people in Asian American cinema. I was not as optimistic, just by looking around I wonder whether we had, in critical mass, enough support from audience, studio, Asians in the studio, financers, all that stuff that needs to happen in order for projects to take off. I was sure we had the talent but wasn’t sure about the ancillary support in order to make the whole thing explode. Now I feel a little better. One of the things on the support side, I feel like the business world seems to recognize that Asians have a lot of buying power and so you see a lot of Asians in commercials. That’s one of the first steps. “Oh these people buy things, we need to get their money, oh how do we do that? Get people like them in our ads and see if they’ll be happy and buy stuff.”
I’d like to think that we were part of opening a couple of doors, changing a couple of minds. It seems better to me there was a point I knew every Asian in town. In the industry but now they’re everywhere and I don’t know them. It’s a great feeling cause you don’t want one person to change it– you want a movement. A plurality of representation. One movie shouldn’t have the onus of representing Asians. We want so many movies that no one can point to one and say, “that represents Asians.” We shouldn’t have that weight on our backs. We should just be able to do what the impulse is. It’s not fair to put that on artists. That’s for other people, politicians or whatever.
And lastly, any plans for the holidays?
It’s different now, it’s not about me it’s about the kid.
Are you going to let him see the film?
We’ll wait 6 months, we’ll wait until Easter to show him.
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Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.