List the top 10 Asian stars in U.S. media off the top of your head. Now go down the list until you hit the first Asian American male (as opposed to imported stars such as Jackie Chan or Jet Li).
Want to bet that the name’s John Cho?
With just a decade-long career behind him, Cho has somehow become the face of Asian American men in entertainment media without having headlined a single movie by himself. From his breakout appearance in the 2000 film “American Pie” to a co-starring role in the “Harold and Kumar” movies, the 37-year-old actor is almost always the supporting actor, never the leading man.
And yet—based on the sheer number of mainstream movies he’s appeared in—the Korean American actor is the closest thing to a “household name” we have for Asian American male actors. (For women, I nominate Lucy Liu for the honor).
Although Cho has made a career out of being the token Asian goofball, in many ways, he’s been the flag bearer for the modern movement to raise Asian American representation in the media. So what if “Harold and Kumar” contained about as much depth as a contestant on VH1’s “Rock of Love?” For the first time, we saw an Asian American’s name above the movie’s title, right?
Asia Pacific Arts recently sat down with John Cho for an illuminating in-depth interview. Addressing his rise to fame as “American Pie’s” MILF guy, he said: “And as I look back now, it’s odd, I’ve had more vulgar touchstones, but the “American Pie” series just seems to have changed the business, and “Harold and Kumar” is a bit of a game changer too, and to be in “Star Trek.” It’s been a strange career, now that I look back.”
Most recently, Cho took the role of George Takei 2.0 in J. J. Abrams’ acclaimed reboot of the sci-fi series. Playing a slick young Sulu with a flair for fencing, Cho showed us an action hero side of himself he’s never been able to before — and a non-Kung Fu hero at that. One small step for Cho, one giant leap for our demographic.
“It’s almost perverse how much I’ve thought about my Asian American audience, and my whole career, every job — every audition— that I’ve ever been offered, I think about how it will serve the community or not,” the actor said in the APA interview. “If people will appreciate it or find it offensive, and it’s almost the single factor by which I take jobs or not. Because as soon as I started, I realized it was so important to people.”
For the rest of the interview, check out “The Game-Changer: An Interview With John Cho.”