John Cho reflects on #StarringJohnCho, says he took pride in roles originally written for white actors

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

John Cho unwittingly became a face of the movement for more diversity in Hollywood — literally — when fans began Photoshopping him into popular movie posters with the #StarringJohnCho meme that took off on social media in 2016. The meme was intended to draw attention to the lack of Asian-American actors in mainstream movies in general, but because it was so popular, you have to wonder if it had residual effects for its now 46-year-old poster boy.

“It’s certainly possible that they affected the decision makers, but to me what it really did was [it] contributed to a larger discussion about representation, and I was happy to participate in that discussion,” said Cho (watch above), who is best known for the American Pie, Harold and Kumar, and Star Trek franchises but has a pair of lead roles in acclaimed indies under his belt: last year’s slow-burn drama Columbus and the new tech-driven thriller Searching, which takes place entirely on computer screens. “People had been talking about representation for a while, but this made the argument so succinctly that it was incredibly effective. And really the subtext was, ‘That’s an Asian face. It’s not weird, is it?’ And people looked at it and said, ‘I guess not.’”

We’re in the midst of what is no doubt a notable month for Asian representation in film, most prominently with last weekend’s release of Crazy Rich Asians, the first major studio release with an all-Asian cast in 25 years, which has proven in equal parts box-office hit and cultural touchstone. Elsewhere, Cho headlines Searching, and Lana Condor stars in the buzzed-about Netflix rom-com To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

It remains to be seen if this will mark a shift in Hollywood’s approach to inclusion. Cho, for one, has been having conversations like this for years, spurred by his involvement in both Harold and Kumar films (lauded for stereotype-smashing stoners) and in Better Luck Tomorrow (lauded for its honest look at Asian teens). Still, he’s optimistic.

“If there such a thing a thing as a turning point… I hope we’re there,” he said. “And it certainly feels a little different. I think it seems better. I see more performers, I see more writers. I see more directors. So it’s certainly possible.”

As an aspiring performer, Cho had one very specific way to gauge progress as it related to his own involvement in entertainment.

“When I was younger, in an effort to avoid stereotypes, I found great pride in getting roles that were originally written white, because those were the better roles. And I took pride in that. But as the years went on, I was dismayed, because I realized those roles were never written Asian.”

One such role: John, aka “MILF Guy #2,” who helped coin the popular acronym (look it up) in the 1999 raunchy teen comedy American Pie.

“Where I revealed to America that Asian guys can be douchebags too,” he laughed.

Searching is now in release. Watch Cho talk about the challenges that shooting on laptop webcams provided:

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