For anyone who has seen John Cho in anything, ever, they know he’s a natural leading man, even if the roles he has been offered in the past haven’t quite reflected his versatile skill sets. Having jumped from comedy to franchises and, in recent years, more dramatic fare with stunning work in 2017’s “Columbus,” Cho is nabbing those leading man roles that are long-deserved.
And this year, he starred in the thriller “Searching” told all from the perspective of social media and earned strong reviews, with our critic calling it “touching and tense.” In a film where the computer screen, tablet, phone, and webcam footage are all he had to work with, the actor delivered one of the best performances all year.
We spoke with Cho about his decision to make “Searching,” the obstacles the format presented, and his thoughts on the future of “Star Trek 4.”
What was your first reaction when you got the script? Were you ever worried that it would come off too gimmicky?
Oh yeah, I thought that the gimmick would overwhelm the film. I mean I said no to the film initially even though I really liked the script and the character. I just felt like it was going to be a YouTube video and that didn’t seem like a fun acting challenge.
So I said no and the way we speak now about how I came to the film was that [director] Aneesh [Chaganty] spoke over the phone and in retrospect, he was really nervous. I think in his mind he had written this for me and thought that the forces of the world would compel me to say yes and forgot to sell me on the movie and I ended up passing. For some reason, I had called him on my cell phone directly so he had my number, and months later he texted, which he’s not supposed to do in Hollywood business rules, and wanted a second shot and I didn’t tell my agents and ended up meeting him.
I think part of what I was thinking was that he was a first-time filmmaker, there was something about him that I liked and he’s a filmmaker of color who specifically wrote this part for me, so if he wanted a second shot I think I felt I should give it to him. We sat down and he was so prepared and so on his game and sold me on the movie because he said we were going to focus on the character and how it would look different from other on-screen movies and I ended up saying yes.
You mentioned the part about character work and there is that opening montage that I’ve seen compared to the opening of “Up,” was that father-daughter and familial relationship part of what helped sell you?
For me, that was the most affecting read on the page and remains the most affecting part of the film. I just knew even in that first meeting that’s what we talked about, how are we gonna shoot this. I knew that if that didn’t work then any of the thrills and none of the tension would exist. The story to me is about two people – father and daughter – who are grieving the same person but doing so very separately and differently…I just felt like we had to establish those relationships in order for any of the plot to work
For someone who is not technologically savvy what were some of the particular challenges with the way this film was made, I can imagine this was new territory for you working with computers as a direct tool in the film.
I just didn’t understand some of the technology in the movie and I had to be explained some of the stuff in the film. When we shot there was no computer, we had a dummy computer so I was pretending to type on something and there was a GoPro mounted on top but there were no graphics and we had to work very specifically and intimately to know exactly what I was supposed to be reading and when and where my eye was supposed to go to when certain graphics showed up so we had to make small dots on the blank screen and that was certainly a challenge. I think it’s hard to be on a set like this because you typically have another person to talk to or work with and I think that is the best way to be authentic I think is to look someone in the face and the absence of other human beings to act with was my greatest challenge on the film.