Exclusive Interview: John Cho on ‘Selfie,’ ‘Sleepy Hollow’ & Star Trek
The new ABC comedy “Selfie” is a modern day My Fair Lady, or perhaps a modern day She’s All That if you will. Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a social media maven who realizes all her Twitter followers aren’t her actual friends. Her coworker Henry (John Cho) agrees to help her learn to get along with real people, but it’s a tough job, one that may take seven or eight seasons total.
We sat down with Cho this summer after the “Selfie” panel for the Television Critics Association to discuss his new comedy, and his commitments to “Sleepy Hollow” and the Star Trek movies.
CraveOnline: I think we might often see a male character in this situation in a comedy, or even in real life, he’d be so attracted to Karen’s character no matter how awful her behavior is. They would just fawn all over her. Was it interesting to you that your character really sees through her and she can be so distasteful he doesn’t want anything to do with her?
John Cho: I guess it’s a more interesting place to start. I think it’s kind of traditional in the sense that they’re not supposed to be together and they’re opposites. Even My Fair Lady which I watched recently, he takes a long time to soften up and they don’t really get together. Yeah, I guess increasing the distance that the arc has to go is more interesting to me.
I guess a will they/won’t they situation you can usually tell from the beginning that they will. If it weren’t for the premise of “Selfie” would they probably have nothing to do with each other?
Right, although I’m working at it backwards going they have to, so I then I assume and then create a reason. Absolutely, yeah, they shouldn’t really be together it could be argued, and they shouldn’t like one another. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of position she puts him into. He’s very proud and that is its own kind of ignorance. She pulls him out of that and challenges him, and he falls on his face a little bit. That’ll be fun.
The pilot sets up the premise that he’s going to try to make her under. What is episode two and beyond?
That’s a good question for Emily. I’m sorry you got stuck with me but she said in the panel, I think it’s one step forward, two steps back a little bit. I personally think the possibilities are endless in the sense that it seems to me from an old fogey standpoint, there is a disconnect with gentility or social norms. Even the fact that so many of our interactions are taking place online has sort of eroded even the idea of a social norm, because everything goes. If you have a person that has learned how to exist electronically, I feel like she doesn’t know boundaries very well so each boundary, each reminder of a boundary is an interesting episode to me.
I suppose there are people, regardless of social media, for whom basics like “ask someone how they’re doing” doesn’t occur to them.
Right, but there are people today. Look at that table over there. There are three people at a table. Sitting down together at a table is an illustration of people — it’s a way of saying we’re going to get to know each other. It’s a shorthand for intimacy, right? Let’s break bread together, let’s sit down at a table. So much of the time people are doing other things. The things people do on their laptops or on a phones at a table, because it’s so compact, they’re forgiven but if you had an old rotary phone or were typing on a typewriter at a table, it would be frowned upon.
I know this is just a comedy, but could “Selfie” actually teach people manners in this new age?
[Laughs] I don’t know. I don’t know if I trust entertainment to teach anyone anything. What I trust us to do is to deliver some laughs and to present some interesting characters that you can like or dislike, have fun disliking, but I just think at best, I think it could be a meditation on what it is to be present in today’s reality. I think that that’s what it is with her. Are you here? Where are you? Are you here or there? I think that’s what the phone takes us away from. Are you living this life or are you constructing another life to be lived parallel to your actual life.
Could “Selfie” explore the benefits of these new devices?
Absolutely, I’m coming at it from my character.
And it’s a pilot, so there are places to go.
It’s a pilot. I look forward to Henry being taught what the benefits are. There is a boundary erasure that’s so fascinating with social media. Karen was saying how she keeps up with people back home in Scotland. To be able to communicate with people on the other side of the globe is interesting, in an instant. Of course, there are political movements that are aided by Twitter. I campaigned for Obama and that was such a big component of getting the vote out, was social media.
You lasted pretty long on “Sleepy Hollow” for a guy who gets his head cut off in the pilot. Did they let you know you were free to take on another pilot this year?
I don’t know if there was a discussion. We were not on a deal. I thought I was doing the pilot. I just did the pilot and they said, “Could we write you into more?” I think that’s how it went. “Can we do some more?” And I said, “Sounds good.” Then we kept doing some more and it’s been kind of a “we’re dating” basis.
Could they still ask you to appear on “Sleepy?”
I’m sure they could and I would definitely do it. I would love to go back and do some more.
Is the humor on “Selfie” anything like Harold and Kumar, because they’re sort of raunchy with a heart?
I think obviously the Harold and Kumar stuff is trying to lean head first into the raunch. “Selfie,” we’re on Tuesday nights at 8 o’clock on ABC. I think we’re leaning out of the raunch. However, I always thought that what made Harold and Kumar palatable and what made people root for us is that I always felt like they were very earnest and somehow innocent in the middle of all of that craziness. Maybe it was the sweetness of the main characters that they never meant any harm. I feel like whatever goes on on “Selfie,” I think ultimately those two characters mean well. So in that way, there’s a tone overlap to me.
Did you ever think you’d have three movie franchises?
Yes. No. That’s funny, I was just hanging out with Eddie Kaye Thomas. We were going, “We’ve been in a lot of movies together.” It just defies logic, one, to have survived this long. No, to have more than one franchise is weird.
Zachary Quinto has said the Star Trek cast all signed up for three movies, so the next one is the end of the contract. Since those characters go on forever, do you really expect this to be the last one for your team, or for you as Sulu?
The reason I hesitate is just wondering if we could get everyone. It seems to be an all or nothing proposition. I want to say, for me, sure, let’s do another. I enjoy that group. I enjoy what Star Trek films do in general and say in general. And I will say one of the pleasures of having been in Star Trek movies has been seeing what effect they have in society, like astronauts saying, “I kind of got into this line of work because my imagination was sparked from watching ‘Star Trek.’” That is very cool. What I’m trying to say is, I just stand by that product. Getting a whole cast together, that’s tough.
I understand, if one of the cast is unavailable, there’s no point having most of you and recasting one role.
I would have to think about that. I guess you’d have to see when you got there, but I would like to keep it all together.
Zoe has three franchises herself and Chris Pine has two.
On a very basic level of scheduling, and then does someone not want to do it? Is someone tired? I don’t know where everyone’s head is at.
Did Bob Orci ever give you any directorial notes on the first two, since he was involved as writer and producer?
I don’t remember him doing anything like that. He was our Trek resource though. No one knew more about the Trek universe than him, so if there was a technical question, if there was a philosophical question, if people were discussing whether this line would be appropriate, he’s the one that was called upon.