John Cho is on a career roll. Best known as Harold, half of the horny, dope-smoking, White Castle-seeking duo in the "Harold and Kumar" films, the 37-year-old Korean-American actor landed two plum parts this year. In this summer's "Star Trek" film, he played navigator Hikaru Sulu, a kick-butt role light-years removed from those he's been associated with in the past. And in the new ABC series "FlashForward," he's FBI agent Dimitri Noh. Along with the rest of the world, Noh has blacked out for two minutes, and seen a vision of his future six months from now - a vision that leads him to believe he has died. Freelance writer Lewis Beale caught up with the busy actor during a break in "FlashForward" production.What attracted you to "FlashForward?"I thought it was handled interestingly. It wasn't a philosophical reflection on what it would mean if everyone blacks out, in terms of God and science. It seemed to be a way to ask questions of these characters: how strong is your marriage, your family life. It deals with the personal in a very interesting way. And that's where my interest was.
The series is revealing the secret behind the blackout episode by episode. How much do the actors actually know?
I don't know very much. I know a few things in the big picture, but I don't know how big those things are. I don't know whether I live or die, and I'm piecing a few things together, just from being on set. They keep us in the dark. It's not an acting exercise, it's just to avoid leaks.
You really made an impression in "Star Trek," in a real macho role. What's it like being part of the "Trek" universe with its fanatical fans?
The reaction has been very positive, and that's because the movie was so well-made. It feels like I'm joining a family, it's kind of like joining the Masons, there's a lifelong membership. It's a nice feeling, and people give you the benefit of the doubt when you're in that club. And this movie has expanded the demographic of people who know me - like 10-year-old boys look at me. It's fun to me to be involved in this magical, mythic moviemaking. It's a different kind of audience.
Your dad is a retired minister. How did he feel about the R-rated "Harold and Kumar" flicks?He's very proud of his son's success. The reason he doesn't trip on the stuff we do, he senses the two movies are well-intentioned. I think he chalks it up to this is how American kids are. This is what they do. He's never focused on the content of the movies I've been in, he's connected to virtually none of the work I've done, but he does feel like I'm representing Korean-Americans.
What kinds of cultural influences did you have growing up?I grew up on garbage, really. I grew up watching sitcoms and cartoons and stuff at the Cineplex, and I didn't think about being an actor when I was growing up. Someone who brought chuckles to our household was John Ritter in "Three's Company." My parents used to watch it with us. They didn't understand how racy the content was, but they liked him, and I think he's my influence as a comic actor.
I know you are signed to "FlashForward" for several years, but what other opportunities are you pursuing?I could die on the show as early as this season, and that could change the landscape really quickly. I'm looking to create my own opportunities at this point, and I'd like to work with a Korean director. As an Asian-American, you do a certain amount of fleeing from your Asian heritage. A subtext of roles I've chosen is: "Hey, I'm not a foreigner." I feel I've been distancing myself from great stuff that has come out of Asia, and I'm now able to forge a connection across the ocean, and that could open some financial corridors as well.
You're also signed to do another "Harold and Kumar" film. Do you think your fans are aware of how those two movies subvert all sorts of nerdy, sexless and super-brainy Asian male stereotypes?
I don't think they are, and I'm happy they're not. Partially it's a tribute to a younger generation that doesn't see an Asian guy doing this sort of thing as a big deal, and I'm happy for that attitude.