In a career spanning two decades, John Cho has broken many glass ceilings. He was the first Asian-American actor to star in a mainstream Hollywood thriller (Searching) and the first Asian-American actor to star in a rom-com TV series (Selfie). And of course there are roles in it star trek, American Pie and the Harold and Kumar franchises. The actor will soon be adding some more diversity to that filmography with his upcoming dramedy Don’t Make Me Go – a sweet tale about the bond between a father and his daughter. John and his on-screen daughter, Mia Isaac, spoke to Hindustan Times ahead of the film about their off-screen connection and how Hollywood’s portrayal of race has changed. Also read: John Cho’s Hikaru Sulu Becomes Star Trek’s First Openly Gay Character

Don’t Make Me Go is the story of Max (John) who has a terminal illness and decides to take a road trip across the country with his reluctant teenage daughter (Mia) to reunite her with her estranged mother. Much of the film is set in a car with just the two lead actors and therefore required a lot of chemistry. About how they developed that band, Mia says: “The audition process and rehearsals were all virtual at first. So it was proof that there was something really special that we could connect via Zoom, Skype and things like that. When I was in New Zealand, I was in a foreign country and I had no idea what I was doing, so I was glad to at least know John.”

John Cho and Mia Isaac play a father-daughter duo on a road trip in Don't Make Me Go.
John Cho and Mia Isaac play a father-daughter duo on a road trip in Don’t Make Me Go.

Hannah Marks’ directing deals with serious issues, but also has a touch of comedy, with the occasional genre jump. It was no challenge for John to maintain that balance between drama and comedy. “It’s not like the other road trip I did — Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” he says with a laugh, adding, “But it’s really just about following the script. It was obvious when we were funny “We needed to be and clear when it wasn’t necessary. Occasionally we found humor at a time that wasn’t exactly scripted. It’s not something you map out per se.”

Kal Penn and John Cho in a still from the cult classic Harold & Kumar Go to the White Castle.
Kal Penn and John Cho in a still from the cult classic Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.

While the film doesn’t talk about race, it does make a subtle statement about representation by casting an Asian-American man and a half-Asian-half-African-American girl as his daughter. Mia finds this a welcome change. “What I also like about this movie is that it’s not something that needs explaining that I’m his daughter. Growing up, it was hard for my mother and people who didn’t automatically know I was her daughter because I wasn’t quite like her. I think it’s really cool that it’s so normalized that I’m going to be John’s daughter and it doesn’t have to be explained,” she says.

John, of course, has seen change in the treatment of minority representation in Hollywood over the course of two decades. For him, the view of film representation is a big step. He states, “Especially in American cinema, when people of color appear on screen, there’s always a lot of justification for why they’re on screen. That kind of explanation doesn’t always feel natural. This was a way we thought would be seen as an example of looking at what it’s a part of their life, but that’s not the way they live it, people don’t walk around thinking we’re this race or color, that’s how people see themselves now. Don’t Make Me Go hits Amazon Prime Video this Friday.

John draws a loose parallel between the road trip in this film and the legendary ones that are and Kal Penn’s characters in the 2004 stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. The film and its two subsequent sequels made John — or at least his character — a household name. Speaking of Harold’s place in his life and career, John says, “I’m still in Harold’s shadow. It’s still dark and I’m glad I’m standing in that shadow. I’m okay with that. I am very proud of that video. People obviously have a lot of affection for those characters and we did something that was very different at the time. It was progressive and vulgar. If that’s the first line of my obituary, I’m fine with that.”

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