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"There’s a person who likes to call me ‘DILF’ frequently": John Cho on joyriding and eating lunch in his underwear

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Ralph Jones
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John Cho on joyriding and eating lunch in his underwear

We spoke to the actor John Cho about teenage joyriding, his new film Searching, and whether he is ever called a DILF

Hi John. What have you been up to today?

I just got here and ate my eggs.

How do you like your eggs?

Over-easy, sir.

Nice. The entirety of your new film, Searching, is viewed through a screen, whether that’s laptop webcams or FaceTime calls on phones. What was that like to film?

I have to admit that I was scared and passed on it initially. The part that I couldn’t envision was how we would do it onscreen, and whether that would be a satisfying acting experience. I had seen Unfriended and wasn’t sure this would be cinema as such – not to disparage Unfriended, because I think that movie worked on its merits. There were two cameras – one was on me and the other was from my vantage point. That camera would zoom and pan, and that would feel like a traditional movie.

The opening is especially powerful: telling the story of a mother’s death through old versions of Windows and Google Calendar appointments.

I agree. We couldn’t have shot this film 10 years ago. We weren’t collectively there yet, in terms of our vocabulary. I was saying recently that we all admit that we’re living inside our devices, but what I didn’t really realise is that we all have a collective nostalgia for the computer era. That opening sequence is possible because we have a collective nostalgia – all those clicks have meaning.

Your daughter in the film does a certain level of lying to you. Did you do the same with your parents when you were a teenager?

Yeah. When I was a teenager we were always trying to sneak out and be with other people. Now I think all the sneaking out is done in their hands [on phones].

And why exactly would you try to sneak out?

I was trying to get with girls. That was the point of everything.

John Cho on joyriding and eating lunch in his underwear 2

How successfully do you think you tricked your parents?

Mildly. I think they knew I was up to mischief a lot. That’s the thing with the computer, too – you can know a certain amount, but they’re always going to be three steps ahead of you. You’re always gonna be trailing your kids in computer literacy. I felt like the main tragedy in the film is not when the daughter goes missing; the one that really oofs me is when he [the father] goes online on his daughter’s computer to find out where she might be, and discovers she’s not who he thought she was. That must be devastating.

And the line in which you say that you “didn’t know her”. That was very sad.

Yeah. I’ll tell you a secret: when I was 14, I took my parents’ car out for a joy ride in the middle of the night. I got arrested. I’d driven about three blocks before the cops saw a small child behind the wheel of a giant Lincoln. When my parents came, they were so disappointed. “Who are you? I don’t know who you are.”

Where were you haring off to?

Nowhere! I didn’t even have a plan! Don’t tell anyone.

It’ll stay between you and me, don’t worry. There’s a lot of detective work in the film – you piecing together various details. Do you think you’d make a good detective?

I’d like to think so. I read a lot of boys’ detective literature growing up, so I’m prepared to find bloodstains and dog hairs. But I think, in reality, I don’t know if I could track my kid. I’m sure he’s 40 times smarter than me.

Your character in American Pie sort of invented the world ‘milf’. We were wondering if you’ve ever been called a ‘dilf’ in real life?

It’s happened a few times. There’s a person who likes to call me ‘dilf’ frequently. His name is Jon Hurwitz, who wrote Harold & Kumar – along with his writing partner Hayden Schlossberg. They’re big fans of American Pie.

John Cho on joyriding and eating lunch in his underwear 1

I’m glad it’s a badge of honour now. I understand that on set you eat your lunch in your underwear. Did you continue to do so on this film?

Oh yeah, I did. First of all, I’m a spiller. And I also just get hot. And lastly, I feel very refreshed when I put the clothes back on, ready for the second half of the day.

Do you think you’d be able to do it if you were filming in Arctic temperatures? Or would you have to sacrifice the routine?

Let’s run an elaborate experiment. Let’s find out the answer to this question.

We’ll cast you in a film set in the North Pole and we’ll put you to the test.

Yeah, OK.

Searching is at cinemas from 14 September.

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Ralph Jones

Ralph Jones is a staff writer for ShortList magazine. In April 2015 he won a seven-foot throne of dildos but he’d rather you didn’t mention it. He performs sketch comedy and is on Twitter at @OhHiRalphJones

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