HomeAAPI ActorsJohn Cho Initially Turned Down Starring Role in Searching

John Cho Initially Turned Down Starring Role in Searching

By Brittney Le
AsAmNews Staff Writer

Actor John Cho wasn’t always onboard to star in the upcoming Hollywood film Searching. Despite finding the script great and wanting to act in a thriller, he turned down the initial offer of the lead role. “I didn’t think it sounded like a movie,” said Cho. “It sounded like a stunt. And I didn’t want to do a stunt. So I said no to the movie.”

Centered on a Korean American family and written as a classic thriller, Searching has a unique twist: the story is told through the lenses of the technological devices we use every day, as David Kim (John Cho) searches through his daughter Margot (Michelle La)’s laptop in the hopes of finding clues after she mysteriously goes missing.

This shooting approach is what initially turned Cho away. Despite that, director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty kept after Cho and eventually met with him in person. That’s when Chaganty convinced him that this was going to be a legitimate movie. “He’s a very compelling person,” said Cho. He was onboard. 

Director/writer Aneesh Chaganty and John Cho on the set of Screen Gems’ SEARCHING. Photo by Elizabeth Kitchens. Photos from Sony Pictures

As the first Asian American actor to headline a mainstream contemporary thriller, Cho has hit a new milestone in Hollywood. He told AsAmNews that he surpassed his dreams as an actor a long time ago and has now found himself in new territory. “As something I’ve been struggling with myself, I think a lot of people of color don’t do it as much, but we don’t dream big enough because we sort of feel that ceiling,” explained Cho. “And so our dreams go right before the ceiling, to the sprinklers, and we don’t think above it.”

Michelle La stars in Screen Gems’ SEARCHING. Photo by Elizabeth Kitchens

“I’ve been trying to teach myself, think bigger, go farther,” added Cho. “I think that’s where the younger people have an edge on older people like me. The kids […] they’re sort of naturally dreaming bigger than me, and much bigger than the generation before me.”

When asked about his role in diversifying the thriller genre, a genre that often vilifies or victimizes people of color, he said he was excited. “That’s a part of what I like about this,” said Cho, who also played a role in 2017 mystery thriller Gemini. “It’s not everything, but it’s a thing that gives me joy, to see a face that we’re not ‘supposed’ to see, and then you put that face in there and it feels like ‘Aha! We got away with one!’”

Writers Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian mentioned that there’s nothing about the plot that requires the central family to be Asian American. However, they saw the movie as an opportunity to represent a marginalized community. Cho himself didn’t really think too much about his role in representing Asian Americans until he saw the premiere of Searching at the Sundance Film Festival. That’s when it hit him, when he saw an Asian family on screen.

“I think it ties into this, for me, that often Asian culture is seen as: you run away from [something] to find love somewhere else, and that’s how Asian families are usually portrayed in mainstream media,” said Cho. “This is about family love, and not like, you know, begrudging family love. Not like we found our way to love. We start at love. We start knowing that they love each other like crazy.”

John Cho, Alex Jayne Go, and Sara Sohn in Screen Gems’ SEARCHING. Photo by Elizabeth Kitchens.

In terms of normalizing the presence of minorities on screen, Cho was asked about whether we should still emphasize when people of color land big roles or if it’s time to make it feel normalized by leaving it out of the discussion.

“I sort of feel like it’s the equivalency of Black History Month or Asian Heritage Month; when we all know the history well enough, then we don’t have to have the month anymore,” said Cho. “Until there’s no need to talk about it, we’ll just have to keep talking about it. It’s something that, obviously, we’re still working out as a country, and they’ll come a day when no one feels that impulse to talk about it, but the impulse is still there, and there’s a reason that it’s still there.”

“It’s the privilege to fail and keep working, and that’s when we know we’ll arrive. If you see me make a stinker, and I’m still around, I think that’s probably the mark of real progress.”

Joseph Lee (left) and John Cho star in Screen Gems’ SEARCHING. Photo by Elizabeth Kitchens.

Since modern technology is essential to the film, Cho also shared his opinions on whether social media is a friend or foe. “My take on social media is that it’s an amplifying device, so whatever you’re feeling, it just, doubles, triples, quadruples it,” said Cho.

He finds it to be beneficial to himself, as his parents use KakaoTalk, a Korean messaging app. “It’s a requirement if you’re Korean,” he chuckled. When Cho was a child, phone calls were “expensive […] So you just didn’t keep in touch with relatives that much.”

“But now they chat all the time. They’re sending each other articles and pictures of grandkids,” added Cho. ”It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’m very happy for them that they have that.”

“On the flip side, talking about especially the last 2 years, people are mean, mean, mean online,” noted Cho. “They’re meaner online than they would be face-to-face […] You meet an enemy, and you’re more inclined face-to-face to make peace with them.”

“I think it can go either way […] I wish it would only increase good impulses, but technology is that way,” said Cho. “In the movie, technology is how Margot is lost, but it’s also how my character finds her, or tries to find her.”

Other cast members in Searching include Debra Messing as Detective Vick, Sara Sohn as David’s wife/Margot’s mom Pamela, and Joseph Lee as Peter.

Searching opens in select theaters August 24 and nationwide August 31. Watch the trailer:

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