by Viv Obarski
This should’ve been John Cho’s year. For awhile he floated around as “Hey it’s that guy from American Pie!” and then rose to relative prominence thanks to Harold and Kumar. But instead of getting bigger roles that other actors would have gotten, Cho’s always seemed to be stuck in the supporting role as opposed to leading man, be it in Star Trek, Ugly Betty, How I Met Your Mother, Go On and Sleepy Hollow. In other words, he was always that guy you recognized and knew you could count on for a good supporting character role.
That’s all well and good, and it pays the bills, so one can hardly be upset about that. But with Selfie (RIP, gone too soon), Cho showed all the marks of a good leading man — he was deft at comedy and drama, generated chemistry with his co-lead Karen Gillan and can sing (if you saw the karaoke episode you know what I’m talking about). For most people with a known name and solid resume, this would probably be enough to catapult him into leading man status. But it hasn’t happened yet, to my and probably others’ frustration.
It’s easy to point at Hollywood and say that it’s another example of racism in which producers can’t imagine an Asian American man in a leading role. But it’s also endemic in how Hollywood producers are unwilling to change the idea of what a leading man is supposed to be or look like. It’s the age old-case of assuming what the audience wants and missing the mark by miles.
Perhaps another good example of this is Chris Pratt. Long considered a good supporting actor in comedies, Pratt really didn’t leap to the leading man status until Guardians of the Galaxy. Even then he had to prove to producers he could do it — not by taking acting classes, but by losing 50 pounds and turning everything else into muscle. While it helped with the Starlord role, I (much like his wife, Anna Faris), never thought he needed to do those things to land the big role.
This just shows a disconnect between Hollywood and its audiences. While producers may think that people want George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and others in romantic and leading roles, often what people tend to identify with more aren’t those guys. They’re like the sun at times — if you look at them too much, you ended up dazzled and blinded.
Make no mistake — actresses have an even more restrictive box to fit into to be considered a leading lady (not over 40 unless you’re Meryl Streep, skinny, preferably white, maybe blond but also redheaded can be used for quirk). But on the whole, what Hollywood considered to be leading man status is often so restrictive that they end up going to England and raiding the BBC for talent. That’s why we’re seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in everything.
John Cho, for me, is among a huge plethora of actors here — Adam Scott, Steve Yeun, Justin Baldoni and Paul Rudd — who seem perfect for the everyman, leading roles, but for some reason are usually passed over in favor of Greg Kinnear or Gerard Butler (whose appeal I’m still trying to figure out). We don’t need to raid the United Kingdom for these roles. We have a plethora of actors here that can do the job as well as they can.