Meeting Harold: A Q&A with John Cho

Best known for his role as Harold in the "Harold and Kumar" films, John Cho, center, spoke at a Berkeley College Master's Tea about his experience as an Asian-American actor.

Q. So, how do you like Yale so far?

A. It’s very beautiful. I’m stunned by how clean it is. I went to a very dirty university … whenever I go back to the Bay Area, I want to say, “It’s okay to urinate in places that aren’t stairwells.” [Also], I’m stunned at the beauty here and the obvious history in every brick.

Q. You’ve been in a few blockbuster hits and are pretty popular among the college students here. Which movie would you say has been your favorite to shoot thus far?

A. That’s a tough one. I’ve enjoyed them all in different ways. I think maybe the second “Harold and Kumar” was the most enjoyable in the sense that the writers of [the first] “Harold and Kumar” ended up directing that. So it’s the first time I went to a movie just being friends with the director. I just had a longstanding friendship with them at that point … It was the most collaborative I’ve ever been.

Q. Have people ever confused you for any of your characters?

A. Oh, all the time. On a day-to-day basis. It’s the general state of things.

Q. On that note, how similar are you to your character Harold Lee in “Harold & Kumar”?

A. I don’t know, I’ve always said that I was more like Kumar than Harold. But Harold’s Korean and so I’ve found a lot of things to identify with him there.

Q. You popularized the term “MILF” with your role in “American Pie.” What do you think about your role in shaping teenage America’s vocabulary?

A. It’s a surprise to me. I mean, I stumbled into that not realizing what it would become. I think the movie popularized [the term MILF]; I didn’t popularize it. It’s one of those things. It was like a word that was in the air. It was used in a very popular movie and then it became part of the American vocabulary. But it’s cool with me. I was afraid, and I still think I might be, that it will be on my tombstone. People were calling me that every day … but now people call me Harold. I went from MILF to Harold.

Q. Can you describe your experiences as an Asian-American actor in the entertainment industry, where Asian-Americans are typically underrepresented?

A. It’s really a change. Asians are looking to conquer the entertainment industry in a way that Asians have excelled in so many of the other professions. And now I notice them a lot. And you know Asians are over-represented on the studio side and executive side. So it’s really progressed a lot in the last 15 years since I started acting, but I’m very encouraged by it, and I hope the trend continues upward.

Q. Do you have any advice for any aspiring actors and actresses, particularly those in the Asian-American community?

A. I should have an answer to that … Your path can take a variety of forms and you can be focused on a path to success or a path to steady work. Whatever it is, I would encourage you to find a path of self-satisfaction, happiness and pride in what you do. Those should be your goals. Look for parts that feed your soul. Look, and everything else will take care of itself. And try to have pride in what you do.

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