Coffee with John Cho: Debating good and evil, and revisiting that time he auditioned for The Office
WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 2 of The Exorcist. Read at your own risk!
John Cho is feeling a little blue.
For one thing, the star of season 2 of Fox’s The Exorcist has been grappling with his character Andy Kim’s heady, terrifying arc. The latest episode revealed that the angelic girl named Grace (Amélie Eve) is actually a supernatural being who has Andy wrapped around her little finger.
For another, the actor’s got a lot on his mind with matters that have nothing to do with fictional horror, and everything to do with, well, the opposite. “Often I have to bite my thumb — tongue? — on political stuff,” he admits. “I was thinking recently I should make myself do 50 pushups before every tweet, so when I tweet, it’s something I really want to say, versus just reacting.”
It’s no surprise, then, that when Cho stopped by EW’s offices for this interview, the conversation eventually veered away from The Exorcist, as the actor mused on everything from Harvey Weinstein to religion to pop culture’s role in reflecting (or rejecting) reality.
But first, The Exorcist…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Episode 4 gave us quite a twist when Grace turned out to be a demon. When did you find out about that twist?
JOHN CHO: That, I knew right off the bat. And they were carefully orchestrating how to have her in these family scenes, but not have anyone acknowledge her so that had to be revealed… And she’s not done yet. There’s some good stuff.
[Takes a sip of his coffee and narrates it] John Cho took a sip from his delightfully pink coffee cup.
Thanks for that, I’m putting that in the story.
What has it been like working with Amélie Eve, who plays Grace?
Amélie’s been a delight. She’s a very talented [laughs] and very small actor.
Yes, she’s a child.
[Deadpans] No, she’s 38. She has a disease. [Laughs] She’s fantastic. It’s been interesting working with children, especially one that young. I try to play games with her and have fun so that she just remains loose and a kid. I’ve seen child actors do a version of youth that they think adults will like, and it often involves playing younger than they actually are. But she’s a kid and she’s naturally awesome.
So how would you describe Andy’s psyche at this point?
It is a very serious existential crisis for the man, and I actually feel very sorry for what Andy is going through. It’s heavy. Andy is… how can I say this. He is fighting for… [Pauses] He is fighting. [Laughs]
Just fighting? For what? Against what?
He is fighting. [Laughs] Fighting. Like the Korean soccer team from eight years ago or whatever. “Fighting.”
The Red Devils. They were “fighting.” That was their slogan. [Puts his right fist in the air] “Fighting!”
Not even for anything?
No, they were just: Fighting, exclamation point. This is our condition. Fighting. [Laughs]
Well anyway, we saw Shelby (Alex Barima) go to the lake where Nicky had presumably killed herself, and he said that perhaps the demon had caused her to do so, while Andy argues that Nicky was depressed and they just didn’t catch the signs. What is your take on this debate? What’s John Cho’s take?
I guess I don’t believe in demons, but I think that that question is what’s fascinating about the supernatural. [Pauses] You know, there’s some evidence that belief in religion is a genetic thing, that some people are prone to believe and others aren’t. I tend to believe that our species wants to believe in God, and the flip side of that would be evil as well, with [believing in] Satan or whatever, but I think that the attraction to thinking about demons is, there is so much evil in the world, there must be something behind it. That because it’s maybe too frightening to think that we’re simply capable of, uhh —
Conjuring evil ourselves?
Of conjuring this sort of behavior, where you see people murdering one another. You think, well, maybe those people are possessed by something. I can see that being an explanation.
So to answer your question, I would tend to think — John Cho would tend to think — that it’s depression, but I can certainly see why the idea of putting it somewhere else is attractive. I mean, even with, like, Harvey Weinstein. [Puts his hand over his mouth] Ooooh, this is what I shouldn’t talk about.
Want to go off the record?
No. I mean, I think that with that kind of behavior or with a Bill Cosby or a predator, they’ll say, “He’s a sicko, he’s ‘sick.'”
Like he has a disease.
Yeah. “It’s a disease.” It’s [pantomimes pointing at a predator] “There’s something wrong with him.” And there is something wrong with him, but the harder possibility to think about is whether all men are capable of that kind of behavior. Really, the harder thing [to think about] is, “What do I have in common with Harvey Weinstein?” And that is what we as a society have to think about. Maybe the entertainment business also has to say, “Who is, and what’s close to Harvey Weinstein that we haven’t identified around here? What do we have in common with him rather than uncommon with him?”
We’re afraid that evil reflects things in us.
What’s your take on how pop culture should react to reality? Do you think there’s a taste out there now for more lighthearted entertainment to counteract all the darkness? You’re on a horror drama at the moment, so I’m just curious what you think.
It could go the other way, right? Leaning into the horror of our times? Particularly for The Exorcist, I think the show is a bit of a meditation on good and evil and where good and evil come from, and also, how do we become evil? I think more than ever we are thinking as a country about evil and what it is and how we become evil.
And no matter where you come from on the political spectrum, I think you must agree that these are times when we as a society are examining where evil comes from, so I think that’s the relationship [pop culture has] to the times that we live in. [Pauses] Is that an answer?
I think it counts.
Oh, good. Personally, I’ve been getting a little blue, because the character’s in a really dark place lately, and it’s just been weeks of me being in a very dark place with the work. So when I go home to my apartment in Vancouver, I just watch The Office because Steve Carell, he’s a gift to the world.
You’re almost finished. You’re filming episode 8 now, and this season’s 10 episodes, which must be different compared to doing a show that requires 22 or more episodes a season.
Yeah. I have done a long, full season before, and there is a point where you lose, where you don’t know what’s going on. It happens in the middle seven [episodes], I’d say. [Laughs]
What do you mean? It’s just a total wash for you in the middle of seasons?
Yeah. [Laughs] I remember I did a show called FlashForward where there was a lot of mythology. I remember the beginning of the season. I remember the end. But I have totally blanked out on the middle seven. [Laughs] On this one it’s short enough that I know what’s happening.
Fair enough. Well, what’s next for you? What do you hope to do next?
I don’t know. [Sips coffee]
Wanna reboot The Office?
[Laughs] You know, I auditioned for that.
Yes. It was the greatest compliment of my life when they included me on a “Hey, look at all these famous people who auditioned for The Office” reel. It was, like, me and Seth Rogen and I can’t remember who else. But yeah, I didn’t know what it was, and I auditioned to be Jim. [Laughs and deadpans] Boy, did they make an error with that Krasinski fellow.
But really, what would you like to tackle next?
I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be talking about this yet, but I’m doing a movie called The Oath, and it’s written by a fellow named Ike Barinholtz. It supposes a world where all Americans are supposed to sign a loyalty oath. When I closed [the script], I thought, “This is the first great response that I’ve read to the time that we’re living in.” It felt very fresh. I mean, the idea of either writing seriously about this administration or even satirizing it is very difficult, because it’s a rather extraordinary time. I’ve read a couple of things that were more comedic that didn’t hit the mark, partially because the administration seems to be an example of hyperbole or farce sometimes. I read this, and I thought, “This is an extraordinary accomplishment, just to be able to write something that feels like it’s tonally working.”
And after that, I don’t know. Or… do I have something? I don’t remember. If I do have something else, I don’t remember it. [Laughs] I’m actually looking forward to avoiding work for a little while.
The Exorcist airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.
Fox’s 2016 TV series stars Geena Davis.