John Cho is seen up close as the star of “Searching.”
Maybe a little too close as Cho, 46, is depicted mostly from the vantage point of a computer webcam as he plays a father who frantically works the keyboard, diving into his daughter’s social media network after she mysteriously disappears.
“It was strange, essentially shooting without looking at a human face,” he says. “I found it very uncomfortable and unnatural not talking to another person.”
The “Star Trek” actor pushed through for writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s very 2018 mystery (in theaters Friday in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, expands nationwide Sept. 1), a standout at the Sundance Film Festival.
Cho talked to USA TODAY about industry advances for Asians in Hollywood, how his kids know he’s a tech idiot and why he’s not on the “Star Trek” phone tree.
Question: What did you discover in “Searching” that surprised you about the social media world?
John Cho: My surprise was technology in general. I consider myself a Luddite. But the language of our devices is so part our culture now. We’ve been in this tech era long enough that we even have nostalgia for our old devices. How much we’re online is not a surprise. But there is a funeral streaming service that I didn’t know existed. That’s how much we’re online.
Q: What are your thoughts about live-streaming funerals?
Cho: That seems like bad juju to talk about. But it’s real, and I guess it’s a good emotional thing if people can’t make it, are infirm or cannot afford to travel. I know people that Skype their therapist. It’s about being connected.
Q: What’s your tech level compared with your young son’s?
Cho: My 10-year-old thinks I’m a total idiot with the computer. Even searching on Google, he thinks I’m really slow. It’s generational. For example, there’s an Instagram Stories vocabulary the kids are using I don’t get. I’ve lost it.
More: John Cho says Sulu is gay
Q: Surely you can keep up with your 5-year-old daughter.
Cho: We’re equals. That will last from six to eight months. When you grow up with it, it comes really fast, like languages. Computers came late in my life. I still have to think about it.
Q: You’re the lead in “Searching,” a film featuring an Asian-American family in a story that could be any family. It comes after “Crazy Rich Asians” wowed at the box office. Is this Hollywood progress?
Cho: Sure. I would love to say this a good start and not the final culmination of everyone’s efforts. I hope this is the beginning of moving the conversation from casting and being represented onscreen to self-expression and creation. There seems to be critical mass with the talent, writers and directors. Things are looking up.
Q: When will you suit up again as Sulu for “Star Trek,” and will it be R-rated?
Cho: I know very little about this. I’ve heard we’re going to do one. But beyond that, I don’t have details. I’d rather not know; I don’t want to lie. The boring answer is to wait for the powers that be to make a decision.
Q: Can’t you call Simon Pegg or something?
Cho: If there’s a “Star Trek” phone tree, I’m not aware. We do write long letters to each other.
Q: “Star Trek Beyond” underperformed at the box office. Any thoughts on how to juice up the franchise?
Cho: I actually wasn’t aware it underperformed. I thought it was a great movie. See how little I pay attention to these things? I don’t know what to say … maybe more webcam Sulu close-ups.