“I did not know where it was going while I was reading it, and the ending hit me like a ton of bricks,” admitted John Cho as we discussed the dramedy, Don’t Make Me Go.
The drama, which premieres on Amazon’s
I caught up with Cho to discuss the heartwarming and heartbreaking indie, reflect on his teenage years, and what it was like to take an interstate road trip across America in New Zealand.
Simon Thompson: Don’t Make Me Go starts with a warning, but I still wasn’t ready for what unfolds. Did anyone prepare you for the end of this?
John Cho: No. I did not know where it was going while I was reading it, and the ending hit me like a ton of bricks. The ending was tough to read. I almost put it out of my mind when we were shooting. Even though I knew that ending was coming emotionally, I’d put it aside, so when we shot it, it wasn’t a surprise, but it felt surprising to me. I think I didn’t want to confront that.
Thompson: A road trip narrative is A to B, but what was the reality of that. Did you film this in sequence like a real journey?
Cho: I think Hannah Marks, our director, tried to film in sequence as much as she could, but there were limitations of location. I recall that even on the first day of shooting, I think I shot one of the film’s last scenes, which is actually after the road trip. That was weird, and that’s not necessarily something you want, but that’s the reality.
Thompson: This is a father taking a journey with his teenage daughter. What were you like as a 16-year-old? Did you have big plans and big dreams?
Cho: Yeah, I was super smart when I was 16 and smarter than my parents. I was a genius, and then I got really stupid in the ensuing decades (laughs). A lot of the things about Wally, my daughter played by Mia Isaac, felt very familiar to me. The thing that was unfamiliar to me from when I was that age was an intimacy with my parents like that. I’m more familiar and more intimate with my children in a way, but that’s new to me because I didn’t grow up with it. It was much more of an authoritarian relationship. That was part of the film’s appeal for me because this pair of people had lost a person in common, a mother and a wife, and they were dealing with it in different ways. That caused them to be closer to one another than normal, and I thought that was something very attractive to explore.
Thompson: Bearing all that in mind, what would you tell your 16-year-old self now about what is going to be ahead?
Cho: Go easy on yourself. Go easy on your folks. Work out. Don’t be so tense, bro. If you look at high school entertainment, all the shows for high school kids, the drama is ratcheted up so high. 90210 was like everything was life or death at every turn, and that’s how I think you see things at that age.
Thompson: This being a road trip, an American tradition, I’m guessing this took you to places you perhaps didn’t even know existed?
Cho: I hesitate to reveal this, but we didn’t shoot it in the United States; it was shot in New Zealand. That was very much a literal road trip for us, and I think that added to our shooting experience. Mia and I were both Americans in New Zealand, experiencing the landscape together, and so all of it was authentically new for us.
Thompson: There’s a roadside scene between your character, Max, and his daughter, Wally, after a crash, which is genuinely emotional. How many takes did you do? I guess the more you do it, the harder it is for the emotion to seem authentic?
Cho: We did it several times because I wasn’t sure how it would go. You always want to be prepared but also be ready to pivot if need be, and I wanted to receive and hear her and react to her. You never know, and that can make you nervous. What I think was an unexpected thing, and I’m sorry to get into the weeds on this, but what precedes that scene is a foot chase, and I didn’t think about that. But on the day, that foot chase was the whole thing. I think having to run through that field released things within us. Sometimes doing things in your brain doesn’t work as well as doing it with your body, so that scene went to places I wouldn’t have predicted because of that run.
Thompson: Finally, we’re only two years away from the 20th anniversary of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
Cho: Is it really going to be 20 years?
Thompson: Yeah, it’ll be 20 years in 2024.
Cho: I’m sorry, I’ll be right back. I’m just going to jump out the window (laughs).
Thompson: How would you like to celebrate that landmark? I’m guessing from your reaction that there haven’t been any conversations about it?
Cho: I would like a Presidential Medal of Freedom for creating Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. I think that that seems appropriate (laughs). I would like a big reunion. That would be nice. I’m into personal reunions now, and getting everybody in a room is getting harder, isn’t it?
Thompson: Maybe somewhere in Los Angeles or at a convention, and perhaps you could all do a table read?
Cho: We could do a table read, or how about dinner or just lots of bottles of wine?
Don’t Make Me Go streams on Amazon’s Prime Video from Friday, July 15, 2022.