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John Cho: Why Skeptics Should Give Selfie a Chance

4 minute read

The story of My Fair Lady gets a social-media makeover on ABC’s Selfie, premiering Sept. 30. Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame plays Eliza, who’s more obsessed with Facebook “friends” than real ones, while Cho plays Henry, the luddite teaching her people skills.

TIME: Now that you’re starring on Selfie, do you feel pressure to take selfies now?

John Cho: No, I don’t know that it’s a good idea for people to take their own photographs.

You sound a lot your character.

I am a little curmudgeonly about new media. Although, like the show, Karen admonished me and said, “You should be tweeting more.” I have been more active, and it is more interesting than I thought.

Were you ever on Facebook?

Never. I have this nightmare that one day I will have to look at every picture I’ve ever taken with people in an airport or in bars or restaurants, and it will make me very sad. It will be like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. — a descending wall of sadness.

Sounds like you want to go off the grid.

I am just a poser. Of course I wouldn’t go off the grid. Of course I depend on technology. I just have this idea of myself as someone who doesn’t do this sort of thing. It’s just a way of connecting. Our species likes being social. This is a way to maximize that desire.

As a parent, do you think a lot about what technology you give your kids and when?

My kid was two, and we went down to Union Station here in Los Angeles. I took him down to the train station because he was so into trains at the time. He went to the map and pinched his fingers on the map because he thought it as a touch screen!

Oh wow.

That was horrifying. I think we’re freaked out that that’s all they’re going to do, but my kid loves books as well. He watches YouTube and likes the big TV screen and then likes books and crayons. The scope is wide. Maybe because I didn’t have much of it back then, once we had cable, I never wanted to do anything but watch cable. And so it’s an old-school mentality: our parents thought that sitting too close to the TV was bad for your eyes and would melt your brain. I believed it, and I think I’m applying it to my kids. But I don’t know whether it’s true. They just seem to float between media very easily.

Do you think people are prejudging the show?

I was scared that people would never watch the show because “selfie” of course sounds terrible. And it should! It is a good gag reflex we have as a society, that we hear the word selfie and dislike it. Maybe we should loathe the concept a little bit.

Your character is almost a proxy for the audience, then.

If you think you’re going to dislike the show, watch the show — there’s somebody who would dislike the show on the show.

Perhaps they didn’t get that it’s loosely based off My Fair Lady.

Yeah, I thought that was a big deal. When I saw My Fair Lady, I was surprised at how mean and misogynistic Henry was. Maybe that’s why it’s dropping out of public consciousness.

Does the show set out to correct that?

I don’t think so. They’re dealing with that push-pull a little bit. I feel like social media, in a way, you could call it feminine. If you accept the premise that women are more social, women are more about connecting with other people, then social media is the most extreme version of that. And the most extreme version of gossip, which is considered a feminine trait. Henry is the antithesis and therefore the masculine viewpoint. You could see it as male-versus-female, this show. I think that sort of is underpinning the show, to an extent.

If the selfie backlash is already brewing, how will the show stay hip?

The show starts at pop culture, but ultimately it’s about these two people who shouldn’t like each other but are starting to. That idea has legs.

A version of this story appeared in the Sept. 29 issue of TIME, available now.

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com