Margaret Cho was recently nominated for her first-ever Emmy … but it's for a guest role most viewers don't even realize she's playing. After all, who would ask a 43-year-old woman to portray North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il? "30 Rock" star and executive producer Tina Fey would (and did!) and Cho jumped at the chance.
"It seemed like a good fit. I was absolutely flattered. People don't expect it to be me because I'm so disguised. But the way I'm disguised is just that I'm not wearing any makeup. That's actually enough to transform me into him," Cho, whose parents both emigrated from South Korea, explains of the comic-infused version of the notorious leader she's played on the NBC sitcom for the last two seasons. "The most alarming thing is that I just look like that. There are a couple of different fat suits I wear, and I guess it's in the performance, so that's good. I'm proud that I get to play a man and be nominated as an actress. I feel like Cate Blanchett."
Cho's fictional version of Kim Jong-il kidnaps the TV news anchor wife (played by Elizabeth Banks) of Alec Baldwin's narcissistic network executive and, in "30 Rock's" signature bizarre fashion, shows up everywhere from the local news weather segments (where he tries to convince the world that's it's "sunny all the time" in North Korea) to a cocktail party where he tries to pass himself as a waiter. After his death, Cho quickly began playing the dictator's son Kim Jong-un (who incidentally looks very much like his father).
Researching the role turned out to be a little difficult, Cho found, since few outside of North Korea have actually ever heard the guy speak. "I was trying to research like what he actually sounded like. But, there's no way to find out. He has no real images connected to sound. So, you have to invent it. And so I just based it on my family. And it seemed to work," she says. "The weirdly ironic thing about playing that role and playing that character is that that government has been responsible for keeping my family apart for now many generations. It's the kind of thing where I can't really find out any of my real ancestry because there's such a block."
[Related: Margaret Cho - Movies and Biography]
Her family and background has been a mainstay of Cho's comedy routine since she started out doing stand-up more than 20 years ago. "All-American Girl," the short-lived '90s sitcom she starred in, focused on a 20-something woman who lived with her traditional Korean family, and her upcoming standup tour is titled "Mother," because, yes, it's a roundup of jokes and monologues about Cho's mom.
Back when "All-American Girl" first aired, the show made plenty of headlines, both because of the increasing problems Cho had with the network and producers as the season progressed (she has said she was asked to lose weight and act "more Asian") and because "Girl" was the first American primetime series ever to focus on an Asian American family. Nearly 20 years later, it's also the last (though TBS recently premiered the comedy "Sullivan & Son," about a clan with an Irish-American father and Korean mother). Cho, however, does believe the entertainment industry is moving in the right direction when it comes to being more inclusive, but feels it still has a way to go. "I think it is better because the nature of television is more diverse and the kind of entertainment that's out there is definitely more diverse," she shares, "but there certainly needs to be, I think in general, more roles for Asian Americans, more roles for women in television, and more varied roles for women."
Interestingly enough, there's another male-dominated field she's gotten into lately: motorcycle riding. She's so gung-ho about her new pastime that after her interview with omg! she was heading to a women-focused blogging conference hosted by Harley-Davidson to share her stories and jokes about riding motorcycles and letting women try out Harley simulators before taking the plunge with the real thing. Cho only recently started riding, but picking up the hobby has been a long time coming.
"I got the idea when I was a really little girl. I really wanted to ride when I was a kid but didn't actually start doing it until I was 43. I think it was just that I realized that I had to start sometime and that I had to find a way to manage my own fears around it," says Cho, who finally got her motorcycle license in January. "It's really empowering and it's a beautiful thing to start doing."
Even scarier than riding motorcycles is reality TV, which is something Cho has bravely tackled as well. Though her stint on "Dancing With the Stars" back in 2010 didn't last long (she was the third contestant to be voted off the 11th season following David Hasselhoff and Michael Bolton), she was hoping to redeem herself in the upcoming All-Stars season. Unfortunately, Cho won't get the chance.
"I didn't get asked and I wanted to do it!" she admits. "But I can see, I mean it's kind of like an Olympics event. It's such a hugely exciting cast. I don't know who I'm gonna be rooting for. Probably Pamela Anderson. I think she's pretty awesome."
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