Cover Story Arden Cho Has Found Her Light The Self-Expression Issue
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Arden Cho Has Found Her Light

After more than 20 years of near-constant grinding, Arden Cho is finally taking a breather. What was originally planned as a two-week stay in South Korea has dragged into two months, and when the hotel lifestyle got old, she decided to rent an apartment in Seoul’s ritzy Cheongdam-dong area to soak it all in.

Arden Cho

Top: Blumarine; Scarf: Vintage via ClothedLA; Jewelry: Simone Jewels

The vacation has been a welcome escape for her—the first trip in basically her entire career where she hasn’t been traveling for work and flitting from set to her hotel to her plane. Now, she’s starting to get used to the idea of actually living here. “I’m eating so much good food and learning a lot about the culture, the people, and the language,” says the 37-year-old actor and model, who was born to Korean American parents in Amarillo, Texas, and hadn’t spent more than a few weeks in Seoul at a time.

Arden Cho

Pants: Dion Lee; Shoes: Sergio Rossi

Beyond outings with friends and epic meals (Myeongran pasta! Bingsu! Beef carpaccio!), everything else that feels like work is on pause. She’s stopped exercising, begun leisurely sipping her coffee in the mornings, and is actually savoring the steps of her skincare routine—from Augustinus Bader serums to sheet masks. “I feel like I’m taking extra-good care of my skin these days,” she tells me.

The break has also afforded her plenty of time and headspace to consider her next steps. She just finished filming Albert Kim’s live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender alongside stars like Daniel Dae Kim and George Takei and is still coming down from the high of playing the lead role of Ingrid Yun in Netflix’s legal drama Partner Track—based on the Helen Wan book. Despite a steady viewership in its early weeks, the series was ultimately canceled after the first season, landing Arden the rare opportunity to make exciting and different choices.

As we chat over Zoom, it’s clear that she’s unpacking a lot more than just luggage and luxe skincare in her new surroundings. “There’s a part of me that’s always toyed with the idea of what it would be like to live out here and be raised in a country where people look like me,” Arden tells me.

Instead, she grew up in predominantly white areas of Texas, studying martial arts under the instruction of her father—who’s a grandmaster—and taking up a laundry list of extracurriculars like the cello, gymnastics, piano, and dance that would convince her agent to sign her in the early days of her career.

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Her peers weren’t so content to let young Arden shine, though, and the racism and name-calling became such a consistent element of her childhood that she internalized it as a normal occurrence at the time. The bullying got so severe that at the age of 10, she was hospitalized following a violent attack that left her unconscious, which she recounted in a 2021 Instagram story during the Stop Asian Hate protests.

In moments like these, it’s easy to see echoes of her character, Ingrid, in Partner Track, a laser-focused, never-not-working Korean American lawyer who’s navigating a world of microaggressions and misogyny at her elite law firm as she vies for a partner position.

In the first episode, Ingrid (a senior associate who graduated second in her class at Harvard Law) is mistaken for a lowly paralegal by one of her prospective clients and asked to fetch San Pellegrino. Meanwhile, the actual paralegal—a white man with a reputation as the office slacker—gets a hearty handshake. I ask what performing those scenes was like as someone who refused to reprise her breakout role of Kira Yukimura in the Teen Wolf film after being offered less than half the salary of her white costars.

Arden Cho

Makeup: Donni Davy X Face Lace Face Decal Sheet

“It’s tough when you have to film something so uncomfortable and painful over and over,” she says, but she credits Partner Track’s “incredible cast” for pulling her through it. There was also a dark upside to the all-too-familiar subject matter. “It’s worth it for the world to potentially see what those moments might feel like.”

Even when the Teen Wolf movie was eventually released this January, Arden used her platform to paint it as a teachable moment, tweeting, “Don’t be scared to walk away or turn down an opportunity if you know it’s not fair and it won’t make you happy!”

Arden Cho

Jewelry: Djula

One of her deepest regrets about Partner Track ending early is that the audience never gets to see her character realize her full potential. As much as she loves Ingrid’s drive and resilience—plus what that representation means to a legion of young viewers who look like her—she also recognizes her character’s complexity and blind spots when it comes to racial politics. “We’re definitely so different in understanding our identity and what it means to be Asian American. I think I saw the world for what it was earlier than Ingrid.”

Season one ends with a big cliffhanger and even bigger intrigue that, had we gotten another juicy follow-up, we would have seen Ingrid fall head-over-Louboutins for one of her clients, the idealistic eco-warrior Zi-Xin “Z” Min—played by Desmond Chiam. “I was so bummed that Ingrid and Z don’t get their moment,” she says. “I think the hope was that he would be the one to help Ingrid get to know herself and find her true identity.”

In her own life, Arden is blissfully untethered. When I ask her about a certain TikTok video she posted this year—set to a remix of SZA’s chaotic breakup anthem “Kill Bill” and captioned, “Is this why I’m single?”—she owns up to it with a laugh. “Yes, I am flying solo.”

Arden Cho

Full look: Fendi

She explains that, for now, she’s putting her career first and waiting to find someone “awesome” who meets her high standards. “I love, love, love, love, love work,” she emphasizes in an extremely Ingrid Yun manner. “I love what I do so much that I want to be with someone who also sees that but isn’t threatened by it. And I think that’s tough.”

By this point, she thought she’d be married with five kids (which she blames on her Midwestern upbringing). Instead, she’s embraced her status as the cool auntie figure in her friend group, the one who loans out her clothes to their 14-year-olds. All that pressure to settle down used to rattle her, but once she rounded the bend after 30, everything shifted.

Arden Cho

For once, she’s setting boundaries with the “glass half-empty” people in her life who, as an empathetic person, she says she’s wired to prop up again and again after they fall.

“In Korean, there’s this word called ‘jeong,’ which is a very beautiful word. There isn’t a direct translation in English, but it’s sort of a shared love between people. Basically ‘jeong’ was the reason I had held on to so many different types of people in my life for so many years. There was a point when I realized sometimes you just have to cut that ‘jeong.’”

She’s also getting more comfortable with saying no to roles that come her way. Arden emphasizes that she doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds her, but she still wants to feel some type of way about her future projects. “I hate lukewarm,” she relays.

For a second, she imagines what it would be like to completely transform into a character, like the female Dexter (the serial killer, to be clear), without having every plot point and speck of dialogue point back to her Asian American identity. But the burden of representing an entire nation or race of people wouldn’t just dissolve into the ether. She cracks, “Watch, somebody will see the show and be like, ‘How dare she? That’s such a bad look for Asian Americans.’”

Arden Cho

Still, her role as June in Avatar: The Last Airbender—a ruthless, whip-wielding bounty hunter—gave her a taste for playing a certain kind of antagonist. She clarifies: “June’s not necessarily a good guy, but she’s not really a bad, bad guy.” The experience ended up being “magical,” something she compares to filming a production like Game of Thrones, except with an Asian American cast. “Albert has done such an amazing job of building this world of these incredible characters that look like us. But it’s a fantasy, and I love that.”

Projects like these, plus the success of shows like Squid Game and Beef, give Arden hope for the future of entertainment—with the caveat that she’s wary of seeing Asia’s cultural exports regarded as a passing trend and eager for continuous momentum, change, and variety. “I guess you could just say I’m greedy and I want so much more.”

She pinpoints stories like Adele Lim’s forthcoming buddy comedy Joy Ride—starring Ashley Park and comedian Sherry Cola—as the perfect example of a script that resists pigeonholing Asian women into played-out tropes.

“I love Ashley and Sherry and I’m so excited to see these Asian women who are strong, wild, sexy, smart, and beautiful but making mistakes and doing crazy things,” Arden gushes. “I want to see stories where we just see Asian characters having fun.”

Arden Cho

Full look: LaPointe

That loose, “not taking itself too seriously” energy is part of what drew Arden to acting in the first place. Back in the nascent days of YouTube—when Lonely Island shorts and clips like “Charlie Bit My Finger” were breaking the internet—she auditioned for a short comedic film called Agents of Secret Stuff that changed her life.

She had just moved to L.A. after college with a few hundred dollars in her pocket, was hustling from one audition to the next, and working “a billion jobs” in between when she met YouTube star Ryan Higa and the filmmaking trio behind Wong Fu Productions—Asian American creators who were taking the wheel on writing and producing their own narratives beyond the tired plot lines of Hollywood.

“It was interesting to see entertainment through their lens,” Arden tells me. Rather than auditioning for other people’s bit roles, she says, “They were part of another generation that was like, ‘We’re writing stories about Asian Americans where we’re the leads. We’re doing it ourselves.’”

Arden Cho

Full look: Chanel

She of course landed the role, which sees her playing a high school student tangled up in a spy espionage plot interspersed with plenty of butt jokes and absurdities. Agents of Secret Stuff would go on to rack up tens of millions of views on YouTube, securing Arden a burgeoning fan base and entry into a community of like-minded content creators who encouraged her to keep uploading videos, from vlogs to covers of her favorite songs. “I always considered YouTube my creative playground,” she recalls.

Arden occasionally teases the idea of reviving her channel, which includes gems like Arden Style, an assortment of photo shoots and outfit breakdowns that would feel right at home on TikTok’s discovery page. Currently, she tends toward laid-back looks (like “sneakers, Levi’s jeans, a white shirt, and a cute bag”), though she does love a Chanel moment and her platform Saint Laurent boots. “The biggest difference between me and Ingrid was that she was in Louboutins every day,” she tells me. “I’m not really a heels girl.”

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There are also dozens of music videos that populate her channel, from delicate covers of Billie Eilish and Halsey to her own originals. Music has always been a fixture in her life—a way of muddling through her emotions—and in 2013, she wrote and released her debut album My True Happy: a lineup of introspective pop and folk songs. She admits that she’s been sitting on a whole new album that she wrote during COVID because she doesn’t feel like it’s entirely representative of who she is today.

She mulls over how to explain it. “Are you into Myers-Briggs?” she asks suddenly, referencing Tinder’s favorite personality assessment. “I’m such an INFP,” she exclaims—which is shorthand for an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Prospecting person.

“I’m a feeler, and it has to feel right and in the moment,” she muses. When I press her on what she means, she gets esoteric: “That was just a season of myself, I suppose, and that’s not the color I’m painting right now.” In the meantime, acting is still her number one, can’t-live-without-it love—for which music will always take a back seat—and she’s waiting until the perfect next project falls into her lap.

Arden Cho


I get the sense that, like much of this current moment in her life, there’s not a huge urgency to it. Right now, she’s focused on unburdening herself, taking it day by day, and not sweating about what’s next on the itinerary. (Although she is polling fans on Instagram about whether she should hit Bali or Thailand next.) 

“I feel like letting go of a lot of these worries has given me so many more years. I feel so much more youthful and light and happy,” she says, adding for my benefit as an early 30-something (and maybe for a younger Arden too): “So don’t stress. Don’t worry. You have so much time.”


Talent: Arden Cho

Photographer: Jason Kim

Beauty Direction: Hallie Gould

Creative Direction: Jenna Brillhart

Makeup Artist: Sang Jeon

Hairstylist: TerraRosa Puncerelli

Manicurist: Diem Truong

Stylist: Amanda Lim

Producer: Kelly Chiello

Video: Brandon Scott Smith

Booking: Talent Connect Group

Set Designer: Cody Rogers

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