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A Square Conversation At A Roundtable

– October 26, 2011; Gloria Mak, Howl Staff

The other keen interviewers and I sit around a table in a cramped corner of the room as we wait for John Cho and Kal Penn to enter the room for our roundtable interview concerning their new movie A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, which is being released November 4. We chatter about smoking, drinking and nervous ticks while shuffling with our papers and sipping on our coffee. A lady walks in and tells us that the actors will be here shortly and one by one the recording devices pile up on the table until there is a sea of red, flashing lights begging to hear your deepest, darkest secrets. The lady pokes her head around the corner and says, “They’re here!”, and everyone straightens up in their chairs. The two actors, both dressed stylishly, walk in casually, greeting the room of interviewers as if they would a room of old friends.

Kal Penn (K.P.): Hellooo

Interviewers: Hi!

John Cho (J.C.): Alright!

Cho and Penn. Photo by Miguel Ocampo-Gooding

[The two actors slip into their seats]

K.P.: [Eyeing the numerous recording devices] Really?!

[We nod enthusiastically in reply. I get to start the discussion.]

Q.1: How do you think you would have done if you switched roles in the movie?

K.P.: I would have been bored, because in real life I’m much more of a Harold. So I love playing Kumar because he’s so different from me. What do you think?

J.C. Yeah you know what? I thought if I had played a more Kumar-like character, I probably would have been more comfortable but I don’t think I would have fared well. It was a challenge to play the straight man but now I’m really grateful that it worked out that way. So you know, it was just a new challenge trying to figure that out but [Kal Penn] clearly was born to play the role…

K.P.: Gee…

J.C.: You were birthed specifically and breeded to play the role.

K.P.: I really feel that my mom would strongly disagree.

J.C.: Your mother can think what she wishes.

K.P.: I’ll let you take it up with her.

Q.2: While watching the private parts on the pole (Brief note: This is in reference to a part of A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas where Harold gets his penis stuck to a frozen pole. At this point of the question, I wondered if the penis that was shown on screen actually belonged to John Cho or whether it was CGI’d. I interjected with: “was that really yours?”, but John Cho never answered) I can’t help but think that comedy has really gone everywhere. Every film has yet another bodily function happening. What will the next frontier be? Where can you go?

K.P. :I think they’re just going to start showing organs. ‘Cause first you show an arm or a leg back in the day and it was scandalous. And now the genitals and then we’ll just go inside.

J.C.: I don’t know what the next frontier is but good comedy should put its toes in taboo waters, you know. And you have to transgress a little bit, and that area shifts with culture and with the year.

Q.3: What do you think of coming back to playing Harold and Kumar?

K.P.: I had such a great time playing Kumar who is so different from me, that it’s a real treat to get to come back and play someone like that.

J.C.: I like coming back to comedy, it’s a relief. I like to flip-flop. Making it your day’s work to find a laugh is a really good way to spend the day. I appreciate it more going away and then coming back to it. It’s like a class reunion; you’re with all your friends again. It’s just a treat to go away to summer camp and work on something goofy. It’s not real summer camp, it’s just a metaphor. I just wanted to make it clear, there’s no canoe.

Canoe? What canoe? Photo by Miguel Ocampo-Gooding

Q.4: How much of your own maturity as actors and as people is reflected in the new storyline?

K.P.: Maturity or immaturity? What I really enjoyed about this is that though the first two movies take place within a minute of the two character’s lives, in this one, it’s six years. All of us have done different things since the first movie. A lot of things have happened. I love that the audience has also aged with the characters, the ones that enjoyed it in 2003 and 2004. So hopefully there’s something in it for them.

J.C.: It’s been a while. And I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to do a movie of said a minute after the second one. In this one, it was sort of like we’re aged. He (Kumar) looks decrepit–

K.P.: Uhhhh. He’s(Harold) still beautiful after all these years.

J.C.: (laughs) I didn’t think that was feasible anymore. We had to age the characters I felt and I’m glad they went that direction. Additionally, very public happened since segments. Neil (in reference to Neil Patrick Harris) came out of the closet; Kal went to work at the white house. It just felt like we couldn’t do that age anymore. I’m glad of it. It’s more interesting. The stakes are a little higher. The circumstances are different, and I think it’s a really unique take starting the movie with Harold and Kumar estranged from one another.

Q.4: What was it like to have “new” sidekicks in the movie?

K.P.:It was cool, it was also weird. I’m so used to playing Kumar with Harold next to me, specifically to my right.

J.C.: We always like to frame it so that you read it visually as Harold and Kumar.

K.P.:So that was really strange sitting in the passenger seat of a car that was not Harold’s Cam-e-ry with some guy—

J.C.: Did you just say Cam-e-ry? Did you just make a three syllable word?

K.P.: Well I inserted it there and I can’t go back now. So I’m going to say it again now. Cam-e-ry. So Amir’s (in reference to Amir Blumenfeld) character doesn’t have the heart that Kumar’s has.

J.C.: This sort of goes like Christmas future for our characters. Tom Lennon plays the guy that Harold is going to be if he doesn’t stop being a dickhead. Same for Amir’s character. They were terrific to work with although, again, it was weird. But Tom Lennon was fantastic and Amir Blumenfeld was super funny. You know, new blood.

You know who's fantastic and super funny? NPH. That's who.

Q.5: You both had a lot of success in different types of roles. Some serious, some funny. Which ones do you find more challenging?

K.P.: They’re both the same, really, depends on the project.

J.C.: I think comedy is a little bit more complicated because You’re trying to be in the moment, trying to act and you’re also keeping in mind what the joke is all the time. For example, two scenes in a drama in a comedy that are both at a dinner table but in the comedy you have to remember that this has to happen because people need to laugh here, so you have to arrange everything around a joke, so it’s a little bit more complicated I’d say.

Q. 6: There aren’t that many Asian idols in Hollywood up to, so growing up; did you have your own ethnic heroes?

J.C.: For me it was Dr. George Takei. When you saw an Asian on TV, you would yell across the house and everyone would run towards the TV and enjoy the beacon.

K.P.: I don’t mean to be funny when I say this. Kermit the Frog. When we were growing up we had Apu from the Simpsons with a white guy doing a brown guy’s voice and that just didn’t appeal to me as funny. When you see something like Kermit the frog, he has this element of struggling through something and being the symbol of an underdog and I think that’s why I subconsciously enjoyed watching Kermit the Frog.

Q.7: If you could create a fourth movie, where would you send Harold and Kumar?

K.P.: I’ve always wanted to play an astronaut, so I would love to go to outer space. He’s (John Cho) already been since he did Star Trek so maybe that’s not such a big deal.

J.C.: Yeah, you know what, that didn’t matter. I’m going to go with Harold and Kumar invent a time machine…Harold and Kumar go get a mani-pedi…?

K.P.: It’s a good thing we don’t write these movies.

Q.8: Do you consider yourselves comic actors or actors that happen to do this?

K.P.: I would just say actors

J.C.: I would say… actors. We just don’t generate jokes. We execute jokes. I mean… comic actor I take as a compliment.

K.P.: For sure.

It seems, in this movie, that they also happen to execute Santa. Or a hobo Santa look-alike.

You have to have a certain physicality and other traits to do this successfully though?

J.C.: If you keep the camera rolling with Tom Lennon or Bobby Lee… or Amir. Amir’s a writer, more than a comic actor. But Tom and Bobby for instance, if you kept the camera running, you’d die laughing because they would keep being funny and we’ll flame out. We need the scene, we need the line.

K.P.: You especially

J.C.: That hurt.

The new Harold and Kumar movie will be in theaters November 4! Don’t forget to check it out and check back in with us for the movie review!


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