John Cho and Kal Penn talk claymation, cannabis and everything in between

    John Cho and Kal Penn reprise their roles as Harold and Kumar, lovers of trees. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Entertainment.


    It's been seven years since Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle became a smash sensation among college stoner circles around the country, but after eating burgers and escaping from Guantanamo Bay, the boys finally settle down in their latest movie A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, which is filled with claymation, Santa Claus and lots and lots of cannabis. North by Northwestern recently sat down with the actors behind the characters, John Cho and Kal Penn, for a group interview to talk about everything from Northwestern to name-dropping, and, of course, the infamous Neil Patrick Harris.

    North By Northwestern: So I guess we’ll start with the basics, tell us a little about the Christmas movie.

    Kal Penn: So A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, it’s a little different than the first two movies in the sense that it’s not about Harold and Kumar going to or escaping from somewhere. I think in a lot of ways it’s like the Christmas movies that have come before it and in many ways it’s also highly inappropriate, which we’re hoping the fans will enjoy.

    John Cho: Harold and Kumar begin the movie estranged. They’re not friends, they’ve drifted apart, they live separate lives. Harold’s married, trying to have a kid, has stopped smoking weed. And Kumar’s in distress, he’s lost his girlfriend, and they’ve both taken on new best friends. And during the course of the movie, Santa finds a way to bring these two lovers together.

    KP: Way more succinct than my rambling.

    NBN: You guys mentioned the new best friends, so tell us a little bit more about all the new sidekicks that have been introduced into the Harold & Kumar family.

    KP: We’ve had some good fortune in getting so many great actors to appear in the last three movies. In this one [we have] Thomas Lennon from [Reno 911!], who’s awesome, Patton Oswalt plays a mall Santa who Kumar interacts with early on in the movie and Richard [Riehle] really plays Santa Claus.

    JC: Amir Blumenthal from College Humor plays [Kumar’s] new best friend, also we got Bobby Lee returning, Neil Patrick Harris is back obviously.

    NBN: In this new movie, what’s your favorite NPH moment?

    KP: It’s my favorite from all of them. He always remembers Kumar’s name, but not Harold’s. He always calls Harold something other than Harold, and I always get such a kick out of that.

    JC: My favorite NPH moment is this scene in the movie where you see Neil using his public voice, which is very suave, and he has a private voice that’s different, and I just think that was a brilliant choice by Neil. He’s good.

    KP: Very good.

    NBN: Kal, what was it like transitioning from the White House to going back to playing a bunch of doctors whose names start with “K”?

    KP: That was Aziz Ansari. People get us confused all the time and Aziz worked at the White House. [laughs] No it was cool. I worked for the President on his campaign from 2007 to the election and an opportunity presented itself. I’m certainly very honored to serve my country in that capacity and took a sabbatical for two years and then came back. It’s funny because my old co-worker is actually an assistant basketball coach, Joe Kennedy, who’s now at Northwestern and as I’m saying this I realized I should’ve shot him a text before I came to town.

    JC: You’re a douche.

    KP: And now he’s going to read about it and be like “Oh sweet, you were in town, you didn’t tell me. Thanks a lot.” But I was working on arts and youth outreach, and he was my counterpart who was working with sports outreach.

    JC: Name drop.

    KP: How is that a name drop?! Giving a brother a shout out at Northwestern?

    NBN: And then John, your band did something for Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo, but why no Christmas jingles?

    JC: [laughs] I don’t know. We’ve been out of it for a while. I had the kid and then work was just kind of intense. But actually we’ve been writing again and things are in the works, so we’ll see how it goes.

    NBN: So going back to the movie, why 3D?

    JC: I think the intent of 3D was to give people an excuse to make the theatrical release an event, and we thought it would be fun to goof on it as well. It was such an overblown technology that we thought we’d make fun of it and use it to make it a holiday thing to go to and it was silly to sully the name of 3D with our movie.

    KP: Also, I think what people like about Harold and Kumar is that they can relate to them and this kind of heightens your ability to be like you’re in the movie and also most 3D if it’s like a big-budget action movie, full of badass-ness, for us we have like one big explosion, but we do have things like clay genitalia and bodily fluids and things you aren’t used to seeing come out at you. On a screen. [laughs]

    JC: You know what I hope about this 3D, that since we’ve been a DVD phenomenon by and large, people have had kind of a solitary relationship with our movies. People usually watch it at home alone or with a couple of friends, and I hope that this will enhance this movie, being in a theater with like-minded people and you can hear everybody laughing together. It’s a lot more fun to watch a movie that way than it is alone. 

    The DePaulia: Do you find it difficult to work in an atmosphere where you can’t really joke around that much?

    KP: Not really.

    JC: He’s actually pretty straight-laced.

    KP: Yeah, in real life, I’m much more of a Harold and John is much more of a Kumar.

    JC: What he’s trying to say is that I’m much more Indian.

    KP: And I’m much more Korean.

    JC: But people assume he’s like Kumar, but he’s much more straight-laced, he’s much more of a Harold, so I think the distance between movies Kal to the White House Kal isn’t as far as you would think. Plus they both have the same face.

    NBN: Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle is obviously a college classic, so how do you think college kids today will react to Harold and Kumar kind of growing up and maturing?

    KP: Well you’ve got kids who are like 18 now and then you have kids who were 18 when the first movie came out and our hope is that the folks who were 18 when the first movie came out kind of grew up with the characters, so now they’re a little bit older and sort of settling down, and I think that they’ll appreciate that arc. And from what we’ve heard from the kids in college now, not that I’m condoning children watching rated R movies, but I hear it happens sometimes, they may have a familiarity with the characters from before.

    JC: The 18-year-olds?

    KP: No, not the 18-year-olds, they saw the movie when they were in middle school. But I think what’s cool about the movie is that it’s the same sense of humor as the first two.

    JC: Yeah, the sense of humor is still the same. I think it’s pretty consistent with what people liked about the first one. There was a “collegiate sense of humor,” if you could call it that and what I would kind of define as humor that would appeal to college kids is broad but also intelligent and witty and clever. I think it’s a peculiar combination that really appeals to the college market and I think the kids appreciate not being talked down to. And even the franchise’s attitude toward race, we were buoyed by college kids’ support and there was a generation of Americans that kind of wasn’t on board with that kind of sensibility about race and those kinds of jokes about race, and college kids were the ones who got it and were like “this is our attitude.” We wouldn’t be where we are without college support and I hope we continue to have it.

    The DePaulia: DePaul supports you.

    KP: Thanks, we love you guys.

    JC: We support DePaul.

    NBN: What about Northwestern?

    JC:  No, we support Northwestern! We don’t support DePaul, we support Northwestern.


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