Kal Penn and John Cho are back as their onscreen alter egos in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. Penn and Cho are meeting Movie Fanatic at the Beverly Wilshire hotel to talk about their new movie. Cho gives us the latest on Star Trek and his role in the Total Recall remake and Penn gives insight into his time in the Obama White House and his run on A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas co-star Neil Patrick Harris’ show How I Met Your Mother.
Movie Fanatic: Why is this the greatest Christmas movie of all time?
Kal Penn: We're diving right into it. Honestly, what I love about this movie is that we get away with so much bizarre, graphic, sometimes vulgar humor and still retain the true Christmas spirit of friendship and family and love and Santa Claus. I love that we got to do both those things in one movie.
John Cho: It is the greatest movie of all time…
Kal Penn: I love that we're not rejecting the premise.
John Cho: Because that morbidly obese, white man home invader finally gets his due.
Kal Penn: You cannot refer to Santa Claus in that manner. I won't allow it.
Movie Fanatic: Sure, the Harold and Kumar films go too far sometimes, but isn’t what makes them so charming the friendship between these two?
John Cho: I think that's how we get away with it.
Kal Penn: I don't think when we were going through either of these three movies, I don't think that we thought, especially early on, that it was a stoner movie. I just always viewed it as a buddy comedy.
John Cho: I thought those were cigarettes.
Kal Penn: You're really dumb. But the first one came out and it didn't do well in the box office. It did really well on DVD after that, and you could see that stoners said, “This is a stoner movie. We're going to go out and buy it and support it.” The Asian American community said, “We think this is an Asian American movie.” Frat guys thought that it was a great frat house movie. So, you have all these people that took ownership of it in their own way which was so cool to see.
John Cho: I've had people be like, “Dude, I'm an investment banker and I appreciate the character of Harold so much.” People approach it from different ways. It's weird.
Movie Fanatic: The original appeal of the film was claiming slacker-hood and incompetence, taking that from white Anglo Saxon frat boys and giving that to guys from not often represented communities. Is that edge something that you want to maintain?
John Cho: I think so, and I thought the first movie was radical in the sense of how it approached race and the kinds of jokes that it made about race. Then the second movie was radical in the sense that it put a Harold and Kumar treatment on essentially a political satire. That was radical. I was worried about where you go after that, whether we could keep that particular thing going. I thought that it was unsustainable. So, what I thought was equally radical about this movie was just to make a very traditional Christmas movie. Yes, it has naked nuns, and yes, it has a degenerate baby in it that does cocaine, but at its heart I think it's a sweet picture really.
Movie Fanatic: Do you feel that these characters are now adaptable into any genre now that you’ve tackled Christmas?
John Cho: I think it's a bit of a trick. The trick is that they called the movie Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and so it reminds you of the other buddy comedies that have preceded us and the road pictures. So, then a serial nature is kind of implicit in that title. I think that's the trick. I don't think we would've gotten to two or three if it hadn't had that particular title.
Movie Fanatic: When Neil Patrick Harris shows up on set for two days to sing and dance, does he actually glow with talent or is it not immediately visible?
John Cho: It's more of a scent.
Kal Penn: [Laughs] You sense it as the plane approaches the airport nearest to where you're shooting. You just know that there's something in the air and that Neil is on his way.
John Cho: Birds flock away.
Kal Penn: The sky opens up.
Movie Fanatic: Do you guys have a favorite 3-D moment in the movie?
Kal Penn: Yes, I have two. I think the opening sequence was just awesome. We spent a lot of time, and this is going to sound silly, but we spent a lot of time on the smoke with Patton Oswalt's character, the fake Santa, and Kumar smoking in the mall parking lot. It took a long time to get that right. He describes it very well. What do you say?
John Cho: The smoke is very elegant.
Kal Penn: Yeah, and it is. The graphics guys really enhanced it.
John Cho: It's almost erotic.
Kal Penn: Then it turns into the logo, and then just Santa Claus, anything and everything with Santa Claus in 3-D, him flying through New York City. In the 3-D glasses the audience feels that they're over New York City with Harold and Santa and Kumar.
Movie Fanatic: Kal, you’ve been able to pursue both politics and entertainment. Would you have ever thought that was possible as a younger man?
Kal Penn: I feel very blessed that I've had the chance to do both. I always remember my guidance counselor my senior year in high school. Politically I'm an independent. I'm not a democrat or a republican, but I told her that I wanted to go to college and study film and that I also wanted to work in public service. She said, “You can't have your cake and eat it, too,” very cranky. I was like, “Well, that's not great advice to give to a seventeen-year-old.”
John Cho: High school guidance counselors have a great track record [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: Do you worry about how the Obama administration might feel about your return to Harold and Kumar, Kal? And, does being in the Obama administration play badly for you in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas?
Kal Penn: I think that both are completely separate. It's never been a concern going from Harold and Kumar to the White House. I think that everyone understands fact versus fiction. On the flipside, I'm actually very proud of all the president's accomplishments. I'm not a fan of all the cable news spin. I get that it makes for titillating ways to sell ad space. You sell a Ford commercial by telling you who's up and who's down, but my reality of having worked there is that I worked on youth issues in a relatively non-partisan way. I worked on the ways that the president increased financial aid and gave tax breaks to kids going to college and brought our friends home from Iraq and also managed to find a way to oversee a team of people that took care of Osama Bin Laden.
John Cho: He's dead!
Kal Penn: And saving the economy from complete collapse. So, my experience has been all of those things which is not to say that there isn't still work to be done.
Movie Fanatic: John, you’re the franchise king now. You have three franchises out there: Harold and Kumar, Star Trek and now American Pie’s back. How do you do it?
John Cho: It's tough. I have a big accountant. No. I don't know what there is to balance, but scheduling. It's really weird to be in more than one franchise because an actor's life is so nomadic, and so it's a real privilege to get back with people.
Movie Fanatic: What's next for you both?
John Cho: I have a couple of movies coming out: Total Recall, the remake of Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie, and American Reunion -- another franchise picture. Then we'll get back into Star Trek at some point.
Movie Fanatic: Do you know when you're shooting Star Trek 2?
John Cho: I don't know when I'm going to be shooting Trek again, but I think soon would be fair to describe it.
Kal Penn: I'm working on eight episodes of Neil's show, How I Met Your Mother, and developing a workplace sitcom for NBC. So, it's a TV pilot script at this point, just in development and hopefully they decide to shoot it and put it on the air. That's a long shot always, but we're hoping for good news there.
Movie Fanatic: Are these characters that you'd always want to revisit or is there a point where it wouldn't be cute anymore?
Kal Penn: I think we could even do it when we're dead like Weekend at Bernie's.