“It’s kinda cool actually to be in an environment where people want to go off and serve their country and come back,” said “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas” star Kal Penn.
To clarify: In this case “come back” means “reprise his role as a big-screen pothead,” since Penn (Kumar) temporarily left his post in the White House Office of Public Engagement to film the third “Harold and Kumar” movie, opening Nov. 4. (Penn has since completed his two-year stint on the job in D.C.)
In the hilarious and considerably raunchy comedy, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar haven’t spoken in years, but they reconnect for an adventure that takes them from a beer pong showdown with underage kids to an escape from Ukrainian mobsters to, of course, a run-in with Neil Patrick Harris (as some version of himself).
At the Park Hyatt, Penn, 34, and Cho, 39, recalled foolish late-night purchases, discussed their own drug use and clarified the difference between a metaphor and something literal. Like, really made sure of that.
Harold and Kumar start off the movie feeling a certain degree of anger and resentment toward each other. Did you foster that by sending each other nasty messages?
Kal Penn: I mean, he usually sends me nasty messages.
John Cho: I was mowing racial epithets into his lawn. With a weedwhacker.
KP: And he mistook my lawn for my neighbor’s—
JC: I’m a terrible speller, so it didn’t work—
KP: So it ended awkwardly.
How different would a “Harold and Kumar” adventure be in Chicago?
JC: [Laughs.] Maybe more inebriation.
KP: It’s a big drinking city.
JC: Yeah. This is a hardcore partying city. That’s my impression. It’s got stamina; they’re the Olympians of partying.
You think there’s room to advance the level of inebriation from the previous films?
JC: Always. Always.
Kal, you don’t smoke weed at all, right?
KP: That is correct. I don’t smoke weed. I don’t tend to offer that information up ‘cause it tends to disappoint some of the “Harold and Kumar” fans. It’s actually one of the things I love about playing a character like Kumar. I’ve always found when I’m able to play characters that are similar to myself it tends to be pretty boring ‘cause you’re just sort of doing something you relate to. He’s far more gregarious and out there than I am. Especially doing it over seven years, there’s a real joy—it’s like Kumar’s such a stoner and you get to a point where seven years after you met him, you see what’s happened because of that. He’s sort of down in the dumps and he doesn’t have his life together. That’s contrasted with his best friend who was a stoner and has sort of switched a little bit. It was a lot of fun to play with all that. I sort of love that we’re both different.
JC: I’m a Quaaludes man myself.
KP: That’s true, actually, which is so strange that you’d offer that up.
JC: I’m into the ’Ludes.
KP: I think your fans might be disappointed.
JC: And the ’done—the methadone.
KP: The ’done!
JC: ‘Ludes and ‘dones.
I should congratulate you for establishing a link between White Castle, Guantanamo Bay and Christmas.
KP: You’re welcome!
What else do those three have in common?
JC: That’s a curious connect-the-dots illustration.
KP: They’re all owned by Richard Branson.
JC: [Laughs.] There’s no connection. Which is to say that the writers Jon and Hayden wanted to veer … after each movie they wanted to jerk the steering wheel as hard as they could. [Whispers.] That’s a metaphor. There’s no actual steering wheel. The direction of the franchise is what I mean to say. If you were to imagine the franchise as a car—
KP: I think he understands—
JC: They were jerking the proverbial wheel. But it’s not a literal car. There’s no literal steering wheel is what I mean to say.
KP: He understands.
Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious in this movie. What are his awards chances?
KP: Very high. They’re always high.
JC: What’s he up for? In this movie?
KP: Best Actor.
JC: Best Movie. I think he’s going to win Best Movie.
They give that to individual people now?
KP: Best Patrick Harris at the least. Bobby Patrick Harris, not as good of an actor as Neil Patrick Harris.
JC: His brother Frank Patrick Harris, not in the running.
KP: Sherrad Patrick Harris is awful. That guy’s got a foul mouth.
JC: Also a douche.
KP: Yeah. Juan Patrick Harris is a nice guy though.
Harold and Kumar’s eventual sidekick WaffleBot is surely one of the breakout characters of the year.
What’s something that you have bought late-night, under the influence or not, that is a WaffleBot-like purchase?
JC: Oh, a WaffleBot-like purchase.
KP: You know—
JC: “Not this, but what have you bought that’s like a robot that makes waffles?” [Laughs.]
KP: I’m going to go ahead and say, I once bought—I love to cook—and I once bought a Slap Chop thing at like two in the morning online. And it didn’t work! It came broken! [To our video camera:] If you guys are watching this, the Slap Chop people, it’s a complete fraud. I was very upset about this ‘cause I was so looking forward to it working and making quick salads and stir fry. [Gives thumbs down and makes fart noise with his mouth.]
Now you’re wasting your life making salad and stir fry the slow way.
KP: The slow way. It takes like a good 20 minutes. Instead of 8. According to the fake commercial.
Now that you’ve both been on “How I Met Your Mother,” which of your characters is more likely to be the mother?
KP: [Whispers.] I’m the mother. I’m the mother. Kevin is the mother.
How will viewers feel about that?
KP: They’ll enjoy it. It turns out that—
JC: They will be stunned.
KP: There’s a flashback and you learn that Robin was dating a woman named Kevina, and that she's the mother.
JC: [Laughs.] Kevina?
KP: I should have gone with Kevita, that would have been funnier. But I went with Kevina instead.
JC: That’s why the bit fell flat.
KP: The joke's not funny. The bit was awful.
JC: It was awkward.
KP: Well, only because you keep insisting and dwelling on it—
JC: It’s embarrassing.
KP: Like you’re doing right now.
JC: You are pulling the franchise into the proverbial mud.
KP: I don’t think so. It was a question about “How I Met Your Mother.”
JC: It’s not literal mud. It’s like a metaphor for—
KP: He understands.
JC: Do you know what I mean?
KP: He gets it, dude.
JC: It’s not actual mud.
KP: He understands that you’re not talking about—
JC: So I’m not pulling a copy of the film—
KP: We’re wasting his time!
JC: —into wet dirt.
I think I follow you.
When you made “White Castle,” what were the chances it would become a trilogy?
KP: Very low. So when we signed on to do the movie in 2003, it was a three-picture option, which means the studio has an opportunity to do [it] if they want to. But the first one tanked at the box office, which everyone seems to forget ... Fans should really be credited with—they’re the ones that went out and bought the DVD, gave it to each other, that gave us a chance to do a second movie. That did well enough to garner a third. And it was actually more of a feel-good thing that these two guys were underdogs. The audience identified with that—
JC: Not literal dogs …
KP: He understands!
So the dogs are underground for some reason?
JC: We’re people! Do you know what I mean? We’re clearly homo sapiens.
So what’s left to do in the fourth one?
KP: I’m going to be consistent with my answer on this one. I have always wanted to play an astronaut. I really want them to go to outer space. To the moon, ideally.
Because movies like “Leprechaun in Space” and “Muppets from Space” were so successful.
KP: The “Leprechaun”—
JC: How dare you. [Glares at Matt.]
KP: Any Muppet movie, my God, I would love to—
JC: How dare you.
JC: I’m incensed right now.
JC: I’m fuming. But not literally. Fuming means like being angry. It doesn’t mean that I’m on fire. Like literal fire and I’m smoldering from the embers of my burning hair.
KP: You should teach a class in colloquial English to new Americans.
On Chicago: “I wish we had more time when we come to cities to have fun. I have cousins who live here so it’d be good to hang out … There’s good pizza, there’s good random bars. I don’t have a go-to.” (KP)
On President Obama’s reelection chances: “I think we’ll see how it plays out. I’m particularly proud of what the President’s done for young Americans, bringing our buddies home from Iraq, and increasing financial aid, and I hope folks give him credit for that.” (KP)
What Cho wants for the next installments of the “Star Trek” and “American Pie” franchises: “Uh, millions of dollars. And then more millions. And finish it up with some more millions.”
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