Harold & Kumar 3
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas - Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) © 2011 New Line Productions

John Cho (Star Trek, Flash Forward) and Kal Penn (House) are back together reprising their roles for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, which picks up six years after their last adventure.

During the past six years Harold Lee has gotten married and is looking forward to a pleasant Christmas at home with his wife Maria and her family. Kumar Patel is still a pot head with no permanent job. When a mysterious package arrives at Kumar’s door on Christmas Eve that is addressed to Harold, he feels the compulsion to hand deliver it to him. In keeping with their relationship, this visit ends up disastrously, as Harold’s father-in-law’s prized Christmas tree goes up in flames, leading the two former friends on a crazy journey trying to replace it – and, of course, encountering NPH – aka Neil Patrick Harris.

Speaking with John and Kal at the press day for the movie, you are immediately aware of the genuine fondness they have for each other.

Can you talk about your reunion? It’s been a while since the last Harold and Kumar movie.

Harold (John Cho) © 2011 New Line Productions

John: We loved coming back together but it was also a little bumpy, the adjustment period. The first week of rehearsal was a little iffy. We were working on some script issues. I wasn’t sure if we had the thing back yet. The first week of filming was Harold and Kumar in their new worlds and it didn’t feel good, even though it was funny.

I didn’t quite feel like we had it until we were back together doing our first scene.

Was the first scene you shot together actually the first scene where Harold and Kumar meet again in the movie?

Kal: I think so because I started laughing when I saw him in his Harold costume. I love that Kumar is such a weirdo and I’m showing up in his clothes and we’re looking at each other for the first time on set and I think I burst out laughing.

John: Two giants of American cinema colliding.

Kal: God, don’t ever do that.

John: Two icons.

Kal: Our first movie totally tanked!

The franchise has become sort of what Cheech and Chong was for a new generation. How do you feel about that comparison?

Mall Santa (Patton Oswalt) and Kumar (Kal Penn) © 2011 New Line Productions

Kal: I was very flattered to hear that. But we don’t think of ourselves as being iconic in that respect. I don’t even view these as exclusively stoner movies. I think compared to things like Cheech and Chong and Pineapple Express, Harold and Kumar aren’t high for very much of their movies, and when they are high only bad things happen to them.

So, that’s very different.

John: Yeah. It was surprising to us that stoners responded to the movie as strongly as they did because we always felt there wasn’t all that much pot smoking and it didn’t seem all that fun.

But whenever we’re compared to a duo that’s lasted like Cheech and Chong, that’s very high praise, because we work on that. We consider our primary work on the movies to be believable as friends.

We feel like the comedy heavy lifting is done by so many other people; Neil Patrick Harris and Tom Lennon, they are very funny people and if funny comes [for us] that’s great. But our job is (to make people) believe that we are really friends.

It was cool that you poked fun at some of your other characters and jobs, like your work at the White House, Kal. Was that in the script and were you cool with it?

Harold (John Cho) © 2011 New Line Productions

John: It was in the script. That’s in keeping with the world of Harold and Kumar and the sensibility of all three movies.

There have been a lot of things that have happened between the second and third movie, primarily Neil’s life has changed. He came out so since we were using his real name in the movies it seemed like an opportunity to address it.

Kal: It is in the vein of all three movies. In the first one, there’s a great little line about [John’s] movie Better Luck Tomorrow.

Ryan Reynolds is in a scene with Harold and Kumar and the interaction is basically the flipped version of what Ryan and I did in Van Wilder, which was his [breakthrough] vehicle.

I’m very proud of the serious stuff I did in Washington and (John) is a bad-ass in a huge Star Trek movie. We take those things seriously, but we don’t take the Harold and Kumar movies too seriously so it’s always fun.

Will there be things from your work in the White House that you can put in a Harold and Kumar format?

Mall Santa (Patton Oswalt) and Kumar (Kal Penn) © 2011 New Line Productions

Kal: I don’t think so. What I love about both worlds is that they are so separate. I love being creative and frivolous with movies like this.

John: This is the most important thing in the world. These movies are like food to the starving. We are like divine.

Kal: Your humility is astounding! I can’t even respond to that.  I love public service. I love the seriousness and cerebral element of living in Washington and I love the creativity of a profession like this. To me they’re totally separate.

To me, the only thing that is even remotely similar and gets us kind of emotional is when we get tweets or little notes from the troops overseas. I got the chance to do a couple of USO tours the last few years. It’s awesome to hear from these 18 and 19-year-old kids who tell you that comedy keeps them going when they’re out there.

You showed Star Trek also in Bahrain, right?

John: Yeah. It’s crazy. You’re looking at these soldiers who are so young that you are overwhelmed by their youth but it’s another thing when they’ve seen your work. It’s something to distract them; something to make them chuckle for a few minutes.

There’s no greater honor than to be a part of distracting them from the serious nature of their work.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane