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

Continuing with my interview with John Cho and Kal Penn about their new movie, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, the actors talk about the controversial aspects of the movie, and the possible future of the franchise.

How do you feel about how the movies mock different cultures?

John Hoogenakker and Yasen Peyankov stand in front of John Cho, Kal Penn and director Todd S Strauss-Schulson during the filming © 2011 New Line Productions

John: Making fun of culture and race has been what we do since the first one, so it was great to finally get to play the in-law stuff because it was a way to make Asian-Latino jokes about discomfort. Paula (Garces, who plays Maria, Harold’s wife) was very helpful too, making Spanish puns.

I hope that the Spanish-speaking audience particularly enjoys that section because there were a few Spanish-specific jokes.

What was the hardest part of doing this film?

John: Shooting winter in summer maybe?

Kal: I think it was taking the time to figure out what happened in the six years between the two movies because the first and second movies take place within a minute of each other and Kumar always has a positive outlook on life. He’s a bit of a slacker but, in this movie, he starts out really depressed, frankly.

I sat down with the writers for at least five sessions trying to figure out and craft the entire six years of his life to justify why. Did he ever finish med school? It seems like he did. How much weed does he smoke that he’s grown a beard and hasn’t left his apartment in four weeks?

That kind of stuff was a very welcomed challenge. I enjoyed it very much crafting all that.

Are you concerned with backlash from the cocaine jokes with the baby?

Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) © 2011 New Line Productions

Kal: You worked with the baby most closely and you pointed out that she was –

John: – a degenerate, yeah! (he laughs) I hope there isn’t a backlash, because I think that the attitudes of the central characters have always been very well-intentioned. I feel like, in an odd way, that the reason the movies work is that they’re so sweet and the humor, as raunchy and filthy as it is, it’s also sweet in a strange way.

I hope there isn’t a backlash, but that’s part and parcel of getting into that [controversial] zone where humor works the best. If we stay safe, nobody will like the movie so there’s risk involved, but that’s when you know you’re doing something right.

Mary (Jordan Hinson), Kumar (Kal Penn) and Harold (John Cho) © 2011 New Line Productions

Kal: A lot of movies come close to a line, or cross a line, and I think what the writers of these movies frankly do is just get rid of the line altogether. They’ve created a world where anything is acceptable so, in this movie everybody assumes Santa Claus is real and exists to the extent that [Harold] can shoot him in the face and [Kumar] can save his life.

So, once you go there, I think that everything else is possible and believable.

What I also love is that, in the first movie, you saw society’s reaction to two guys like Harold and Kumar with the race and ethnicity subplot. But then, in the second one, you realize that they get lost in the inner city and you see that Harold and Kumar have their own prejudices and stereotypes against other folks. Same thing in this one.

When I first read on the page, Kumar’s dream fantasy sequence with the church and he’s going to punch out a member of the clergy, [I thought] what are we doing here?

But you realize that that is his fantasy sequence on how he’s going to get the tree for his buddy, and it does reveal that these characters are just as flawed as everybody else, and that’s one way of looking at it, with humor, so we certainly hope that nobody takes it seriously enough (to start a backlash).

John: It’s the fantasy of a very immature character.

Do you get together between making these movies, because you seem to be good friends?

Todd (Tom Lennon), Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) and Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld) © 2011 New Line Productions

Kal: We are friends, yeah, which is nice. I recently joked with him that it would have been a bummer if we didn’t get along in real life but we could have pretended.

We presented an award at the Spike Scream Awards a couple of weeks ago and the stage was basically a plank in the middle of water and we had to walk back across the stage to get to where the holding room was, and I said to him, ‘If we didn’t like each other in real life, this is the point where America would find out because I have such an urge to [push you in the water].’

John: We’ve done three movies at this point and there’s really nobody who knows what it’s like to be Harold and Kumar except me and this guy, so there’s a very special and unique bond that we share. We are just like The Beatles and Cheech and Chong in one magnificent package!

Can you see yourself playing these characters for a long time? Cheech and Chong continued well into their fifties and sixties.

John: Yeah. I think it would be fun actually. There is a very ingenious set-up. They called the first movie Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and I think if they hadn’t tapped into all those old buddy pictures and all the road pictures with those titles, nobody would have wanted a sequel.

There’s kind of a trick to that title. It also is real in the sense that they’ve set up these characters and I think it’s plausible to have them in their fifties and sixties and have grandkids and still be hittin’ the bong and getting into ridiculous adventures.

Kal: I’d be up for it. I love playing the character. As crazy as he is, Kumar is infinitely cooler than I will ever be in real life.

John: He is. He really is!

Judy Sloane

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