John Cho and Kal Penn discuss ‘Guantanamo,’ Neil Patrick Harris, racial stereotypes in movies

Kelly Petryszyn

Courtesy Warner Bros

Credit: Ron Soltys

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Starring Kal Penn, John Cho, Neil Patrick Harris

Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

Distributed by Warner Bros.

Rated R

It takes two interesting people to make a simple hamburger run into an 88 minute cult classic. Kal Penn and John Cho did just this nearly four years ago in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Now Harold and Kumar instead of going on a quest for hamburgers; the two are on an adventure to Amsterdam to chase after Harold’s crush. Their trip results in a hilarious chain of events that get them pinned as terrorists and detained in Guantanamo Bay. Kal Penn (Kumar) and John Cho (Harold) recently discussed their new movie, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Q: How is this one different from the first one?

A: JC: I was just saying that the first movie was plot-less, and it involved us getting high, getting hungry, looking for a burger place and then a bunch of stuff happened to us on the way to the burger place. And this movie has a very traditional or much more traditional plot with really high stakes. So that is I would say is the primary difference, and then in other respects I think we tried to, as a good sequel should, ramp up everything.

Q: Will this movie be more political and less silly than the first one?

A: KP: I don’t think it’s a political film in terms of taking a stance on anything, but definitely it inherently deals with some of the pop culture that surrounds the political sphere right now. I mean we’ve got a caricature of President Bush in the movie, so you can’t deny that you’re playing with the idea of politics, but I don’t think it’s a departure. I think that one of the things that were fun to play with was the fact that the stakes are so much higher.

Q: Do you guys take personal credit for the resurrection of Neil Patrick Harris’ career?

A: KP: Yeah, I wanna take credit for it right now. No, I think Neil has talked about how Jon and Hayden’s script and playing the part has opened up some other opportunities for him. What do you think, Cho?

JC: Yeah, I think he’s been open about that. I think that Harold & Kumar, the first movie, allowed people to see him in a different light, and I believe he has said, “I don’t think I’d be on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ without Harold & Kumar.”

Q: Everyone is really curious to know how much White Castle you actually ate in that scene?

A: KP: I get this question a lot, and it’s funny because I think fast food is disgusting. I was a vegetarian when we shot the first film, and I generally eat organic as much as possible. I know this is so disappointing to the audience, which is why I don’t talk about it a lot, but I don’t smoke weed, I don’t eat fast food. What else was there that Kumar does, that I don’t do.? And in real life, I don’t know if you guys have heard this before, but probably one of the true things on the Internet about us is that John Cho is more of a Kumar in real life, and I am more of a Harold. So the roles are definitely switched.

Q: How do you feel that Harold & Kumar films deal with the issue of racial stereotypes?

A: KP: Typecasting exists no matter what you look like, but certainly there is stereotyping that is more unique to Asian Americans or South Asian Americans, and I really like the way in which Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg [the writers and directors of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay] totally deconstruct a lot of those stereotypes just with the use of humor, and I think that’s great. I think it’s certainly a more subversive way of even dealing with stereotype. I’m not a big fan of people that preach too much or beat you over the head with it. And the thing I really love about Harold and Kumar is that they’re two All-American guys who are going on a journey and along that journey you’re able to deconstruct race in a very smart, witty way, but the movie is certainly not about that, it’s just about two guys who you can relate to. Which I think is greatest statement of how far we’ve come with a film like that.

Contact all reporter Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].