It all started back in 2004 when two young men got stoned and decided to take a trip to their favorite burger place to placate their munchies. Since then, Harold and Kumar has cemented itself as one of the best stoner comedy duos of all time, right up there with Cheech and Chong and Jay and Silent Bob. With the third movie in the series coming out this weekend, I asked star Kal Penn if they ever anticipated the movie to reach these levels. His answer? Of course not.
Last weekend I was invited to sit down with the actor to talk about his role in the newest installment, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, which is out now. Read our interview below as Penn discusses how Kumar links to his actual character, what it was like being part of the film’s claymation sequence, and his opinion on waffles vs. pancakes.
When you were making the first film, a small little stoner movie, did you in any way expect to now be filming a third film?
No. Of course not [laughs]. I also didn't even view it as a stoner movie when we shot the first one. I kind of- well, when you read the script it reads more like a traditional buddy comedy more than anything else. And, um, it wasn't until after it came out on DVD that you realized stoners were claiming it as a stoner movie, frat guys were calling it, like, a frat boy movie, the Asian-American community said it was an Asian-American movie. Like this is actually kind of cool! If people are thinking that it's their movie, then that means John and I did our jobs in just making it a buddy comedy. And I think it isn't any of those- it definitely isn't just a stoner movie because they're not high very often.
Yeah, that's true.
Compared to legit stoner movies.
And only bad things happen to them when they are. But I mean, look, you could say the same of any category they put it in. We had a three picture option contract when I signed on for the first movie, but I don't think any of us actually thought it was gonna turn into something. So we're just really... It's only because the fans discovered it on DVD. We got a second one and a third one, so we just love the fact that they gave us that opportunity.
I saw both films in theaters.
Yeah, I've been a fan of this from the beginning.
So just coming from that, going back and now coming forward, what was it like being in production on this installment?
It was cool. I especially liked that... well you know, it takes place six years after the first two movies. We have the chance to age both with the audience and ourselves. And kind of figuring, well these guys can't believably be 22 years old anymore. And the audience isn't 22 anymore. So... I mean, there are 22 year olds that will see it, but, you know what I mean, the people that have grown up with the characters- you want them to deal with the same stuff you're dealing with, which is like, do you still see your college friends on a daily basis? Are you gonna get married and have kids at some point? What's the deal? So that was a lot of fun.
Sure. And I guess when you have a franchise, you tend to see that the actors kind of lead their personalities into the character a bit more. Do you feel that way with Kumar?
I actually am the exact opposite of Kumar in real life, which is why I find him so much fun to play.
It's such a blast to play somebody who's that crass and simultaneously that smart. And who has a heart of gold.
In fact, I think that because he has a heart of gold and comes from a positive place, he can get away with a lot more on the scale of vulgarity than other characters might.
And do you think he's- well, in these movies he's really kind of the immature one versus Harold who's the more straight laced one. Do you think that he ever will actually turn that corner and grow up?
Um, I think he grows up a lot in this movie.
Yeah, he definitely grows up a lot.
But he grows up without having to acquiesce on the things that make him who he is. I think that that's the struggle that a lot of us go through as we're getting older, y'know, I still like things that are immature and stupid, and who says I have to change? Just because I'm 30 now I have to suddenly stop making fart jokes? No. [laughs] The universal joke that remains funny when 7 and, I imagine, when you're 87, is the fart. So there are different versions of that that Kumar can retain, but still want to have a kid, still want to have a wife and settle down.
And I guess- well, this is now the third film and the third director. I mean, you had Danny Leiner on the first one, Jon and Hayden on the second one and now Todd on the third one. And I'm curious, did it change much with the filmmaker behind it?
No, I don't think so. I think that, because the writers are the same for each of the three, the truth and sentiment of the characters has stayed the same. I think what Todd brought to the franchise is that he's an incredibly visual director. And John and I, having played these characters for seven years, are very emotional with our approach to it. So we want to make sure that the friendship is the most important thing, and for Todd having to shoot a movie in 3D, it's got to be visual. Which I think worked out really well for us, because we couldn't be concerned with the fact that it was being shot in 3D. That was his job. And he didn't necessarily have to be concerned with the emotional arc to the same extent, because we'd already played these characters twice before. So it worked out really well. I think that each- well, I don't think this is a franchise where each one is trying to one up the one before, but instead to build on it in a progressive kind of fashion. So I love Danny Leiner and I love Jon and Hayden and Todd in his own right. So yeah.
Now Tom Lennon was actually just talking about the 3D and was telling me that because of the width of the whole set up, that when you were actually just doing a one shot and talking to somebody offstage, you were actually just talking to a piece of tape.
I mean, that was the hard part. We shot this movie in 3D as opposed to doing a post-production 3D conversion. The quality's incredible, and it looks much better than if we had done it post. But the one drawback of that is that it is, uh, y'know... In a comedy about friends, you want to be able to look at the other actor. So there was a lot of acting to pieces of tape instead.
Does that affect your approach at all? I just mean, because- you still have the other actors, they're on set, right?
Yeah. I mean, oftentimes they've got a set across the room. Um... it definitely affects your approach. It's not the ideal format to shoot in, just from the performance perspective. But, y'know, we managed, it was good.
And you mentioned the visual aspect, I mean, in addition to the 3D you have some really cool things. Like when you're building the plan to break into the church, actually, or more importantly, the claymation sequence... I mean, with that, how cool was it to see yourself as a claymation figure?
Claymation was awesome. I'm a- well, there are two things we find out in this one. I'm a huge fan of A Christmas Story, so doing the scene where Harold gets his penis stuck to the pole is ridiculously awesome. And the claymation similarly: I'm a big fan of all those claymation movies we watched as kids, so it's a hat tip to both of those types of movies. Where we love them so much that we wanted to, in a bizarre way, put them up on a Harold and Kumar pedestal. The narration of the church thing was problematic for me when I first read it. I am not a fan of making fun of members of the clergy.
I feel like that should be, y'know- “Do you really have to do that?” is what I thought. And then I talked to Jon and Hayden about it and a few other people, and they said, “You have to remember that this is not happening in the movie, it's happening in Kumar's head.”
And so it's one of those things where in the first movie and the second movie, Kumar is so upset that other people view him in a particular way. The TSA guys pull him out of line for no particular reason, they profile him; but now you see that the tables have turned and that Kumar is just as stereotyping of others as others are of him. And there's this dream sequence where he just imagines all of the horrible things that he's going to have to do... and I actually, once I viewed it that way, I'm like, “This sort of shows you how everyone is the same.” Everyone has those awful thoughts from time to time. So it was bizarre to shoot, but kind of interesting way to bring it back to the first two movies.
Waffles. Where is Neil? [Laughs] Pancakes? Really?
Yeah, well he says that the problem is when it comes to butter, the ridges kind of make it a problem, because it pools in one area.
Neil just needs to microwave the butter a bit before... what? What? [laughs] Neil Patrick Harris is perfect in every way except for the mistake he made in answering that question.
And I also asked Todd about the research and development on the Wafflebot, he promised me next Christmas.
Oh, all set, sweet [Laughs]
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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