John Cho on Success of Harold & Kumar Franchise
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas opens Nov 4
The last film characters one would expect to find in a Christmas movie are Harold and Kumar, that famous on-screen odd couple with a taste for White Castle burgers and endless mayhem. Admittedly, it’s this strange mix of traditional holiday spirit and gross-out raunchiness that will inevitably draw audiences to A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas, the third entry in the popular comedy series about a straight-edge Korean business-type and his pot smoking slacker Indian friend. This latest film also marks the franchise’s first foray into the realm of 3-D, a technology that suits the more inane slapstick moments in the film.
SanDiego.com had the opportunity to discuss all things Harold and Kumar with actor John Cho, whose great combination of comic timing and sincerity has made Harold a very unique characterization.
Why do you think the characters of Harold and Kumar appeal to audiences so consistently?
John Cho: It’s a bit of a trick. I know the characters look different but they’re just an odd couple. One’s uptight and one’s loose, a very tried and true formula. Of course we’re playing on said formula with casting, with the focus on drugs, with the situations and the kinds of jokes that we do. But at the core it’s an odd couple relationship. And we didn’t invent that, but it works. Having said that, I think our take on it is to push the absurdity level and the gross-out aspects while keeping the basic innocence of the characters in tact. I think that particular combination might be original on our part.
Each character’s ethnicity makes it fresh as well.
JC: Yes, I think we got lucky and it worked to our advantage that people see our faces and are more inclined to root for us because these two guys bring the sympathy of life. We don’t see these kinds of faces on screen very much so the audience is doubly rooting for them.
It seems like the Harold and Kumar films, at least the first and third entries, are about these characters finding the extraordinary and absurd in the mundane. Can you talk a little about that?
JC: Yes, I think that, particularly in the first one, it’s a nod to a time in your life when you’re so stupid, ridiculous things happen when you’re doing the most mundane tasks. It’s like when you’re in college and you go out to the post office but end up drunk in Canada. That sort of thing happens in that time of your life. When you’re not living at home anymore and you have a car and disastrous things happen. That’s where this idea started and then it snowballs from there.
Why is Harold such a fun character to play for you?
JC: My forays into comedy before Harold were always as the funny guy. What I like about Harold now is that it takes more discipline for me as actor to play the straight guy. That’s the most interesting thing for me is to try and find the laugh within the construct of being the unfunny guy. It’s really a rewarding thing for me to work on. I probably know a bunch of Harold’s in my life. I know more Harold’s than Kumar’s so I feel like I’m tipping my cap to a bunch of people I know.
How much improvisation goes on between you and Kal Penn during filming?
JC: Very little actually. More for Kal because his character has more latitude to do that. But essentially the reason is because we’re a low budget movie and we just don’t have the time. We have a limited shooting schedule and we’re always hurrying up and this one doubly so because we shot it in 3-D. It wasn’t a conversion so the lighting setups took longer. So there’s a lot less improvisation than you would think and I wished there would be.
What does 3-D technology brings to this particular story?
JC: I guess for me it adds a visual richness that helps us make this latest film a true Christmas extravaganza. This is a legitimate Christmas movie and genre film. It’s a real Christmas tale, as filthy as it may be. And it’s the most visually rich of all the three films and the 3-D technology is certainly a big part of that.
It seems like there’s a visual emphasis on elaborate set pieces as well.
JC: Yeah, it’s certainly crazy to be in a 3-D movie dancing on stage with Neil Patrick Harris and 30 scantily clad ladies.
Speaking of Neil Patrick Harris, can you talk about his importance to these films, kind of as a reverse-mentor.
JC: I consider Neil Patrick Harris, both the man and the character, our magical amulet. He exploded in the first movie and his career has exploded even more since then. He’s become part of the team and our second act rabbit-in-the-hat. He adds this kind of flexibility to the movies. The story can pivot in any direction when he’s onscreen, and anything can be solved because he has a supernatural effect on the narrative.
He actually defies supernatural things.
JC: He most definitely does that. Like Jesus Christ himself, he rises from the dead. [Laughs] That sounds bad and blasphemous, but it is a statement of fact.
It’s not so bad or blasphemous. It takes place within the narrative of this specific film.
JC: That is true.
Are there any plans for a Harold and Kumar 4?
JC: Not at this time. I would be open to it. I’ve got an enormous affection for Harold and the movies and as long as they keep it fresh and people want one, who am I to say no to that.
I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if Harold and Kumar went to Comic-Con. What would happen to them amid all that madness?
JC: Well, that would be fun for sure. There are a lot of booths and endless possibilities to explore. I think it would be great because we could get a lot of cameos from people who were visiting and promoting stuff and then there’s a lot of characters roaming the floor.
It’s like a landscape of genre iconography for you guys to traverse.
JC: For sure. You know what was great? The last time I went to Comic-Con I saw so many couples dressed up and holding hands. It was like date night over there.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas opens nationwide November 4