John Cho Interview

Actors recognized for stereotype roles talk about starring in their own comedy, 'Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle'

Actors recognized for stereotype roles talk about starring in their own comedy, 'Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle'

(Some questions in this interview have come from another journalist present for the Q&A.)

John Cho and Kal Penn are currently the envy of every "token minority" movie actor in Hollywood. After years of putting on thick accents and having stereotypically ethnic music escort them into a scene here and a scene there, mostly in bawdy teen comedies, these two are headlining in their very own lowbrow laffer -- "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle."

Starring as a pair of all-American sons of immigrants, and recent college grads, who get stoned one Friday evening and go on an epic slapstick quest for their favorite fast food, Cho and Penn are thrilled to be breaking the gross-out comedy glass ceiling, and even more pleased to be doing it in a movie that's smarter than it looks.

While never shying away from the boob flash or the fart joke, some of the humor in "Harold and Kumar" comes from exploding the very stereotypes its stars have been subjected to for the length of their budding careers -- a fact the film's marketing has played into by announcing in the trailers that it stars "that Asian guy from 'American Pie' and that Indian guy from 'Van Wilder'."

What do they think of those labels? That was the first question I asked when meeting them in San Francisco earlier this month.

Q: How did you two feel about the ads that market you as "That Asian guy from 'American Pie' and that Indian guy from 'Van Wilder'"? Did you think it was funny?

PENN: You know, at first I didn't. I was like, Man, the movie is so not about that! Why did they have to bring it back to that? Then we realized that most people that are watching this trailer...recognize us as the Indian guy from "Van Wilder" and the Asian guy from "American Pie"!

CHO: The trailer is funny because it says exactly what people are thinking. It also kind of dissipates -- I think there is some unspoken measure of tension, like this is so unusual seeing Asian-Americans headlining a movie. So we kind of poke fun at that right off the bat -- it's sort of an icebreaker.

Q: I love the idea of embracing the "that guy" status as a launching pad for the movie.

CHO: That was sort of the story of the whole project too.

PENN: Yeah, we're "that guy."

CHO: The story of the movie is two underdogs overcoming certain obstacles on a journey to White Castle, and the story of the project, to a certain degree, is two underdog actors getting their shot at playing the leads in a movie.

Q: Plus, the movie is, on one level just the typical, silly, gross-out dope comedy, but at the same time you're constantly bringing up the issue of ethnic stereotypes, racial stereotypes through just the assumptions that people make about your characters.

PENN: Yes, yes!

CHO: [Nodding in agreement] It's an aspect we were trying to include early on. It was written that way. I just want to give props to the writers.

PENN: Yeah, the writers were really awesome about this. It's really rare -- independent of our ethnicity -- when you read a script (that has) all those layers in it; especially to have something so broad, and then have all those little layers of racism or social commentary, but done in a way that makes it fun to watch, and not something that's shoved down your throat. So that's what appealed to me about the script, as an actor.

Q: Were the characters called Harold and Kumar when you got the script?

PENN: [Enthusiastically] Yeah, yeah. The story is that the writers grew up in New Jersey, and they were really sick of seeing teen movies that were one-dimensional and that had characters which didn't look like any of their friends. They were two white guys from Jersey, but they had a pretty diverse group of friends. So they were like, You know what? Let's write a film that's both a) smart and funny, and b) cast two guys that look like our best friends.

CHO: There is a real Harold Lee. [Cho's character in the film.]

PENN: There is a real Harold Lee. He now lives in L.A. and we hang out with him.

CHO: I call him The Real Harold Lee, and I call myself The Fake Harold Lee when we're around him.

PENN: [to Cho] I'm going surfing with the real Harold Lee.

CHO: [Surprised] Are you really? He surfs?

PENN: We have both taken one or two surfing lessons each, and we're gonna go together.

CHO: That's so Hollywood!

PENN: No it's not!

Q: It's so L.A.

PENN: [Resigned] It's very L.A., yeah...

Q: You know, if this does a good opening weekend, you're golden for a few months in Hollywood...

PENN: We're going to Amsterdam if this has a good opening weekend! [A reference to the movie's open-ended finale.] And all of you will be coming with us, figuratively.

Q: Not that you'd want to make any presumptions or put the curse of irony on any success, but do you have anything you'd want to parlay this career boost into while you have a relatively high profile?

PENN: Yeah, you know, I would love to keep doing interesting films...

CHO: I think he's hinting at the babes, man!

PENN: [Laughs]

CHO: There's a membrane that we've broken by playing lead characters in a movie, by carrying a movie. I hope we've carried it! [Chuckles] I hope the box office reflects that we've carried it! But you hope that once you cross the membrane, you're there for good. So I would just like to continue doing good work, and really just playing characters that are three-dimensional. I hope that the streak continues.

Q: How is your relationship with hamburgers after this movie? I'm sure you'd had your fill after the finale scene in which you scarf all those burgers.

PENN: Um...I'm a vegetarian. I don't partake in the hamburgers. But I'm a big fan of the veggie burgers!

Q: So when you were scarfing the burgers...?

PENN: The producers actually went out of their way to...make little soy burgers that looked like White Castle burgers. So I could just focus on the moment and not have to worry about all that. I probably ate about 30 of them.

Q: And what does it feel like to be an agent in the corruption of Doogie Howser? [Neil Patrick Harris, best known as TV's teenage surgeon in "Doogie Howser, M.D.," sends up his own image in a cameo as a stoned, stripper-addicted version of himself.]

PENN: He was definitely corrupt before we got there! [Laughs.] Neil Patrick Harris (is) a really diverse, really good actor with a lot or range, and I think it was a lot of fun for him to come in and murder Doogie Howser on screen.

CHO: It was an epic site to watch it happen. [Writing in the air] "Dear Diary, I was there..."

Contactmusic


Top 10 Videos

Phantogram

You Don't Get Me High Anymore

1

John Grant

Global Warming

2

Wallace Chung

Bie Zai Xia Yu Tian Tou Tou De Ku Qi

3

Robin Thicke

Blurred Lines (Unrated Version)

4

Mary Lambert

Hang Out With You

5

All That Remains

Six (Live)

6

A$AP Ferg

Let It Go (Explicit)

7

Grupo Exterminador

No Volvere

8

Florence + The Machine

Third Eye - The Odyssey - Chapter 7

10




Advertisement

Movies and Trailers

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

Star Trek Beyond Trailer

Star Trek Beyond Trailer

When the Starship Enterprise finds itself under forceful attack, the crew on board fight to...

Star Trek Beyond Trailer

Star Trek Beyond Trailer

Star Trek Beyond is the thirteenth film to be released from the Star Trek franchise...

Get A Job Trailer

Get A Job Trailer

Will and Jillian are in love and both have recently graduated collage. Jillian managed to...

Star Trek Beyond - Teaser Trailer

Star Trek Beyond - Teaser Trailer

Trekkies around the world rejoice! Star Trek Beyond will be upon us next year. The...

Zipper Trailer

Zipper Trailer

Sam Ellis is a high-flying United States Attorney looking at a likely rise to the...

Grandma Trailer

Grandma Trailer

Elle Reid may be tough, but she's struggling coping with a recent break-up with her...

Advertisement
Grandma - Clip Trailer

Grandma - Clip Trailer

Elle Reid is an ageing poet recovering from a broken heart following her break-up with...

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya Trailer

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya Trailer

Once upon a time in Japan, a bamboo cutter discovered a miniature girl inside the...

Star Trek Into Darkness Movie Review

Star Trek Into Darkness Movie Review

After his successful re-imagining of the Star Trek universe four years ago, Abrams dives even...

Identity Thief Movie Review

Identity Thief Movie Review

There's real potential in this premise for a ripping screwball comedy anchored by two likeable...

Star Trek Into Darkness Trailer

Star Trek Into Darkness Trailer

The Enterprise crew find themselves in more danger than they ever cared to imagine when...

Star Trek Into Darkness - Teaser  Trailer

Star Trek Into Darkness - Teaser Trailer

Captain Kirk and his formidable Enterprise crew are back and this time danger is closer...

Identity Thief - Trailer Trailer

Identity Thief - Trailer Trailer

Sandy Bigelow Patterson is a successful businessman who lives in Denver, Colorado but his world...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.