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Q&A with actor Kal Penn!

At long last, Calvin's interview with Harold and Kumar 2 actor Kal Penn (... with the help of some other very excited kids)! Read up, this comes to The Blaaag only once in a while. Excuse the looks on Mr. Penn's face, I'm sure he was dying for some of that delicious Fiji water right next to him (in the picture beneath the interview).

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Kal Penn walks in smiling. The table bristles with excitement as the first question is asked.

So how did you feel about doing a sequel to the first Harold & Kumar film?

KP: I was surprised there was even a sequel. The first one didn’t do well in theaters or DVD marketing. However, I believe that the subsequent reaction over time gave New Line Cinemas enough money to do a sequel. Therefore, this sequel is dedicated to the fans who made this happen.

I thought the 200 million dollars was made from the first film?

KP (incredulous): Well if that’s the case, I haven’t seen that money! I wouldn’t be wearing the same clothes I’m wearing now. In fact (laughing), I would have to hire a lawyer because we definitely didn’t have that much money to put into the sequel.

Was the purpose to put the heroes into the minority?

KP: The purpose was to make an All-American buddy movie. It could be labeled as a teen film, a satire, or a stoner comedy. It may be all three or none of those things. That’s why the audience loves it: you see characters in situations you haven’t seen them in before, and it’s not because of their ethnicity, it’s because of the good writing.

Is there a little bit of reality in which the racist imagery in the film is grounded?

KP: Well it’s funny, because in one of the first scenes in the airport where Harold and I are waiting in line, I get pulled out because of I’m a “suspicious man of color.” It goes back to an actual story where the director and writer of Harold & Kumar, John Cho, and myself were waiting in line in Austin, Texas. So they go through, no beep. John [Cho] goes through, no beep. But when I went through without beeping, I of course still got pulled out of the line by TSA officials.

So they search me and pat me down and do all the security checkpoint stuff and let me go. Then one of the writers [for Harold & Kumar] came up to me and was like “I have something to tell you that might piss you off.” And then I was like, “I’m already pissed off. How can it get any worse?”

Well the thing was that prior to meeting us at the airport, he was coming back from a weekend camping trip and had a hunting knife on him that he forgot to take it out of his bag as he was checking into airport security. However, the TSA officials were so focused on me, as that “suspicious man of color,” that they didn’t even pay attention to the hunting knife.

So yeah, all ethnicities have gone through it before. This sequence helped with writing the opening scene, but in a light way that John & Hayden would write it.

Do you feel the burden of it being marketed as an Asian American film?

KP: I don’t think that is the appeal; I think the appeal is to a wider audience. I remember back in the day I wouldn’t see anyone like me except for Indiana Jones & Temple of Doom or Apu [from the Simpsons]. Now I think [Asian Americans] are of course going to get excited about seeing people looking like them. However, the movie is also cool in that it still appeals to all kinds of people who enjoy different appeals. Frat boys enjoy it, Asian Americans enjoy it, etc.

You see, both Harold & Kumar in the film went to Columbia (Calvin cheers, Kal stops to nod in approval), and they’re both smart. Just that one’s a banker, and one’s not sure about medical school. It’s not that one’s smart and one’s dumb or one’s clueless and one’s isn’t. Both are bright, it’s just different personalities. However, it’s weird that people call me Kumar in real life.

So you have two careers now?

KP: Yes. One’s serious and one’s comedic.

Does being Kumar prevent you getting parts like in The Namesake?

KP: Actually it helped because Mira Nair’s son is a big fan of Harold & Kumar. When I heard the casting call for “The Namesake” I begged the casting department for the role but I never got a reply back. Apparently Mira already had a short list of actos she wanted for the part of Golgol and I definitely wasn’t on it. However, thanks to my involvement in Harold & Kumar, every night and every morning Mira would hear to no end from her son who begged her constantly to “get Kumar in The Namesake.” So eventually she relented and I got the chance to audition and eventually work with a very smart writer & director.

What are you doing now?

KP: I’m working on a TV show called House. I play a regular called Lawrence Kutner who likes the unorthodox way of doing medical stuff.

Anyone you want to work with?

KP: Natalie Portman, Mira Nair, Spike Lee, Larry Clark.

Do you have to be more selective now as an actor?

KP: That’s the goal of the actor: To build up your resume to get the foot in the door. You think we’re doing well after Harold & Kumar, but on the inside it’s actually much tougher. For example, I’m getting older so I can’t do Harold & Kumar 14.

How old are you now? Can you still feel you can do more roles like Harold & Kumar?

KP I’m 30. I still act like I’m 11 though.

Do you feel a responsibility now to break stereotypes as a South Asian American actor?

KP: I don’t feel any responsibility to break stereotypes. I think there’s an acknowledgement you can do certain things in that capacity. But folks don’t realize that this really relies on the writers instead of the actors, which are jobs that the Asian American community doesn’t encourage their people to go into. It’s really good writing that creates those stereotype breaking roles, not good actors.

For sure though, playing fields are definitely getting more diverse nowadays, and Harold & Kumar contributes to that. I can certainly relate to the sense of empowerment.

Does this movie encourage drug use?

KP: No. I think anytime they do use drugs, they screw up, you know? If anything, what’s important about this film is that in any other country we’d get short or imprisoned for making fun of our prime minister, president, king, whoever. Here in this film we make fun of President George W. Bush in such a ridiculous way and that’s okay! And it’s not even an anti-Bush movie or anti-Drug, or an Asian American film. It’s a simple fun film about 2 guys on a journey.

Kal’s agent hounds us for asking too many questions as all of us rush to take pictures with him as he’s wrapping up the last question. To save time, Kal decides to take a group picture and encourages us all to facebook each other for the photo.

3 comments:

  1. David said...

    ... And I think for an adjunct Asian American Studies professor at UPenn, Kal Penn's answers were not really hard-hitting.  

  2. Marilla said...

    that second picture = hot  

  3. wow power leveling said...

 

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