g The Film Panel Notetaker: SXSW - Race, Politics and Drugs: A Harold & Kumar Panel - March 8, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SXSW - Race, Politics and Drugs: A Harold & Kumar Panel - March 8, 2008

I was supposed to see Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay at a press screening the day before this panel discussion, but there was a problem getting the print to the theater, so the screening was delayed and by the time it was to take place, I already was in another screening (American Teen), so couldn’t make it. But I did hear accounts of people who saw the film at its premiere, everyone having very good reactions, saying it was downright hilarious. I’ll have to wait to see it when it comes out in theaters on April 25.


SXSW Film Conference & Festival
Race, Politics and Drugs: a Harold & Kumar Panel
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Austin Convention Center – Room 16AB – 1pm

(John Cho & Kal Penn. Photo by Erin Scherer.)


Moderator:
Robert Wilonsky - Film Critic, HDNet/Dallas Observer

Panelists:
Neil Patrick Harris - Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
John Cho - Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Kal Penn - Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Jon Hurwitz - Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Hayden Schlossberg - Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay


Wilonsky: How did the idea of the sequel come about?

Schlossberg: We were presented with the challenge to continue the story going off to Amsterdam. The idea was that maybe while Harold and Kumar were at the airport, they would be racially profiled and get sent to Guantanamo.

Wilonsky: Were you anxious to get back into the roles?

Penn: We had such a great time making the first film. The second one kept getting delayed.

Wilonsky: What did you want to see with it?

Cho: We were concerned that the sequel be as interesting and as smart as the first. That’s what took people by surprise with the first. It was difficult to replicate, but the sequel did so and went further.

Harris: (Jokingly) I was very excited to cash in on the sequel. I asked for a lot of money. They told me Anthony Michael Hall was on the other line.

Wilonsky: What kind of discussion did you have with Kal and John on where the sequel was going?

Schlossberg: We all just wanted another chance. We tried to keep this thing smart and amp it up a notch. This time we all knew each other. We had to build chemistry the first time around. We needed to please the audience. This time, expectations are higher.

Wilonsky: How do you please the audience’s expectations?

Hurwitz: It’s about staying true to the characters and not making them caricatures. There the same people you know and love. People like to see these guys go through all their troubles. The challenge of the first movie was to get people to care about these two going to White Castle. The second film goes in the opposite direction and they have their freedom at stake.

Wilonsky: The first film was subversively political, while the sequel is more blatantly political. Was this important to you?

Penn: Not really. It’s great that it’s politically relevant, but my job as an actor is to create this world. The stakes are higher.

Cho: I liked it more as a conceit. It’s more of a device to amp up the stakes. I don’t think the movie has anything worthwhile to say politically. It uses the current political climate to make vagina jokes. (Audience laughs out loud!)

Penn: The first film was more about weed, where the sequel is more political, but I don’t think that’s what it’s really about. It’s more about two friends.

Wilonsky: On the commentary track of the DVD, you talk about politics.

Schlossberg: That’s mainly an accident. Our goal is to have the audience laughing constantly. The first movie had different layers to it. Like John said, it’s really about the vagina jokes. (Another big laugh from the audience.)

Hurwitz: What made us settle on this story was realizing the political resonance. After making the first movie, John and Kal did a publicity tour. Their experience at the airports wasn’t the best. They can tell this story in a completely ridiculous comic way.

Cho: The last time we flew here, Kal got asked to step over by a TSA rep at the airport and the guy behind him had a knife.

Penn: I was the big distraction.

Cho: The man had come from a camping trip and he got through security okay.

Penn: You see how racial profiling makes us all feel unsafe.

Wilonsky: What did you want to do with your roles the second time around?

Harris: I was super stoked to be a part of it again. It sort of revitalized an aspect of my career. Gave it sort of a hipness factor. Without this, I wouldn’t have been cast in How I Met Your Mother. I was making fun with instead of jokes at me.

Schlossberg: Some of the best days are when Neal shows up. It pumps everyone up. We wrote it in the first script and didn’t know he would agree, but he said yes.

Audience Q&A

Q: How hard was it to get non-white actors in the leads?

Hurwitz: It was important for us to not make David & Jason Go to McDonald’s.

Schlossberg: In our initial meeting with the guys they loved the script. We wanted to make “this” movie. It was something you thought would be difficult, but it wasn’t.

Cho: My agent called saying these producers love you. It was hard not to be suspicious. I was paralyzed with gratitude when I was offered the part.

Penn: We met at a party. Hurwitz said, “Whoa! You don’t have an accent.” I put up my wall. Got talking and read the script. I had a weird conversation with people about limiting roles.

Schlossberg: It was very important in the first movie to lace in some Korean and Indian cultural things throughout.

Q: Why didn’t you get the rights to show the clip from Sixteen Candles in the first film?

Schlossberg: One of the biggest laughs in the movie is the clip of Long Duck Dong from Sixteen Candles, but we didn’t get the rights to use it.

Hurwitz: We don’t know what John Hughes’ motives were. We wanted Harold and Kumar to be at ease in the world. Even those they’re frustrated for getting picked on, they’re better than that.

Q: Did you run into any resistance about content?


Schlossberg: It’s a virtual no. They’re done on a certain budget where the studio just let us do what we wanted to do. There was a lot of frontal nudity.

Q: When you got the script for the sequel, what did you think of it initially?

Cho: (Jokingly) I was thrilled. I thought this whole torture business was a great fortune to all of us.

Penn: I have no part in that comment. I loved that the stakes were higher. I was amazed we were going to do the scene with the George Bush look alike. It’s just a satire. In the majority of countries in the world, if you satirize the leader, you’ll probably get thrown in jail.

Q: How difficult was it to get distribution the first time around?

Schlossberg: People ask us if White Castle came to us. We wrote it in the script because White Castle was an authentic place that would fit into the story. When writing a screenplay, you don’t have to think about the business. With White Castle, it turned out to be a family-run business. They loved Harold & Kumar.

Hurwitz: We weren’t ware of the exact challenges of distribution for the first movie. As soon as New Line tested it, they knew they could release it wide. New Line was also supportive of the sequel.

Q: How did Harold & Kumar change for you in the roles you are offered and take?

Cho: It’s my calling card at this point. I’m not sure how much it’s changed. It’s a tough question.

Penn: A clear example is The Namesake, based on an amazing novel. I tried to get the rights to make it into a film, but Mira Nair already had. I tried an aggressive approach to get involved. Her son asked her to audition the guy from Harold & Kumar. Without him being a fan, I wouldn’t have been offered The Namesake.

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