High times

The Current recently took part, alongside roundabout six or seven other outlets, in SXSW roundtable discussions with Kal Penn, John Cho, and Neil Patrick Harris, followed by writer-directors Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz, all in connection with the forthcoming release of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Alas, I cannot in good faith recommend the film, as I didn’t much enjoy it. That said, I wasn’t quite enamored of the first installment, either; if you were, then I commend you heartily into Escape’s waiting and familiar arms — may you make each other endlessly happy.

All else aside, the conversation was both gracious and lively; notable comments follow.

On Neil Patrick Harris as Neil Patrick Harris:

JH: You know, from what we’ve heard, when he first heard about the concept, he was a little nervous … But as soon as he read it, and saw that it was coming from a good place … as long as it wasn’t mean-spirited and disrespectful to the career that he had, he was totally game — and no one is willing to go for it like Neil Patrick Harris.

NPH: It was really, really fun. Because you know, I stuck firm to the belief that an actor’s private life … is their private life, and `there` should be sort of a deterrent from being public, because it eliminates the audience’s ability to suspend disbelief to a certain degree … `The Harold and Kumar persona is` remarkably like me. No. No, it’s almost the
antithesis of me. But that’s what makes it so fun.

On Escape’s veiled and brief — but notable — allusion to Clara’s Heart, which, if memory serves, featured one scene of a young (and Golden Globe-nominated) Harris being particularly mean to Clara (Whoopi Goldberg), thus causing a certain reporter, then 8, to cry like he’d peed himself:

NPH: Yeah, I called her a bad word that I’m not allowed to say now … The word. I said the word.

KP: No way!

NPH: I don’t even want to repeat it.

KP: Oh my God.

On the switch from Amsterdam/Europe to Gitmo:

HS: Originally, we thought that `a European jaunt` would be a real fun idea for a movie, but in the couple years after the movie came out, the more we thought about that story, it just didn’t seem fresh and original for us … messing with the guards at Buckingham Palace, or, you know, goofing on French guys.

KP: I think the movie, while it has political undertones, is not about politics; it’s about two guys and their relationship, their friendship. So, if something is in the news headlines so much, the things that these characters deal with in the film, then it’s kind of fair game to poke fun at … and to do it in a way that’s not politically sided, I think, was very nice.

JH: In some ways, it was like a little bit of therapy, in the sense, to express the frustration and embarrassment there is, because we love America so much, yet America has become kind of, to the world, a joke in certain circles … `But` we don’t feel like Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is making any really massive political statements.

HS: We’re not even saying that it’s necessarily good or bad for Guantanamo Bay to exist, we’re really just saying, “God, it would suck if you went there, right?”

On the potentially notorious “bottomless party” scene:

HS: I think when we had the opportunity to direct this movie, we just thought, “Oh my God,” like, “Our 13-year-old selves right now would say ‘Put as much nudity in this movie as humanly possible. And make it frontal nudity.’” … You can get away with a lot of stuff in these movies as long as it’s not in a sexual context … So, you know, we just tried our best to have a scene that would make those 13-year-olds in ourselves happy.

KP: Before we did the first take of that scene, we were outside of that house, about to open the door, and John looks at me and he says, “Remember this night, because for the rest of your life, you’re gonna be asked what it was like to shoot this scene.” And as soon as we opened the door, I realized how right he was.

NPH: Wasn’t that scene just a, like a merkin mecca? … You’re not allowed to show true vagina. But you can show a fake vagina on top of a true vagina.

JC: That — that night was really weird, because it goes against every instinct — I mean, in the scene, we’re supposed to be gawking. And your real instinct is to look away. You know, because, uh, Adam and Eve and everything. The whole snake thing. Fig leaf. Bad. Don’t look at genitals. But so, it was actually going against every fiber of your being to really look.

On why, as white dudes, Hurwitz and Schlossberg decided to create protagonists of other races:

HS: `Jon and I` grew up in New Jersey … We were friends with a lot of Indian kids, a lot of Asian kids ... and then you watch a movie like Sixteen Candles, and Long Duk Dong appears, and it’s like, “The joke’s on you!” And we just always felt like those cultures were unrepresented in the way that we knew them. Our friends that were Asian and Indian were exactly like us. So, in our minds, we’re like, we can write their movie. I can’t write a movie about the, specifically the Indian-American experience; that’s like The Namesake and Kal. But we can write a movie about a black lesbian who’s hungry, you know, for food. We can do that, because we can share that common feeling. So, it’s really trying to find that thing in the characters that you can totally relate to and identify with. •

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