Smoking Around the Christmas Tree with John Cho

Take the first question in an interview with the Guardian: Is Cho surprised that, having gone to White Castle in 2004 and Guantanamo Bay in 2008, we’re sitting here talking about a third “Harold & Kumar” movie?
He doesn’t miss a beat.

“God told me there would be 12,” he intones, staring at the ceiling.

But Cho — who played Harold Lee in “Harold & Kumar” and Hikaru Sulu in the “Star Trek” reboot, and popularized the term “MILF” in “American Pie” — has always been a smart aleck.

“I was born in Korea, lived there until I was 6,” Cho said. “Then we moved to America and our first Christmas here, my mom and dad tried to do it the American way, you know, with Santa Claus. It didn’t work because they wrapped our presents in a Hoover vacuum box, and we had just bought a Hoover vacuum. So I said to my parents, ‘What’s with the charade?’”

He pronounces it “sher-ahd,” dragging out the “a” sound.

“[My parents] said, ‘What’s a charade? And why are you pronouncing it so weird?’”

This year, for the very first time, Cho and his wife are buying into the tradition so their son can grow up listening for reindeer and addressing wish lists to the North Pole. How old is Cho’s kid?

“Fourteen.”

His publicists laugh, seeing that he’s scored a hit. His son is actually three.

“Harold & Kumar go to White Castle” seemed unlikely to launch a franchise. It was an unapologetically raunchy stoner flick written by two unknowns, starring an Asian-American and an Indian-American. It also dealt with racial stereotypes in an unself-conscious way guaranteed to make the politically correct squirm.

“I’m more surprised than anyone that we’re sitting here talking about the third movie,” Cho said. “I didn’t think that the first one would get made, after I read the script. After I was cast, I didn’t believe it would get made, and during rehearsal I wasn’t sure there would be cameras when we showed up.”

But now Harold and Kumar have returned for “A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas,” set six years after the first two flicks. Harold and Kumar have grown apart; Harold is a successful businessman, drug-free, married to the girl of his dreams and trying to start a family. Kumar, on the other hand, lives in a permanent cloud of pot smoke in the grungy apartment he once shared with Harold. The two haven’t spoken for years.

Although they are no longer dealing with the college-relatable hassles of grad school applications and bottom-rung jobs, Cho said the movie is still relevant to its core audience.

“It’s still college humor, first of all,” he said. “And also, when you’re in college you make these incredibly tight friendships, either with people that you lived with or people that shared your major. And after college, you know, it seems impossible, but you start to drift apart, and you sit there thinking, ‘How is this possible? I was so close to you, and now it feels like I don’t know you at all.’ And that’s something that I think college kids can draw parallels with.”

Luckily, Christmas magic brings the two back together for the same brand of madcap, drug-addled adventures that characterized the first two films. It’s an early holiday release — the film comes out Nov. 4, pre-empting Thanksgiving and barely passing Halloween.

“I have no idea why we’re releasing it so soon,” Cho said, turning to his publicists. “Do you guys know?”

“No. But they’re already selling Christmas wrapping paper at Costco,” his publicist answered from across the room.

“If it’s good enough for Costco then it’s good enough for me,” Cho said. “Why are you questioning it? This is my early holiday gift to you college kids; just appreciate it. God.”

In a series known for being visually ridiculous (The first flick featured a ride on a cheetah’s back and Kumar making love to a giant anthropomorphic bag of pot), the third movie sets a new standard. 3-D effects aside, it runs a visual gauntlet with Claymation scenes, slow-mo shootouts with Russian gangsters and a big Christmas musical number starring Neil Patrick Harris.

“[The musical] was the most fun to do,” Cho said. “It was the most incredible homage to the old Hollywood ones. If you ever get the chance to do a musical with Neil Patrick Harris — if you ever get that chance — just take it.”
Cho will have a big year in 2012, when he’ll appear in the next “Star Trek” movie, the remake of “Total Recall” and “American Pie: Reunion.” As for Harold and Kumar, now that they’ve defied expectations and made it to movie number three, there could be more down the line.

“I wouldn’t mind doing one,” Cho said. “It’s been suggested that they go to Comic-Con. Harold and Kumar could go to the United Nations. Harold and Kumar could go to the free health clinic. ‘Harold & Kumar Get Diabetes’.”

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