Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) return this week with the help of potty-mouth titans John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg in the long-awaited sequel, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.
Fans will see the return of freewheeling hedonist Neil Patrick Harris, playing himself, but no real detainees. Sorry, James Yee.
Cho is a far cry from his hysterical alter ego, a naive and neurotic junior investment banker complete with self-loathing and type-A tendencies. Even in jeans and a flannel shirt, Cho is serious in person and could even be described as stern.
“I have a habit of shutting down when someone else is talking,” a habit he got from his parents, he explained. “It’s a sign of respect to take your eyes off of someone while they’re talking — to look down, listen and not interrupt.”
And it’s hard not to interrupt when fans often mistake the role for the man.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Where’s Kal? Where’s Kumar?’ They think we’re like [Ben] Affleck and [Matt] Damon,” he chuckled. “We were cast and auditioned. We didn’t write the script together. People think we’re really stoners, but Kal doesn’t even touch the stuff!”
Though Cho does admit to the occasional fart on set. “I had to amuse myself,” he laughed.
Politics were also a point of contention. Kal Penn is pro-Obama, while Cho’s vote went to Dennis Kucinich. And now that Kucinich is out of the race? “I’m just listening as much as anyone else, but I haven’t gone to their Web sites.”
With the Harold and Kumar promotional tour ending, Cho just can’t wait to spend a quiet dinner with his wife, actress Kerri Higuchi, walk his dog and book gigs for his newly renamed band, Viva La Union.
The Los Angeles-based Korean American actor also vows to watch more DVDs and devote “a couple hours of just loitering in a bookstore,” though he was devastated when he learned Cody’s Books had shut down for good. “I loved that place! I’d browse books for hours; it was great. They had a good selection.”
Outside of quiet introspection, Cho has added one celebrity confidante to his list as of late: George Takei, aka Dr. Sulu, the short-lived country crooner. During lunch, the veteran actor gave him some wise insight on the industry.
“[Takei] encouraged me to use Star Trek as an opportunity for whatever I want in life, even though it could become very overwhelming being seen as only one thing for a while,” Cho said. “A lot of attention is paid to this franchise: It can be heavy if you’re not prepared for it.”
And, although Cho is now growing a family of his own in Los Angeles, he doesn’t regret adding Harold and Kumar to his resume.
“Yes, there are stereotypes, but the jokes are solid. It’s revelatory, and lifts up the rock to let the light in so we can laugh at it,” Cho said. “Racism, at its core, it’s a really silly idea. It’s so perversely wrong that it’s laughable — perhaps that’s the best reason to come see the movie.”