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High Times: Now 39, John Cho Still Happy to Celebrate a 'Harold & Kumar Christmas'

From left: John Cho, "second-act demigod" Neil Patrick Harris and Kal Penn star in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, now playing at the Metreon.

John Cho is tired of getting high – literally, at least. That doesn’t mean he’s ready to retire Harold Lee, the normally cautious investment banker whose buttoned-down approach goes up in smoke whenever he’s around best buddy Kumar Patel. But Cho, who stars opposite Kal Penn in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, could certainly use a break from flying.
 
After tour stops in Chicago, Washington and Toronto, the 39-year-old Seoul, South Korea, native has arrived at San Francisco’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel to promote the doped-up duo’s latest misadventure, and make no mistake, his spirit is willing. But his body? Not so much.
 
“I’m sick of traveling,” he says, almost apologetically. “When I was younger, it looked so glamorous, but it’s not fun anymore, racing through airports every day. It’s going to sound very old mannish, but I feel like I’m getting motion sickness from the cumulative airplane and car travel. You know… bitch, bitch, bitch.”

Before you crucify the boyish-looking actor for bemoaning this lifestyle of the rich and famous, remember that, like Dante, the overworked protagonist of Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Cho wasn’t supposed to be here today.



Penn, his on-screen partner in crime, is playing hooky to film an episode of TV’s How I Met Your Mother. The studio initially planned to cancel the press day, but Cho, who loves San Francisco, vowed to soldier on by his lonesome. So forgive him a minor case of road fatigue.
 
By now, Cho is used to working without Kumar’s real-life alter ego. When he visited the Bay Area in 2008 for Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, Penn was busy serving as President Barack Obama’s associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. And when filming started for 3D Christmas, which begins just as Harold and Kumar’s relationship seems to have permanently soured, he was once again missing in action.
 
“It was odd,” Cho says of his brief on-set separation from Penn. “I mean no disrespect to the super-talented Tom Lennon, who played Harold’s Ghost of Christmas Future, but it was weird to be doing a Harold & Kumar movie without Kumar sitting next to me in the car. But it was a great conceit, and when we got back together it felt right. Apparently we’ve developed a rhythm over the years.”

That Harold and Kumar’s friendship endures, even after Kumar clumsily sabotages his onetime BFF’s family Christmas tree, comes as little surprise. What did surprise Cho, who shot the pair’s first outing, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, nearly eight years ago, is that their chemistry remains compelling, and the jokes, written by longtime franchise screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, are still fresh.


 
“I was worried about it,” he says. “In fact, I remember the rehearsal process being a little bumpy. It was just us reading through the scenes at a table, and I remember thinking, ‘Do we have this yet?’ But that was just smoke. Once we got on set and into the costumes, it all fell into place. But I wondered if we still had the right stuff.
 
“Of course, it starts with the script, and we finish it, but neither of us could do it without that writing. It’s kind of particular – we’ve done promotional bits, in character, where the ad writers miss very essential things. Harold and Kumar are an odd couple. They should be bickering. Whatever Kumar thinks, Harold thinks the opposite. But when it comes to the movies, we’ve been fortunate to have the same writers every time. I wouldn’t do a Harold & Kumar movie without them.”
 
Whether Cho, who is married with a son and turns 40 next June, could still relate to Harold’s twentysomething buffoonery was also in doubt. The actor says he didn’t want the third movie to pick up just minutes after the second left off because he felt disconnected from that time in his own life. Luckily, Hurwitz and Schlossberg hit the fast-forward button, giving the character some genuinely adult perspective.


 
“I like that Harold is older and starting a family. The tug between the new life and the old life is what makes the story interesting to me,” Cho says. “Yet he’s still the same in a lot of ways. I mean, I’m aging too, but I feel like the truly essential parts of myself are still the same as always. I don’t think that stuff changes.



“Would I do another Harold & Kumar movie? Short answer – why not? But it would have to reflect some changes in their lives and circumstances. Even for the third one, I didn’t think we could keep going in the same direction the first two went, with all the social satire. And what we made here is, at heart, a warm and fuzzy genre picture, a Christmas movie with a quintessential Harold & Kumar twist, which means it’s sullied with a lot of fart jokes.”

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is now playing at the AMC Metreon and the Regal Jack London in Oakland. For tickets and showtimes, click here.