It was only a few blocks away from the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles that “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” writers Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz would pen the cult classic about a pair of stoners with a case of the munchies that only the bite-sized burgers could satisfy, so it was ideal that no less than 12 members of the original film’s cast and crew gathered there just a week after the film’s 10-year anniversary to celebrate the film’s unlikely success from the most humble of beginnings. How humble? As Hurwitz explained, “We’d get high every day and drive to Apple Pan because we liked that and we passed a bunch of hamburger chains and we were like ‘there’s a movie here.'” (Director Danny Leiner would note during his introduction to the film, he could barely discern the two writers when he went to meet them at their apartment on Martell Street for the first time, opening the door to find “a cloud of smoke,” adding “these guys were at the forefront of vaping.”)
Somehow, the duo got it together to make a film beloved by audiences and obviously all the members of its cast and crew, including John Cho, Kal Penn, director Danny Leiner, producer Luke Ryan, writers Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz, Eddie Kaye Thomas, David Krumholtz, Chris Meloni and Kate Kelton who all gathered at the New Bev to recall making the surprisingly progressive cinematic landmark. The event was put on by Kory Davis, a 14-year-old at the time of the film’s release who gave a heartfelt introduction about how he promoted the film at his family-run theater in Louisiana and has made a habit in recent months of resurrecting nostalgic hits from the ’90s and early ’00s in L.A. Before “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” continues the celebratory run that eluded it during its initial release with midnight screenings at New York’s IFC Center in September, here are some highlights from the reunion.
Harold and Kumar faced long odds before they even tried going to White Castle. Hurwitz and Schlossberg had been putting Harold and Kumar into all of their screenplays before stumbling upon the burger run idea, which led them to put the characters front and center, but pitching that to studios was next to impossible. “Our logic at the time was like nobody else is writing a stoner comedy about an Asian dude and an Indian dude going to get White Castle,” said Hurwitz, though as Leiner remembered, “Before the casting and trying to get the money before Luke [Ryan, the executive producer] came on, we were going to a couple of the studios and one was like, “Look, we really love this movie. Why don’t we do it with a white guy and a black dude?”
Penn fondly recalled how Hurwitz didn’t exactly make a great first impression on their first meeting at a birthday party, mentioning shortly after Penn introduced himself, “Hey, you don’t have an Indian accent,” to which Penn said, “‘No,’ and I’m thinking to myself, ‘No, and you’re a shitbag.’ [But] I had this movie called ‘Van Wilder’ that had just come out, and like okay, that’s fair.” To their credit, Cho praised Hurwitz and Schlossberg for making the script “even more culturally specific stuff to begin with than made it into the movie as a defensive move to tell anybody that was reading, we’re really committed to the ethnicities of these characters.” As Schlossberg said, “There had never been an Asian character without an accent except for him as the MILF guy. A lot of people read the script and just assumed they might be foreign exchange students, so you really had to emphasize that these guys were born in America. It was a totally different world.”
Joining the Harold club. John Cho made sure to point out that the original Harold was in the audience – Harold Lee, a friend of Schlossberg and Hurwitz from the University of Penn who has since become a pal of Cho’s. Cho believes it was because Harold would get mistaken for him, “the MILF guy” from “American Pie” that the screenwriters were bullish on him for the role of the Korean investment banker, and after the film came out, the tables turned, much to the delight of Cho. “It’s a very specific pleasure to walks the streets of Los Angeles with Harold Lee and have people yell Harold, have Harold turn around and be met with a blank stare.” It turns out that isn’t the only person Cho has bonded with over the years because of his alter ego. Cho recalled once picking up his mail at his PO Box when a man came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. “He’s like “hey, I’m a Harold.” [pointing at himself and back at Cho] It was Bud Cort, who’s Harold in “Harold and Maude.”
Playing Freakshow was all in the nuances. Cho acknowledged that stunt casting was crucial to getting “Harold and Kumar” made, even though one of the film’s biggest names was unrecognizable in the film. Still, Cho called it one of the film’s “early victories” when Chris Meloni signed on for Freakshow, the heavily pock-marked mechanic who picks up the boys in the forest and takes them to meet his incongruously hot wife (Malin Akerman). Meloni, who joked he was “burnt out chasing perverts all the time” on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” was actually excited to spend four hours in the makeup chair to create the character, yet he knew something wasn’t right. As he recalled, “They put me in the testing of the makeup, everything’s beautiful and I said, “Where are the teeth?” The said, “Oh, there’s no teeth.” Like you can’t have a guy looking like this up top without having these pearly whites below. It’s absolutely not going to make sense. Personally for me, the teeth made Freak Show.” Well, that and one other suggestion made by director Danny Leiner. “When we’re in the car driving when Freak Show picks these two guys up and they’re arguing and I whisper to them, “I heard everything you said.” I walked over [after the take] and said, how was that one? He goes, ‘Try hee-erd — I ‘her-erd’ you.” There you go. It was teeth and ‘hee-erd.'” The heavy makeup also allowed Meloni to come back for the sequel as the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Neil Patrick Harris had no problem signing on, but probably thought about signing off. Hurwitz confirmed that no other celebrity was ever considered in the role of the famous hitchhiker Harold and Kumar picked up, despite past mentions of Ralph Macchio as an alternate. However, Harris may have had his doubts after agreeing to be in the film, learning of “Harold and Kumar” through other people in the business who knew of a script floating around that he was written into, though no one had gotten in touch with him to be in it. After receiving assurances from the writers and director Danny Leiner that his role wouldn’t only be to make fun of his most famous role to date of Doogie Howser M.D, he was in. Yet as Leiner recalled, the first day on set wasn’t easy. “The first take we did was with Sandy Jobin-Bevans, the cop, and I like to let the actors improv. We get the script and then we have fun and play around and probably the first take, Sandy was pretty wound up and all he did for a five-minute run was Doogie Howser jokes. I was wondering how Neil was dealing with it or whatever and as we’re getting ready to do take two, I hear, “Danny, could I talk to you for a sec?” As Schlossberg said, “I’ll never forget just being there on set and realizing what a crazy immense talent that he really was. Our logic was no matter what, the lines would work for the audience based on who he was and his persona, but his performance is why the character is just at the level that he’s at and it was just a crazy, crazy stroke of luck that he agreed to do it.”
The unexpected franchise survived death more than once. Compared to the raucous reaction at the New Beverly, Hurwitz recalled how after the film breezed through the test screening process to the extent a sequel script was commissioned, the cast and crew piled into two limos to drive around Los Angeles on opening day to various theaters for what was intended to be a victory lap, only to discover “half-empty to basically empty theaters” at every stop. While Hurwitz was in the “fun” limo with the actors, Schlossberg was in the “bummed” limo with the executives and even after the production company paid for the two to go to Amsterdam for research on the sequel (“Probably my favorite part of my entire career,” said Schlossberg), the studio quickly put the kibosh on further adventures of Harold and Kumar. “They didn’t wait until Monday, they called us on Saturday,” said Hurwitz. “They’re just like, ‘Stop writing. We’re not doing another one.’ And we were like you saw the response – audiences are going to find it on DVD.” New Line wasn’t convinced, but six months later, Hurwitz said they were offered a direct-to-video sequel, which the writers passed on, and after another year, the two got the go-ahead for a proper follow-up. Now, the two are hard at work on a Harold and Kumar animated series for Adult Swim that Hurwitz promised, “For Adult Swim, it’s the weirdest fucking show ever,” with the entire cast coming back to lend their voices.
The deleted scene you will never see. When asked if a spinoff was ever considered for Harold and Kumar’s Jewish stoner counterparts Goldstein (David Krumholtz) and Rosenberg (Eddie Kaye Thomas) who lived just across the hall, Krumholtz didn’t dismiss the notion, but he clearly wanted to get something off his chest, much to the chagrin of Thomas. “I’m not even going to call this trivia, I’m going to call this tragedy,” said Krumholtz before explaining how Goldstein and Rosenberg were originally supposed to appear in Harold’s fever dream of the Land of Burgers before some actual pot smoking ruined the Krumholtz described: “At one point, [Harold] sees us and I’m dressed up like Ali G and [Eddie] is dressed up as a Hasidic jew, so they filmed us up against a green screen dancing and doing all kinds of stuff. Then they put hot dogs in our hands because we went to Hot Dog Heaven and we were sword fighting with the hot dogs. And I was like, ‘Hey, you know what would be funny…if Eddie gets down on his knees in front of me, sticks his tongue out and I put the hot dog like it was my dick and I slap his tongue with the hot dog.’ And we filmed. And it was uproariously funny. Then that night, this is where weed goes bad. We went back to Eddie’s hotel room and he and I, as we did, smoked a bunch of weed and Eddie got a little paranoid and flipped out and was like, “They can’t use that take.” ‘American Pie 2’ is coming out and I can’t have anyone see… it looks like your dick! Am I wrong?” [I reassured him] No one’s actually going to think I pulled my dick out and slapped your tongue with it on camera. And precious Eddie — he apologized for this earlier tonight — he went to set the next morning and demanded that the producers destroy the tape. And they did. They destroyed that take and it’s probably the greatest moment of my career.”