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Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, the sequel to the modern stoner classic Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, hit theaters last Friday. I sat down with the film's writer/directors -- Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg -- a few days after the release of their film. In the interest of journalistic integrity (and shameless name-dropping), I should tell you that the gentlemen are friends of mine, and all around great dudes.
Cinematical: How did the Hurwitz/Schlossberg magic begin?
Jon Hurwitz: Hayden and I became friends on the Randolph High School debate team and connected over a common love of comedy. We were both obsessed with the movies of the Farrelly Brothers and the Zucker Brothers. We loved Howard Stern. We thought it would be amazing if we could actually make movies one day. But it felt like it was the most unrealistic goal of all time for a couple of dudes hanging out in a basement in New Jersey. What changed everything for us was that in high school we were known for coming up with really funny "Would you rather?" scenarios. We came up with a list of 250 that we were going to try to get published.
Cinematical: What was the best one?
JH: "If you had to be sexually abused, would you rather it be by an android or a Muppet?"
Cinematical: Muppet. It's softer.
Hayden Schlossberg: Exactly. Plain and simple. It would hurt less. That is the correct answer.
JH: Anyway, we wrote this book, but we were about to go to college and never did anything with it. Then a few years later, I saw a book with that very same idea at the store. The guys that wrote it looked exactly like us but five years older. I was kicking myself. I called Hayden that day and said "Forget about writing a script years from now when we're retired. Move in with me this summer at Penn, we'll have jobs during the day, and at night we'll write a screenplay." That first script we were lucky enough to sell our senior year at college. It was called Filthy, because it was filthy. It didn't wind up getting made, but we moved to L.A., sold a couple other projects, kept looking for that next paycheck. Eventually we sold Harold and Kumar, and everything took off from there.
HS: It was such a ridiculous idea that we thought "Let's just spend two weeks to write the whole thing." Our agent loved it, and understood that the ethnicity of the characters was an interesting thing. Harold and Kumar were actually little side characters in Filthy. They weren't fleshed out at all, but one was Korean and one was Indian. We just decided we should make a movie with them as the protagonists. We figured we were the only ones writing that movie. And eventually, we got it made as it was. It was kind of a double whammy, because there hadn't really even been a movie about a Korean guy and a white guy yet. Or an Indian guy and a white guy. This was both at once, and they were the heroes.
Cinematical: The first Harold and Kumar movie had some moments of satire, but the sequel feels a lot more politically charged. Is that intentional?
JH: We wound up using a lot of satire and social commentary to make the scenes funny, but we didn't sit down with the intent of making a statement. No one cares less about politics than us.
HS: When you watch the movie, it's not like we're really siding one way or another on any issue. We're not saying Guantanamo Bay is this horrible atrocity. We knew the movie would be perceived as political because of the subject matter, so we tried to make it as nonpolitical as possible. That may be why there's a lot of sophomoric jokes -- pooping and smearing your ass with the bill of rights and so forth. We needed that stuff, because if it really felt like a real political satire, the fans would have hated it.
JH: We're huge fans of South Park, and we share their viewpoint on politics. If you're a big time conservative, you're a douchebag. If you're a big time liberal, you're a douchebag. If you're big time anything, than you're a douche. Most of the country is somewhere in the middle, and that's why this type of comedy works. Most people are more concerned with what they're doing that day, and trying to feed their family, and drinking some beers and having fun with their friends. But you do get bummed out when your government is embarrassing. In some ways, the movie is a response to post - 9/11 paranoia, and how embarrassing the government has gotten. It's not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing, everyone thinks what is going on in this country sucks.
Cinematical: I would say you guys have the most sympathetic portrayal of George W. Bush in your movie that I've seen.
JH: I truly believe that our portrayal of Bush is accurate, if he was able to be honest to the world. He is the fun, f*ck-up guy who wanted to party most of his life, but eventually got this stern talking-to where he had to go into the family business. So he's stuck running the country, but I think he'd rather just be getting high and listening to music and shooting the shit with a bunch of buddies.
HS: The way we portray Bush is that he's Kumar, but with way more responsibility. The scene with Bush is the most popular in the movie, because you're seeing him with an "R" rating. He's a casual and immature guy. That's in the spirit of the movie, introducing a person or a culture and you think it's going to go one way, but then we flip it. Like there's the inbred couple, and you think they're redneck hicks, but you see their apartment and it looks like yuppies live there. But then they still have a cyclops kid. We like doing all that stuff. When they meet Bush, it's got to be unexpected. And ironically, he saves the day.
Cinematical: For the first time in history. What's next for you guys?
JH: We just finished a script. It's called Soon-To-Be-Titled Hurwitz and Schlossberg Comedy. We might change that title. It's a movie that takes an honest look at the way male friendships change when one guy is getting married in a duo of friends -- almost from one marriage to another. It's a less gimmicky, more real, significantly funnier My Best Friend's Wedding. We turned that in this weekend, and waiting for the studio response was almost as stressful as the release of our film.
Cinematical: Yeah, what goes on in the week leading up to the release of a movie you wrote and directed? It's got to be a lot of pressure.
HS: With the first movie, the reviews were good, all the projections were really big, and everyone thought it would be a big hit. We thought it wouldn't do less than $10 million. And then it opened at five. This time around, we were trying to keep a level head. We knew it would do better than the first, and it still cost around the same, so we weren't nervous about it bombing. Our movie tested higher than any other movie at the studio. The test results show that audiences love it. All the critics may not like it, but the true judges of comedy -- 12 to 15 year old boys -- they decide what's funny. Not Judd Apatow, not studio execs, not us. Prepubescent boys love it and worship Harold and Kumar. Some douchey reviewer may not like it, but thousands of kids will.
JH: We went to the midnight showing Thursday night in Century City. It was sold out and the reaction was electric in there. We felt really positive about it. It's so much fun being in an audience and listening to people laugh and watching them have fun. We're fans, you know? We read every review. We read every blog. Any time it's mentioned online, we read it. We catalog every person that disses the movie. If you've written something negative about Harold and Kumar...sleep with one eye open!
HS: He's not kidding. But seriously, It's the most ridiculous thing in the world. When I see Neil Patrick Harris riding a unicorn on a giant marquee, it makes me so happy because we got two movies made that are just completely ridiculous. It's crazy, you know?
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is in theaters now.