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INT: Danny Leiner

07.29.2004

Question...do you and your buds enjoy smoking a bowl after a long week of having your balls busted at work? Do you look back on the good old days when raunchy teen sex comedies actually had T&A in them? Do you remember the last time you had an uncontrollable craving for your favorite junk food? Um, do you have Asian and Indian friends? Do you miss the great Neil Patrick Harris like the desert misses the rain?

Well, if you answered 'yes' to all of the above questions then all your prayers will be answered with the release of HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE coming to a theater near you on July 30th. I had a chance to meet with its director Danny Leiner (DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR) about a week ago when he was in Montreal to screen his film for the Montreal Just for Laughs festival. As soon as I saw the man, I knew it would be a fun interview - he was fuckin’ baked! He even smoked the napkins at our table. Okay, I’m bending the truth a bit, but he was a very cool guy and the interview was easily one of the favorites I’ve ever done. After he got done telling me how badly he wanted to sample our Montreal-based delicacy “the poutine” (french fries drowned in gravy and cheese), he sat down and we spoke a little about the film, his life and of course “the weed”…

director
DANNY LEINER

Dude, Where’s My Car? can be qualified as a stoner movie and of course “Harold and Kumar” definitely is, I was wondering if you have one more in you - if you’re going to go for the trilogy?

Good question, you know, it’s funny, I didn’t want to do H&K, because I didn’t want to do the second broad comedy in a row but I loved the script so much that I was like: “Goddamnit, I’m going to end up doing this movie”, because it just made me laugh like on every page. So, about a third movie, well, I would do the sequel to H&K, if we do Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam, that would be the third one, I think. There’s talk about doing a third one (H&K), like to keep it as a trilogy, to do three of them and then just go off and do something else. I actually would do it, my instinct is not to do it, but I don’t know why, for no reason other then I like working in 3’s, you know comedy is often based in 3’s, you know rhythm and jokes. But, I also want to go do other movies and I actually just did another movie…

Yeah, The Great New Wonderful… about, 9/11?

Um, you know, it’s five separate stories and it takes place a year after 9/11 and it’s an interesting movie because 9/11 “in form” is in the movie but it’s not specifically about it, none of the characters are specifically dealing with personal loss from 9/11 or involvement necessarily. It’s about the shock and catharsis and things that 9/11 caused and the rippling effect of it. So it’s very much about 9/11 but not also specifically, it’s really about these five personal stories of these characters.

Reminiscent of The 25th Hour I think, in that sense. It’s in the background, but it’s not necessarily about it.

Yeah, exactly, it definitely has that element to it. It’s a story I developed with my producing partner Matt Tauber and the writer Sam Catlin and we spent a lot of time on it cause it’s an important subject. And it’s also, for me, back to my roots in New York, independent filmmaking, which is where I came from. Yeah, it’s a cool movie, very different than “Dude” and H&K.

Yeah, shake things up a bit. 

Yeah, I basically like to do things that are different. I also like to do stuff I like, that speaks to me, whether it’s broad comedy or…The Great New Wonderful has comedic elements but it’s not specifically a comedy.

The sequel to H&K, are you guys going to wait to see how this does and then go officially into it? Is it a sure thing yet?

The writers have commenced writing it; we’ve had some meetings. I think it’s going to be pretty funny but I think it won’t be determined whether we go ahead with it until we see how H&K performs in the movie theaters. We’re getting ahead of the game, so we’ll be ready to go. We’re optimistic so we want to be ready.

Jon and Hayden (the writers of H&K) mentioned that all of you had spent a lot time together, chilling out, even when you weren’t shooting. I was wondering what you did and if that helped bring the dynamic to the film?

Well, I can’t really say everything we did but uh…

I think we can imagine considering the subject of the film.

Yeah, you can make an educated guess. A couple of things, one is, it’s unusual for writers to come up and be on a movie set but because I loved the script so much and I love the voice of the characters, I thought Jon & Hayden’s sense of comedy and sense of humor related to these characters was so important to the movie that I brought them up to be there for the whole shoot. It was their first feature that had been produced so it was great and unique experience for them to be on a movie set - their own movie set!

It was great thing for the movie too because I got to utilize them, have them do rewrites and work on scenes as we were up there. And then with John (Cho) and Kal (Penn), the guys are really affable and they have chemistry together as friends that you really feel, it’s like a palpable thing between them. And one of the things I wanted to optimize as much as I could was the relationship between them so I brought those guys up a couple of weeks early and just had them hang out. You know, go around Toronto and learn about the city and really become friends. It could’ve been disastrous I guess but it worked out great because they became really good friends. We all became good friends and we would hang out. So, that’s how that evolved…

As a matter of fact, it’s really fun now when we do publicity for the movie, we get to go…like we went to Austin for this Ain’t It Cool News event that was really fun and I’m going to go see John and Kal; they’re in Toronto today doing an event and we’re here in Montreal, we’re going to meet in New York and do some more press there. It’s great, it’s a good bunch of people and that’s what makes me want to do the next movie. Between liking the comedy and liking the people it’s a fun thing to think about…

I have to tell you, Neil Patrick Harris was my favorite part of the film…

Right on…

His lines were hilarious, did he improvise a lot of that or was it just in the script? It just seemed so natural…

Like the movie, a lot of it was in the script and there’s a lot of bits to it that are improv that usually are ripping off what’s in the script. So like when Neil comes in and goes: “What’s uuup?” he’s just bringing to it. Some of the stuff like him humping the chair or licking the thing was stuff we were doing that night, when we were working in front of the gas station. But most of it was in the script. But he brought such great commitment to it, you know, playing this version, this “character” of Neil Patrick Harris is just amazing. I mean he really kind of blew us away. It was always one of my favorite things in the script but to see him embrace it and just really go for it with relish was really fun and he brought so much to the party.

Okay, the obvious question, in your opinion what are some of the best movies to watch when you’re baked out of your skull?   

Dumb and Dumber is a good one to watch…um, what else, I have to thing about it. I guess it’s an obvious question but…What else? What do you like to watch when you’re stoned?

Oh, I don’t know. I guess more serious films work.

Yeah, sometimes. Like a movie like Brazil

Or a Cronenberg movie…

Yeah, totally, They Came From Within (known as Shivers in Canada). But sometimes that can be really creepy, like Ringers or something…

I already asked the writers this. What’s your record for White Castle burgers inhaled in one sitting?

I think I’ve probably done about 12 or something.

Really?

They’re tiny. You could really…

Yeah, I only had them once, I was in New York, we don’t have them up here.

You gotta go get poutine up here. That’s what I’m going to get. I had it in Toronto, but…

It was born here.

We just came here last night and I haven’t been to the city (Montreal) since I was a little kid so I’m going to go right now, after this, and get some…

Cool. Luis Guzman’s scenes were cut out and it seems like there must have been a lot of stuff that it just killed you to cut out. I’m wondering will there be a lot of the footage on the DVD?

Um, yeah. There’s a lot of really good stu--- I’m thinking about movies that I’d want to watch stoned. I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be one to go back and watch stoned.  Did you see that movie?

Yeah, yeah. It’s my top film of the year so far.

I wasn’t stoned but I was thinking that movie would be really fun to watch stoned.

Adaptation, Being John Malkovich…

Adaptation would be great! Any of his - Kaufman’s movies, because they’re so trippy.

I’m really excited. I spent a lot of time on the DVD. We actually have been working really hard on it recently because they’re going to release it, I think, in December. We’re going to have a number of really cool deleted scenes, the Luis Guzman scene, that used to be in the end of the movie, originally Harold came back and found Luis instead of Maria. It’s a hilarious scene. And we have a couple of Rosenberg and Goldstein things that got cut out. There is a number of extended Freakshow stuff that’s really funny. On top of that we did a little sequence about the making of “Land of Burgers”, the animated sequence…

The website is excellent, by the way…

The website is done by the guy who did our animated sequence in the movie. It was total continuity there. That’s funny because you just mentioned that, just because I talked about animation sequence. There is a total similarity to it, in a great way. Then we have a little documentary feature on “The Art of the Fart”, which is the sound…

When the girls are in the washroom.

Yeah, the battleship scene.

I like that they’re British too. It just makes it funnier.

Me too. To me it was like an homage to The Odd Couple, where you had these sisters called the Pigeon sisters; these prim and proper ladies. There’s going to be CD-ROM part of the DVD that’s going to have the storyboards correlated to the script. Cause we storyboarded a number of the sequences, the handgliding and the raccoon and the “weedy” sequence. And them some outtakes. Really good commentary, one of the extreme sports punks, not the lead guy but the second guy is this hilarious guy named Dan Bochart.

So we have him doing commentary from the beginning to the end of the movie, just by himself, in a room. It’s a whole separate commentary by extreme sports punk #1 and he’s fuckin’ hilarious and he barely talks about the movie, it’s all just about him and things like his favorite part of the movie was getting to eat the Kraft service - the catering. So, he’s hysterical and you get to hear about a Toronto skateboard punk and his adventures and he doesn’t stop talking for an hour and a half. I think, for better or for worse that could be one of the highlights of the DVD.

The courtship of the weed bag was a great scene. Do you have any favorite moments?

Two of my favorite parts of the movie are the anti-drug commercial…

It’s like Reefer Madness.

That’s what I was going for, that kind of vibe. And the weed bag, “weedy”, like I call it and then it ends in the “raging bag” or “raging bull” kind of sequence in the end which is a cool twist on it.

What are some of the burger joints you used to frequent?

In Brooklyn, where I grew up, we have a couple of White Castles so we used to make those 2 a.m. jaunts over to get some burgers there. You know, late night, there’s not that many other great chains for that stuff other than diners. I was a big fan of diners so in Brooklyn there are a few diners that we would hit. Or we’d go down to Chinatown and go hit like Wo Hops at like 2 in the morning. Not a huge fan of McDonald’s. Either late night diners or Chinese…

This is an easy one. Do you think marijuana should be legalized?

I would say yes. I’m a big fan of the legalization. I think it would be a good thing. One of the cool things about H&K is that I really like the way it treats people getting high, not as like the kind of goofy, sidekick stoner characters or just the cartoon version of stoners. These are just regular guys. Harold is an investment banker, Kumar is going to go to medical school. They’re really smart and they’re functioning people in society. So I think that’s a cool portrayal of them that I haven’t really seen in a comedy - which is reality. You know, people get high, they don’t get high, they drink, whatever.

Finally, who are some of the comedy directors you look up to, past and present?

Woody Allen, Preston Sturges, I like the Farrelly brothers, Buster Keaton, old stuff…

Slapstick…

Yeah, I tend to gravitate towards that stuff. Charlie Chaplin...

Harold Lloyd?

Harold Lloyd’s awesome. Those are some of the people I respect and look up to.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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