Before A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, Todd Strauss-Schulson had never before made a movie. But oh, what a movie he's made. After telling Warner Bros. he "wanted to be the Christopher Nolan of the Harold & Kumar franchise," Strauss-Schulson made good on his vow. Among his ambitious challenges, he made a set of triplets look stoned, convinced Danny Trejo to defile a spruce and tested his cut under the influence to make sure his jokes were, let's say, lighting the right fires. And if he convinces the studio to let him have a second crack at the franchise, the next Harold & Kumar will be inspired by... Luis Buñuel?
So this is your very first movie.
This is the first thing that I've made that's more than seven minutes long.
Why make Harold & Kumar as your first movie?
I wanted to make a movie my whole life. I've been aggressively myopic my whole life since I was a kid. I made short films in school and in film camp like a real weirdo. I made a couple of shorts that got some attention, so I started getting some scripts. And every time I'd get one, I'd work up an entire presentation like it was science fair. I'd have a big posterboard and everything. After two-and-a-half years of pitching and not booking anything, I was like "F--k this, I'm just going to make a $10,000 movie with my friends instead of this." Literally, the day that I decided to do that, I got the script for Harold & Kumar. I loved those movies. I saw the first one drinking beers with friends in the dorm room. The second one I saw opening night. I was a fan of the franchise, so I read the script and I was like, "I can do this." The script was episodic, it was like nine short films. I loved it. It was a buddy comedy. I loved buddy comedies. It was about guys about to turn 30, and I was about to turn 30. So I went in and gave a huge pitch. I hadn't worked that hard since the haftarah portion of my Bar Mitzvah. I memorized it. I timed it out.
You wore a yarmulke?
I brought knishes for everyone. [Laughs] I said I wanted to be the Christopher Nolan of the Harold & Kumar franchise. And that did it. They hired me.
So I could ask you about the way the film reflects the complexities of racial relations in America, but instead I really want to know how you made the stoned baby in the movie look so high all the time?
[Laughs] Well, she was stoned all the time. Actually, she didn't want to be stoned, so we had to blow smoke in her face like a cat. She was like "Stop it, blaaaahh." We were like, "Smoke this weed, baby."
Ah yes, those infamous stories around the casting crib. What tactics did you take to make that baby laugh all the time?
We used triplets, they were two and a half. I'm not a parent, but I've heard that that is the worst age for a human being to be. We figured if one of them were cranky or crying, we would just switch them out. But what happened was that when one would start crying, they'd all get set off, so it was this three-headed crying baby Hydra monster disaster freaking out. So we had to hire this baby whisperer, this lady named Dawn, who wore bellbottoms and had flowers and feathers in her hair. She was a real character, but she saved our asses. She'd bribe the babies with sugar cubes and candy and tiaras. Everything became a game. Like when the baby rubs its gums [simulating the tell tale gesticulation of cocaine ingestion], she would be like, "Brush your teeth, baby." And the baby just did that. And the coke on her face? That was just powdered sugar. She ate it, too.
Most of your budget probably went to supplying babies with face cocaine.
Most of our time went to that. We actually got her giggling by tickling her feet.
You ever have to do the same thing with Kal Penn?
Kal actually didn't need tickling, but Cho—wow, he needed to be man-handled, he's got this funny bone right behind his ear.
Speaking of bones, let's talk Harold's dick. In the scene where Harold's dick gets stuck to an icy pole, what movie magic did you use to make that seem real-ish?
I suggested to John that we do it with a fake penis, but he insisted that we be "method" and do it for real, so we had to freeze that room, and lubricate his penis a bit. We had medics there just in case we ripped his foreskin off. It was a mess.
And a dick whisperer, too?
Yes, we had the dick whisperer, too. She showed up with feathers in her hair. Actually, it was a fake penis made by the guy who made Dirk Diggler's penis, Nicotero.
As in Greg Nicotero, the zombie makeup artist?
Yeah, he does the best effects. I was obsessed with Nicotero when I was in high school. From Dusk 'Till Dawn, everything. He did all the prosthetics for us. He designed the penis, he designed Wafflebot. I have a cameo in the movie where I get my neck slit, and he put on the prosthetics for it. I just wanted Nicotero to put a fake neck on me and slice it open. It was a dream come true.
I love the idea that he goes from zombies to cocks. Is that on his business card?
He's the cock maestro, actually.
Any favorite stoner movies?
I'm not even sure what a stoner movie actually is. I love The Big Lebowski because I used to watch it really high a lot. Does that count? I've also watched Muppets Take Manhattan a lot stoned.
But a stoner film isn't just one that's good to watch—it's one you almost have to watch stoned, like let's say Titanic 2.
The straight-to-video one?
Yeah, it's a great one.
Muppets Take Manhattan is a great one to watch stoned. I love the songs. It works me up emotionally when they sing goodbye. It kills me every time.
You like that kind of emotional rollercoaster?
Seriously? I need it. It opens me up, and makes me feel like a human being again.
With your dailies, when you were done shooting the footage for the day, did you have to smoke a joint to watch them as the audience would?
No, it's hard to be productive and stoned. It's a bummer. Coming up with ideas, that's another story. Especially little jokes, like Kumar's shirt says "My Parents Went To Miami on Vacation and All I Got Was Molested by My Neighbors." That was a stoned joke. "Get mistle-toasted," that was a stoned joke. Shooting, never. Watching dailies. Never. Editing. Never. Watching the cut? Sometimes.
You have to test it, right, to make sure it's going to work on your audience?
It's helpful. When you are watching those cuts, it sometimes helps even to watch it as a different person for a second. I'm not embarrassed to say it.
When you were coming up with ideas for the 3D scenes, did you get stoned, too?
Well, we were always stoned. But at first, when I heard that they were thinking about making the movie 3D, I was like, "Ugh, what a gimmick," And then I was like "Ooh! What a gimmick!" This could be good, making the world's first 3D stoner movie ever? That sounded pretty good to me. I liked embracing the gimmick. I started feeling like the ringleader or a showman. The movie became a Christmas spectacular. Every kind of movie is in here. You like singing and dancing? Got it. Robots? Got it. You like gore movies? Horror movies?
Got it. Romance? We have it. Clever Jokes? Scatological jokes? Got em. Nudity? Yup. Trejo? We have that.
So let's talk about that first day of shooting with Trejo. What was that like?
He's got a face built for 3D. He was a no-brainer. He was in my original pitch, too. I Photoshopped a picture of him in a horrible-looking Christmas sweater. I love his movies. Love [Robert] Rodriguez and him playing the father-in-law seemed perfect. Him wearing an ugly sweater, kissing a baby, and being a sweet dad? That was great. We were doing anything to create a tension in the movie. A sweet score, Wafflebot saying "I love you," anything to work against the raunch. I love the fact that without saying a line, Trejo's face will get a laugh. Trejo has kids of his own, and he got the joke immediately. He wanted his sweater to be ugly. He wanted to ejaculate on America. He loves his daughters and loved the idea of playing a father. He told me that this was the movie that he had the most dialogue in, ever. He appreciated his monologues.
Here in Los Angeles, I've heard that you can get a lot of different strands of weed with ridiculous names, like Sour Diesel and Train Wreck. What different name brand weeds would come from this movie?
We loved Kwanzaa Cookout. Hanukah Hash was alright. Xmas Ecstasy wasn't a weed strain, but I liked it as a concept. Oh yeah, and Rudolph the Red Eyed Reindeer.
Have you been thinking about sequels to this sequel?
Yeah, I have an idea already. I think it should be A Harold & Kumar Passover, and they should be looking for the afikomen the whole time.
The whole movie, like two hours?
That's it. They look behind the books, in the couch. We'll shoot it in 3D.
It's a bit artsy and existential, too—always on the search for something. Maybe shoot it in black in white.
It will be like a Luis Buñuel movie.