Kal Penn, the man behind such characters as “Kumar” from “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” and “Taj” from “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,” recently spoke to The Quad regarding his latest film, “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj,” where he reprises his title character.Audiences may be wondering why a sequel to the now-classic “Van Wilder” would even be necessary in the first place, especially with the absence of its star Ryan Reynolds. Penn felt the same way. “They actually called me up and said ‘how do you feel about doing another Van Wilder?’ But Ryan Reynolds was him. How could you do another one?” When he heard it was going to be a sequel or spin-off starring his character from the original installment, Penn initially declined and said he did not want to do a “lame knock-off sequel.”
“But we had a meeting. They told me about the idea, about how Taj becomes the new Van Wilder.” Eventually, Penn warmed up to the idea, and in order to ensure that the movie did not turn out to be the “lame knock-off sequel” he dreaded, he signed on as a producer as well.
But out of all the characters featured in the original, why focus on the Taj? Penn shared his own feelings on the character. “I think the thing about him is that everybody can relate to him. In the first one, he is the guy who wants to get laid. He’s kinda dorky, he doesn’t know how to do it, and he’s uncomfortable in his own skin. Now (in “Van Wilder 2″), everyone can see the transformation where he becomes comfortable with who he is. He’s the guy. He didn’t live up to anyone else’s expectations, he is himself.”
Despite the success of movies like “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle,” Penn was actually surprised that they managed to do so well.
“When (“Harold and Kumar”) didn’t do well (theatrically), the folks that ran the show said ‘this isn’t going to work.’ When it came out on DVD, people bought it and rented it and gave it to their friends.”
Penn noted that there’s no market for DVDs, and when a movie does well on DVD, “it’s all the fans saying ‘we like this movie, we want to buy this movie because because it’s funny.’ When you do movies, you do them for those that enjoy watching them.”
While the characters that Penn has played have been beloved by audiences everywhere, just exactly how similar is he to his alter egos on the silver screen?
“They’re very different from me in real life. I guess, well Taj is a lot more quirky among many other things. Kumar, well, I don’t smoke weed and I’m not a stoner. I’ve never had a desire to go to medical school, I’ve never had problems with my parents.”
Penn, who found his niche in acting after performing in a play in middle school, stating that he began to love storytelling.
While he hasn’t done any stage acting lately, he expressed his desire to someday act in a Broadway play.
In addition to “Van Wilder 2,” you can also catch Penn in “Superman Returns” as one of Lex Luthor’s minions. He is also in the film “The Namesake,” directed by Mira Nair.
“She is my favorite director so far, the attention to detail that she pays is so awesome. I’ve never seen anyone focus so much details.”
Penn thanks his fans at West Chester University, and nationwide, for continuing to support him. “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj” is now in theaters everywhere.