KAL PENN, ART ALEXAKIS (EVERCLEAR), AND JONNY DUBOWSKY (JONNY LIVES!)

Interview by Mark Walters

If you saw the first VAN WILDER movie, chances are you quickly fell in love with Taj, played by the very talented Kal Penn.  Well the powers that be heard that love, and decided to make the spin-off center around that lovable supporting character.  This time Taj takes the Van Wilder role, heading to a British college, and finding himself becoming a mentor to the nerdy kids of the school.  Audiences also remember Penn well from when he played Kumar in the cult classic comedy HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE.  Since then he's appeared in a wide variety of films, including big blockbusters like SUPERMAN RETURNS, and even independent films like THE NAMESAKE.  I had a chance to sit down with Kal and talk about VAN WILDER 2: THE RISE OF TAJ, where we also discussed the film's soundtrack with musicians Art Alexakis (Everclear) and Jonny Dubowsky (Jonny Lives!).  The following are excerpts from the interview.



MARK: Jonny you've got the title track on here.  That's pretty cool, the first track.  I was just listening to it last night on Myspace.  My God, Myspace has just totally taken over the internet.

KAL: We use each other's Myspaces, so readers can look us up.

MARK: I know, there's links to you guys, there's links to Kal, there's links to the soundtrack and the movie.

ART: Isn't that great?

MARK: It is, it's a great way to get it out there.

JONNY: We all have our separate groups of individual fans, and it's making kind of a broader community with it.  You can get together and talk about the movie or talk about the music.  That's one of the good things about Myspace.  It gets kids talking and not just playing video games.  It's an interactive sort of community.

MARK: It's a pretty big deal to get on a soundtrack too, I would imagine.

JONNY: Yeah, we were talking about how it all came together, and it really was amazing for us to all come together and do this.  The song kind of embodies some of the themes of the movie and Kal's character Taj.  In the first film he's kind of unsure about himself, and on a journey to become more of a party figure.  He was in search for a particular element of partying.  And the writing of this, Get Steady, is that he's about all of those elements, and how I came to them as a young man traveling the world and getting in trouble with various levels of memory.  I think we're all really excited.  We got to make a video for that, which was a lot of fun, and that gets to take the concept even a little bit further and put a little political spin on it.

Concerning his crazy day in the UK mentioned on his Myspace

JONNY: Interesting you should ask.  It was more like 55 hours.  I was on the tail end of a tour with the Kaiser Chiefs, and I wound up at a bar, the Notting Hill Arts Club.  I ran into Dave Grohl, who I knew from New York just kind of briefly in passing.  He was getting harassed by some fans.  And I, although a big fan, I was a friendly face in the crowd to just kind of help get him out of that.  And the bartender gave us a bottle of tequila to sort of lubricate our defense mechanisms, and we took it into the bathroom because we couldn't figure out how to open it, and we ended up smashing it against a urinal, and drinking copious amounts from a broken bottle.

ART: Not from the urinal.

JONNY: Then I was at the MTV Music Awards and another band, The Sleepy Jacksons, taught me how to destroy a hotel room.

MARK: Nice.

JONNY: We were very delicate at our attempts at taking apart this hotel room.  And we wound up on a flight back to New York, and this song and the riff and the whole idea kind of came to me as I got back to New York.  I went to the only place I thought I could go, which was the bar where it all kind of started for me, called Niagara, and wrote the song on a cocktail napkin.  That was a pretty good weekend, I have to say.

MARK: Lubricating defense mechanisms... can I use that?

JONNY: Absolutely.

MARK: That's great.

KAL: The cool thing is, I actually just sent out a bulletin this morning about our cities and where people can come hang out with us.  The whole purpose of doing a press tour aside from the journalism stuff is being able to meet all the people who have supported the film and music and stuff.  So we do these college things every night in each city, and it's cool to meet these kids afterwards.  And then to provide something interactive on Myspace.  I mean I know some bands or movies do a thing where it's just a strictly marketing thing and they're totally removed from it, and I think that's kind of lame.  But I know that we're all active with that kind of stuff.  We're artists for the sake of being able to share it with people, so it's awesome you get that immediate feedback.

JONNY: I feel like I have a responsibility now, cause I've started asking questions of fans and stuff.  Then you get all these responses, and you can't just leave the interaction hanging.  You've got to go back in and write back.  It's really almost like you've got pen pals across the world.

ART: Talk about instant gratification.  You can send out a blog, and before I can get back to the homepage, there's already like 5 or 10 responses, cause there's so many thousands of people.  We've got 32,000 people.

KAL: Holy sh... I only have 2000.

ART: Well give it time.  You've got to send out blasts to people.  I'll get people that will say "You guys suck!  You guys suck!"

KAL: Well see my 2000 are dedicated.

ART: It's funny because there are bands that will have like one hit, and they'll have 150,000 friends  A lot of people will just collect friends just to get their numbers up.  I've gone and weeded people out.  If you don't have a photo on your default, I don't have ya.  Cause they're usually the people that send the porn... hate those people.

MARK: Like when you see someone that's got over a million friends, it's like "Come on, really?  You have a million friends?"

KAL: Dane Cook does, but I think he legitimately has 'em.

MARK: Yeah he probably does.

JONNY: What was the.. Tila Carrila?

MARK: Oh, Tila Tequila?

ART: Oh that girl?

KAL: Oh that girl... ha-ha!

JONNY: She's a phenomenon.

ART: Someone showed me a picture of her on like some TV show saying she's primed to be like the biggest Myspace page ever.  That's what you're doing with your life?  That's what you want to do?

MARK: There's one girl, Forbidden is her Myspace name, and she's made a whole business out of it.  She had so many friends, she started up her own clothing business, she's making a ton of money, she was just in Playboy... it's just amazing what that site can get people.

JONNY: The American Dream.

MARK: Yeah.

Kal talks about what to expect from the new film

KAL: It's not a sequel, but rather a spin-off.  That was part of the development process, and it was really important to me not to make it some lame knockoff sequel.  To actually make it a real story, which is the whole reason I did it to begin with.  It's Taj four years older, so he goes from being this one-dimensional sidekick guy to being four years older and has come into his own as a human being.  He hasn't dissimilated, he's just cool because of who he is.  And because he's four years older he goes to an Oxford-type school in the UK, and he thinks he's going to be in the same secret society his dad was in.  Turns out he gets rejected from that society and the only place he can live is a reject freshmen dorm, where there's a bunch of kids who remind him of himself four years ago.  So they're sort of the Taj character, and he teaches them to find sort of their own personal greatness.  And there's the same sort of t&a jokes that people liked from the first one, but with the same kind of heart that you saw with Ryan's character.  There's a love interest and a whole bunch of insane crap that goes on, including a bunch of really interesting jokes about the British aristocracy.  We took some liberty with it, so I'm kind of now playing this American guy, who was an Indian exchange student, who is now in he UK... you can have some fun with that.  So there's some politically insensitive jokes in there.

ART: Didn't you say there were some jokes about colonization?

KAL: Yeah.  I mean, how can you do a movie like that, I know it's VAN WILDER, but I had to put a couple things in there that were kind of biting.

ART: Did you actually write them or did the writers write it?

KAL: I wrote a couple of them and then the writers wrote some.  They wrote the joke in the trailer about "You want to exploit me economically?"

MARK: I was going to ask you about that scene you just mentioned in the trailer where you say "You want to exploit me economically?"  When I noticed that in the trailer... I'm a huge James Bond fan, and immediately that scene reminded me so much of a scene in DIE ANOTHER DAY, where Bond is facing off with the bad guy, and they're both in the white garb and they're fencing.  It seemed very similar, I just wondered if that was an intentional parody or not.

 KAL: I don't know, I haven't seen that.  Did we rip something off?

MARK: No, no, no... I think even if it wasn't intentional it was very funny.

KAL: Okay cool, I'll ask he guy that wrote it.

MARK: Yeah, because I noticed there's another publicity still with you in a tux looking all James Bond-ish.

KAL: That was a James Bond parody for sure, in the tux, where the four of us walk into this party.  I think there's even a slow motion shot.  That's purposely James Bond-ish.  I will though, I'm gonna ask about that, that's a good question.

 

Will we see another HAROLD AND KUMAR movie?

KAL: There is, we're shooing it in Shreveport in January.  It is not called HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO AMSTERDAM.

 

 

                Mark Walters and Kal Penn                                    Jonny Dubowsky, Mark Walters, and Art Alexakis

 

Find out more VAN WILDER 2: THE RISE OF TAJ and hear some music samples by clicking HERE.


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