al Penn is nothing if not hard-working. Hollywood’s favorite desi actor has been relentlessly promoting his latest flick, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, by embarking on a multi-city press tour to sate his fans’ desire for more from the South Asian superstar. And though the film opened to lackluster reviews on Friday, we’re convinced that good things are in store for the thoughtful actor. Nirali caught up with Penn during his whirlwind publicity tour.
Are you tired of doing all this press? It sounds like journalists mostly ask you the same stuff, and you give mostly the same answers.
It’s actually kinda nice to interact with people. As for the questions, the purpose of it is for people to know what it was like to make a movie, so it’s understandable.
What are you most sick of being asked?
Why is there a Van Wilder without Van? It’s totally legitimate, but irritating. This was a spin-off movie, not a sequel. The Van Wilder movies are a brand, like National Lampoon. They’re these broad college comedies. It’s called Van Wilder in spirit, but if you look at the poster, why would you be confused?
After “Harold and Kumar,” you were pretty vocal about South Asians not doing stereotypical roles. But now you’re back playing the guy with the accent in “Rise of Taj.” What’s up with that?
You can’t really do a movie based on a one-note character. We had a lot of fun making Taj three-dimensional. Just having an accent doesn’t make him stereotypical—he’s the guy who gets the girl, the guy who plans the parties on campus. And Taj’s parents were actually modeled after this great tradition of American teen movies. I think we did a pretty good job at making these characters funny.
Whether you like it or not, you’re seen right now as the face of South Asians in Hollywood. Do you feel any pressure?
I don’t think there’s pressure there, but it’s interesting. For the most part, [desi] people have been very supportive. They’re very supportive of the movies. I get a lot of random messages on my MySpace page. It’s really nice to have a ton of support, especially because the arts as a whole are looked down upon in the South Asian community. My hope is that seeing me in a mainstream role will encourage our peers to go into this field. It’s depressing that there are so few South Asian faces on TV and screen.
You’ve been pretty politically vocal. What did you think of think of “macaca” debacle? I think the “macaca” thing was completely absurd. I believe that George Allen knew what he said. And even if it was a mistake, the word still made it clear that this guy was “the other.”
I wish it were a one-party problem, but I see it from the Democrats, too. Hillary Clinton made [disparaging] quotes about Gandhi. The racism is pretty well-balanced among Democrats and Republicans.