"It's kinda like a 'Revenge of the Nerds' meets ... well, there are a lot of elements of 'Van Wilder,' " the voice on the other end of the phone said with difficulty. "I'm trying to think of how to ... this is the first phoner I've done to talk about it."
The unrehearsed yet eager-to-please tones on the other end of the line belong to 28-year-old funnyman Kal Penn, currently in London filming a sequel to the 2002 raunchfest "Van Wilder." The first film's unceasingly sarcastic party liaison, as portrayed by Ryan Reynolds, is nowhere to be seen; instead, Penn is happy to declare that the time has finally come for "The Rise of Taj."
"[My agent] goes, 'Well, the character's name is Taj Mahal," the Indian-American actor remembered of his concerns when approached for the original movie. "I laughed and was like, 'Thanks for calling. I'm not doing it.'
"But after I met the director, Ryan and the producers, it was pretty obvious that they didn't want something typical," he continued. "Here's this guy who could be the stereotypical 7-11 guy, and then we talked about the opening scene: Could he be this typical under-sexed college freshman that just wants to get laid?"
Penn's endearing performance resulted in the breakout character, one who started as an Indian stereotype and evolved into a loyal, fully-formed teenage guy who just wanted the same things as every other red-blooded college male. Now, with "Rise of Taj," Penn is excited to further develop the character by taking on many of Reynolds' cocksure mannerisms.
"The story picks up four years after the last one, with Taj leaving to go to Oxford for grad school; he goes to grad school for history, and decides to be a teaching assistant," Penn explains. "The backstory is that his dad went to Oxford, and he is a legend at a secret society there. So he thinks he's got a letter of admission — but he goes to the secret society and finds out he hasn't really been admitted. And the only other place for him to live is in this residence hall called 'The Barn,' where the rejects live. There is an opening for the resident advisor there, so he ends up being an R.A. for a bunch of insecure undergrads, and that's kinda where the story comes in. He basically becomes the new Van Wilder at Oxford."
Since the sequel takes place several years later, the film implies that Taj has spent all that time gaining valuable experience atop the party scene — or, as the character so poetically phrased it in the first film, "taking it through the car wash."
"He essentially took over for Van when Van finally graduated, and became the party planner at Coolidge College, and is going to grad school afterwards," Penn said. "He's definitely very different, but he's got some of the same quirkiness regarding car wash-esque aspects to his vocabulary. He's still got the Taj phraseology."
Penn confirmed that other stars of the first film, including Reynolds, Tara Reid and Tim Matheson, will not be reprising their roles. "As far as I know, I'm the only one," he said. "The ending of the movie is sort of up in the air, but I'm the only character coming back for now."
One significant character from the first film, however, has sent his offspring to the set to once again display their family's sizeable talents.
"I can say that the dog is back," Penn allowed, referring to Van Wilder's well-endowed pooch Hercules. "It might be that giant-balls-dog's son, who also has giant balls."
"Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj" will instead introduce us to a new group of hard-partying wannabes. "Each of them seems to have sort of a quirk, which makes them outcasts within the Oxford community," Penn chuckles. "There's this guy who is militantly Irish, there's a cock-eyed girl, there's a guy who is really smart but with no self-confidence, and there's another guy that doesn't talk much."
The actors are mostly first-time movie stars and, amusingly enough, are classically schooled. "These are all British actors, and they've all gone to, like, Oxford drama school, and they're so trained," Penn says. "The writing is also atypical, so to have atypical writers with these amazing actors kinda brings it off the page in a way that, I think, will not disappoint the audience."
Penn will continue shooting the sequel in London and Romania over the next several weeks, and is excited to finally give Taj his own moment in the sun for the sequel's eventual theatrical release. He says it's because he loves the character, but admits that another part of it is the simple fulfillment his own cruel fantasies.
"There is [something]," he says excitedly when asked about a gross-out scene along the lines of the infamous pastry-filling sequence in the original film. "I don't want to give it away, because I think the magic of the éclair scene in the first one was sitting in the back of the theater, and watching people almost vomit."
"If I give it away now," Penn laughs, "I can't watch people almost vomit."
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