By now, we all know him from 2009′s The Hangover. From his regular role in NBC’s Community, campaigning with Dwight Howard in Foot Locker/Adidas ads, laying a smackdown on WWE Raw, and most recently, hosting 2011′s Billboard Music Awards, Ken Jeong has seemingly shot to the top as one of Hollywood’s leading comedic actors—between the span of both Hangover films. But before then, some of us remember him as “that one guy” from his various appearances here and there, including his roles as Dr. Kuni in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and as the disgruntled Urth Caffe manager in HBO’s Entourage. The truth is, Jeong has been at this for years, poking and prodding as a doctor by day, and tickling funny bones by moonlight.
DramaFever recently sat down with Jeong in Los Angeles to discuss his recent reprising role as Leslie Chow. If you’ve ever wondered what makes Jeong go all balls out, so to speak, it doesn’t take very long to understand that this humble character just operates on the basis that he’s turned his passion project into a fruitful career. Laugh and let laugh, or whatever it is they say.
From a night running from Mr. Chow, to a sick night running with Mr. Chow: [Mr. Chow] was a foe. He was a villain in the first [Hangover]. He was angry because [The Wolfpack] kidnapped him naked in a trunk, [and] he wanted to kill them, actually. But now he just wants to hang out. Now he’s Alan’s +1, so they’ve obviously made up. What’s the same thing in both movies is that he’s a sociopath—he’s crazy—and he loves mayhem, and to me, you just see him more as a lover of chaos this time around than [as] an angry guy.
On shooting the car chase sequence, and why it’s Jeong’s favorite scene:
When they’re shooting off my rear-view mirror [The Wolfpack] is like so horrified, and I look at them and go…[Jeong erupts into Mr. Chow’s laughter]. So, I made sure in the movie—in the car chase—that I do the opposite of what the other guys are doing.
Jeong’s thoughts on showing his “grower”:
In the first movie [being naked] was my idea. I had clothes [on] in the first script, and I felt like it would make the film better if I were naked. Well, it’s my dingy, so… it’s not a stereotype, it’s a reality, but the thing about it for me is that it works. I’m a grower, not a show-er. It’s spelled G-R-O-W-E-R. And I have kids. I’m married. So, it obviously works, and it’s fully functional. If you have more questions about my penis, I’d be happy to give you my cellphone number.
But let’s be a little serious here:
To me, it’s about being fearless and not being ashamed of who you are. So much of our lives are just [about] being shy or worried about what people think—who cares, you know? It’s a movie, and you want to commit to the nines. I’m not saying you have to be naked in a movie, but [to] not be afraid to expose yourself in any way, and I think that’s what acting is. Acting is…[about] trusting the public that they get the joke. To me, it’s all about the comedy. It’s because of strong choices…that, I’ve had so much work. What other people are afraid to do or [are] too shy to do, I’m not. To make those strong choices in life, that’s what I’m all about.
What exactly is Mr. Chow in the business of, anyhow?
We’re pretty protective about keeping that secret. We had some ideas, but after filming it, we best decided that we leave it in a bit of mystery—an air of international criminal mystery. Wouldn’t you like to know?
Stop telling people Jeong based Mr. Chow’s voice on his wife:
The voice… no, not at all. That—you got that totally wrong—don’t get me in trouble, buddy. The voice is Vietnamese, plus Korean, plus a lot of chaos: [cue two rounds of Mr. Chow’s signature cackle]. To me, it’s just a vocal thing, not a character thing.
Mr. Jeong and Mr. Chow — where do we draw the line between the man and the international mystery?
[In acting], you see elements of yourself and how you can apply it to your character. In the case of Mr. Chow, [it’s] more like exercising my demons. Whatever dark thoughts you have….sometimes it’s just comes to you…and I think it’s more like an outlet than anything else—it’s more of a release. Mr. Chow is the greatest character I’ve ever played—[he’s] my favorite character I’ve ever played, and everything I love about this character is such a catharsis. It was an amazing experience.
On Bankgkok and about so much more than meets the cinematic eye:
I had a blast. It was my first time there, and my wife came out with me for a few days. They call it the “Land of a Thousand Smiles,” and I loved it because it’s so peaceful there and so serene, and everyone is so nice and friendly. We worked with some local film crew, and they worked really hard. To be in a Buddhist culture, from what I understand, the males are required to study to be a monk for three years. You see and get to really experience the Buddhist culture there.
The elements…of Bangkok that I saw in the film—I didn’t hang out there. For me, I did my own thing. My wife was there most of the time, and we hung out with friends. People must think the cast and the actors are crazy in person, and we go set fires or something. We’re just normal people. We [just] have a very odd job. I never really experienced any darkness in Bangkok because that’s not what I’m about. There’s darkness here in L.A., there’s darkness everywhere. Any of these places, you make it whatever you want it to be. Any darkness…is going to fit certain tones of what The Hangover is all about. What I think about Vegas and Bangkok, or wherever you want it to be: you want it to be dark? You can be dark. You can be dark like that in any place. You can be like that in a small town in Ohio.
But also, if you want to stay with your friends, you can go out in Vegas and just have a great time because it’s like Disneyland for adults, right? Same thing for Bangkok. I just love having fun with my friends or with my family, so for me, the Thailand that I see is not necessarily…the darker aspects of the film. Even if people go to Thailand curious from the movie, they’re going to find these wonderful areas that they didn’t know about.
Who’s the other show stopping funky monkey in the film?
Crystal the monkey is so good. It’s the same monkey in Night at the Museum, the Zookeeper movie I’m in, [and] the same monkey I work with on [NBC’s] Community. I’m familiar with Crystal. Yesterday, I saw Crystal, and one of my friends said, “You look like you were having a real conversation.” She is not a monkey to me, she’s like a miracle. She can do anything. I call her the best actor I’ve ever worked with.
Once a comedic moonlighter by night, now a star shining bright:
When I was on call, there were just times I would [practice] medicine during the day and stand-up at night, and that’s kind of how I got started. I’m just living proof of just following your dream and not listening to what everyone says and not listening to people criticize you or [saying], “You can’t do this” or “Why are you doing this?” If you just follow your gut, good things can happen. No one, [other than myself], ever would have thought a doctor would be a successful comedic actor. I have been very blessed that my wife, who is also a doctor, encouraged me to quit my day job. Contrary to what people think [my family] did support me. I’m very, very blessed, and I feel like I’m in a very rare position in that I’ve achieved [this] level of success with the support of my family.
What’s cracking next?
I’m doing Transformers 3. That’s coming out in July. Todd Philips, director of The Hangover, actually recommended me to Michael Bay. [Bay] had actually written a part with me in mind.