Ken Jeong may have gotten his big break by appearing in Judd Apatow‘s Knocked Up, but it was the moment he popped out of a trunk naked in The Hangover that turned him in star. And now with the third film in the series, The Hangover Part III, he’s become the star of the new film, as the whole film revolves around finding him. Dr. Jeong was a physician for much of his adult life, so he takes his newfound stardom with huge dollops of salt, and was happy to talk about his work, and the nudity that made him famous. Check it out…
Hello Dr. Jeong, how are you today?
How you doing? Thank you for addressing me by my proper name (laughs).
It seems fitting since you are a doctor. This is obviously the third and possibly final chapter in the Hangover trilogy, how would you say the sets and attitudes have changed since the first film?
My whole life changed since the first Hangover, ever since I jumped out naked from the truck in the first one my life went from black and white to Technicolor. My whole goal was to be a working actor, not a rich and famous one after quitting my day job as a doctor. I told my wife “If I can just say lines in movies” that’s all I really wanted, and that’s all that I thought would happen. So to do it on this level was completely unexpected, to get famous off The Hangover. My thinking is I want to channel all this fame into getting more work. It’s all I want, I’m at my happiest when I’m working, that’s what makes me happy, and because of that I’ve been on Community for four years, and going on to a fifth one and doing other projects. Career-wise, it’s been the best four years.
Then you had to be thrilled with the third film. Your character is a lot like Harry Lime in the The Third Man in that when you’re not on screen, people are constantly saying “Where’s Chow?”
Thank you for even saying that. I remember thinking after Hangover 2 wrapped “Well, Chow goes to prison, I just hope he can come back, I’d love to have a part in the third one.” But nothing’s set in stone so for them to offer me such a big part in the third film in an expanded role, much less a role itself, I was ecstatic. The Hangover 3 is the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m just forever grateful to Todd Phillips for giving me a career.
Now that you are a movie star, and you are front and center in this film, do you ever find yourself fighting acting like a diva?
Noooo (laughs). I don’t think any of my friends or any of the cast or my wife at home would even remotely let me act like a diva. No. I still have to take out the trash, and do the dishes and take care of my kids’ laundry whenever I’m at home. We don’t have an assistant doing that, it’s yours truly. I’m just wanting to keep working. But my butler has a butler, though. That’s the only thing that’s changed.
You’ve made three films with Todd Phillips, and two with Michael Bay, how would you compare working with them, and how do you feel working with a director multiple times, does it get easier?
Yes, it gets easier. Working with Todd is a dream because we’re really bonded over the first Hangover moment, because it was my idea to jump out of the truck naked, and for Todd to embrace that idea whole heartedly, we both bonded by that love of chaos and mayhem. He really, this time around, he made me a better actor. He’s like a great coach, he gives you latitude to improvise when the scene calls for it, but he’s also good at reining you in, and I’m talking about myself, when you need to go from plot A to plot B and I can’t do my over the top theatrics for the sake of the story and the tone, and Todd’s really taught me that.
And working with Michael Bay, he’s a big Hangover fan, and he’s a friend of Todd’s, who actually recommended me to Michael. So getting Transformers 3, working with him… I was making my living doing comedy movies, R-rated comedy movies at that, so to be part of a giant sci-fi franchise, to be etched in that world is beyond my dreams. And to work with him on Pain and Gain, Michael and I have become good friends so that was even more amazing. A lot of it is relationships and going with the flow, and I’ve just been blessed to work with some of the best and most visionary filmmakers working today.
You mentioned jumping out naked was your idea, do you regret that decision now that you’ve had to do nudity in all three films?
That’s the biggest misconception, it’s not a personal choice, it’s a character choice. You think about it, Chow coming out of the trunk wearing clothes? It’d be horrific, it wouldn’t make any sense, it wouldn’t be The Hangover without that. That needed to happen, the scene was screaming for that to happen, and I’m so proud of that. It upped the ante of that movie and added to the cultural zeitgeist of cinema, but in the next two movies, those are organic choices that Chow makes.
Chow is comfortable with his body, Ken Jeong is not. I don’t even like taking my short off at the beach, I’m very ashamed of body, kind of, I’m a very shy guy with the body. But as an actor, that’s why I do what I do, because when the camera’s on I’m not Ken any more I’m Chow. You’ve got to serve the story. But never in a million years would I be naked on Community even if it was an HBO show. I would never be naked in another movie just to do it. And I think there’s been other projects where writers and directors have said “it would be great if you were naked,’ and that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard because it doesn’t serve the story.
You mentioned that Chow would do certain things, how method do you get?
I don’t actually. I think I know the character so much by the third film that I can lock into that, what’s amazing about it is on the first film Todd and Bradley (Cooper) joked the creepy thing about it wasn’t the nudity, the creepy thing was me as Chow yelling all these curse words, and between takes saying “is that okay, Todd?” in my voice.
Can you tell me what’s going on with Spy?
Spy didn’t get picked up unfortunately, but Community did, and it was always in second position to Community, and Community was the number one choice for me anyway because it was a show I helped be a part of since the beginning, so I’m grateful we got a fifth season. I just didn’t know if it would get renewed or cancelled because it’s been on the bubble so much and so under the radar. I get to work with my TV family again.
I listen to the WTF podcast fairly regularly, and Marc Maron has mentioned that he’s called you for medical advice. Does this happen with anyone else or is this a Marc thing?
It happens with everyone else, it’s not just a Marc thing (laughs). Everybody who’s ever worked with me at some point has asked me a medical question and I don’t blame them, I was a doctor. It makes complete sense. I don’t prescribe them anything so I just give advice, and maybe that’s what I was born to do, be a doctor to the stars.
In 2010 you suffered something of a blow when you lost the Teen Choice award to Paul Wesley.
I did not even know that. But yes, I’m horribly devastated.
You did win a Streamy, where do you keep that?
I haven’t gotten that yet, I was just told by my publicist I’ll be receiving it shortly. Thank you for the Burning Love shout-out, I love you for bringing it up. Ken Marino and Erica Oyamo are two of my best friends and that was a lot of fun to play. My wife and I are hooked on that series, by the way.
The Hangover Part III opens May 23. Check it out.