Ken Jeong bares his soul - and body - in Hangover 3’
Though he stole all audience attention away from every other actor in his brief scene as Dr. Kuni in “Knocked Up,” no one was ready for Ken Jeong’s intro in “The Hangover.” He leaped out of a car trunk, wearing only black socks, and proceeded to beat the tar out of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis with a tire iron. That’s right, wearing only black socks. His Mr. Chow eventually became an important character in that film and its sequel. In “The Hangover Part III,” Chow, naked again, of course, is quite often the center of attention. The doctor-turned-actor, who is also a regular on the TV show “Community,” chatted recently in Las Vegas.
Why do you like to be naked onscreen so much?
Chow originally had clothes on in the first one. It was my idea to have him be naked. I was really nervous, asking [director] Todd Phillips if it was OK, that it would be funny to do it naked. And Todd said, “You don’t have to tell me twice.” He immediately gave me a nudity waiver to sign because he didn’t want me to change my mind. I just wanted to service that script. I’ve got nothing to brag about. I wasn’t trying to show off. It was a character choice, not a personal choice. I’m a happily married father of twin 5-year-old girls. I don’t even like to take off my shirt at the beach. I’m really shy. I’m not an exhibitionist. I’m very demure about my body. But an actor acts, that’s why I do what I do. You’ve gotta make fearless choices to be an actor. Otherwise everyone would do it.
What did your wife say about it?
I’m no dummy. I cleared it with my wife before I told Todd. My wife and I both love comedy. I said to her, “I think he should be naked - what do you think?” She’s very secure, has the best sense of humor in the world, and she said – this is my wife, my best friend, my partner in life – she said, “I guarantee ‘The Hangover’ will be the feel-good movie of the summer because every guy will go home feeling good about themselves.”
What about your parents?
I told my parents I was going to be naked in “The Hangover.” My dad has a great sense of humor. He saw it and he loved it. But my mother is a little more traditional and conservative, and I didn’t want to offend her sensibilities in any way. So we actually forbade her to see it for two months. She finally did see it, and said, “I loved it! Why do you underestimate me? It’s funny!”
Who was Chow on the page when you first read the script, and how did you change him?
Chow was originally written for a 60-year old man. It was another audition I was going in for, and thinking, “Asian guy, 60 years old; I ain’t gonna get this, yet this is the only audition I’ve got all year.” I only had four lines to read, so I went in, auditioned for Todd, and I had the most inspired audition ever. I was yelling and cursing and improvising for about 10 minutes. And Todd was going, “This guy is insane. I must hire him.” So I got the part.
Did you know that “Part III” was going to be as Chow-centric as it is?
When Chow goes to prison in the second movie, I was thinking to myself – as the insecure actor – “I just hope I have a part in the third one.” And then for me to have the biggest role of my career in this one ... I’m so moved and flattered by it, I still don’t think I fully comprehend how big this is. I made sure I was prepared. I made sure I brought my “A” game to this movie.
Now that the series is over, where do you go from here?
I used to be a doctor. I quit that to become a working actor. I just wanted lines in movies. That’s all I wanted and still all I want; the fame and fortune wasn’t the goal. On “Community” I wanted to see how small I could do it. I know I can do other moves, and that’s all I want to do right now. I may fail, but that’s fine. The ultimate failure is not trying at all, so I just want to keep doing what I do.
Have we seen the last of Mr. Chow?
Out of all the characters I’ve done, I love Chow the most. I quit my day job to pursue imagination, and Mr. Chow represents a wide spectrum of imagination. You can say or do anything with that character. I’d love it if there was a Chow spinoff.
“The Hangover Part III” opens on May 23.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.