LOS ANGELES—Ken Jeong is back naked in “The Hangover Part III.” He claimed that this time it was not his idea. “In the first movie, that was my idea,” Ken said of the scene in which he jumps buck naked from a car trunk, landing right in front of Bradley Cooper. “I think Todd Phillips (director), Craig Mazin (writer) and the (two other) writers took that lead and developed it even more, on a level that’s much better than my idea.”
Ken’s hilarious mob boss, Mr. Chow, Bradley’s Phil, and the rest of the colorful characters of “The Hangover,” played by Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham and Jamie Chung, are all back in the third installment of the hit comedy franchise.
Mr. Chow may be a villain, but moviegoers love him, so Ken was asked if he was interested in a spinoff film. “I would love to do a spinoff, a Mr. Chow movie,” he said in a recent interview. “Mr. Chow is my favorite character. I get to say things I can’t say in real life. When you act, you want to escape into a role, into something you cannot do in real life. It’s so wonderful to get paid to play, just have fun and escape. I’ve grown very fond of that character.”
The Korean-American actor claimed that he’s not at all like his villainous character. “I think I’m a nice friend,” he said. “I’m the anti-Chow in real life. I don’t call my friends ‘fatty.’ I don’t parachute (which he does in the new film) or do anything wild like that. People are always surprised when they meet me on the street— how shy and kind of reserved I am. Like when it comes to nudity, in real life, I don’t even take off my shirt when I go to the beach. I’m very shy and discreet. But as an actor, when the camera is on, you just snap into whatever character you’re doing.”
On whether he’s aware of any criticism that his scene-stealing gangster fosters racial stereotyping, Ken replied, “Mr. Chow is a meta joke. It’s making fun of the stereotype. I’ve given a great deal of thought to this and I’m sensitive to that as well. Mr. Chow is so outrageous and flamboyant that you’re making fun of so many stereotypes that you see in the movies.”
The doctor-turned-actor said that he was surprised by the public reaction to him when he visited Korea on a promo tour for “Hangover II.” “The first ‘Hangover’ was not released in Korea,” he pointed out. “But it came out on cable and DVD. I was told by the studio, ‘You may not have the same level of celebrity here in Korea so don’t be offended.’ I don’t care about being famous so it doesn’t matter to me. So I was walking around a mall in Korea and I was getting mobbed. I was really shocked. It shows the globalization through cinema and comedy. It was nice to be embraced by my home country. It was one of the best trips I had.”
The North Carolina native stressed that he owed his burgeoning career to Todd Phillips and “that one scene out of the trunk… just changed my life overnight.”
Ken recalled that he got the permission of his wife, Tran Ho, who is also a doctor, before he did that career-making nude turn in the first “Hangover.” He narrated, “She said, ‘This will be the feel good movie of summer because every man will go home feeling good about himself.’ Needless to say, my wife and I have a very good sense of humor about these choices I make in these R-rated movies. What we teach our kids in general is to have a good sense of humor about life and taking some chances and risks. My wife is a cancer survivor. She had breast cancer at the time of the first movie. She was going through chemotherapy. She had lost all her hair.”
He continued, “When I got the offer to do the first ‘Hangover,’ I didn’t know if I could do it because of my wife’s condition. She insisted that I do it. I was there for only about three or four days in Vegas because it was a small role. She really wanted me to do the movie. She inspires me in many ways. It sounds weird but she inspired me to make the unusual choice of being naked in a movie. Life is short. You only live once. Make a bold choice. Don’t be afraid to take chances. You have nothing to lose by making a bold choice. If you’re lucky, you can be embraced for those unusual choices.
“This is an odd thing to say, but the nudity in the first film was inspired by my wife and in many ways, was inspired by what we were going through at that time. The first movie was a love letter in a way to my wife. I know that sounds unusual.”
Even as a pre-med student at Duke University, Ken already harbored a passion for acting. “I secretly wanted to be an actor even though I was going through my pre-med studies,” he pointed out. “I even got accepted to acting school. But I declined because my science grades were going down. Acting is a very tough and fickle field. It’s not always based on merit. It’s often based on luck. So I was very lucky. This was all I ever wanted to do. But having said that, I was so grateful to have a medical background because having another career prior to this made me appreciate acting even more. I feel so grounded because none of my friends, including myself, could believe this is happening.
“Yeah, (there’s) only one star in the family,” quipped the man who did stand-up comedy and worked as a doctor when he moved to LA, before the TV and movie roles came. “She (Tran) has no desire to act. She has actually been offered to be an extra in my movies. Even directors say to her, ‘You can be in the movie.’ My wife always says no. She has been offered like five times to be in some of these movies. ”
Ken, who still has a doctor’s license, shared that occasionally, he gets to use his medical experience and knowledge. “Recently, I was on a plane and someone was complaining of vertigo, of dizziness. The crew asked, ‘Is there a doctor on the plane?’ I stood up and I said I used to be a doctor. The stewardess said, ‘Ha ha, sit down, Mr. Chow.’ I was like, ‘No, I used to be a doctor. Really.’ Then someone said, ‘Oh yeah, I read that he was a doctor.’ So I saw the person.”
Home life for Ken is quite a contrast to the mayhem and shenanigans that typically ensue in the “Hangover” films. “We have twin girls (Alex and Zooey) who are five years old. They’re in kindergarten.”
He’s taking Tran on the international media tour for this latest movie. “We’ll travel together. We’ll have some fun in Europe together.”
He cracked, “It will be a nice paid vacation. I don’t have to pay for it so it will be great. I’m a cheap date.”
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