Ken Jeong on going nude
LOS ANGELES—Ken Jeong, Mr. Chow to fans of “The Hangover,” goes nude again. In the film’s sequel, he does it full frontal.
“My wife knew about the nude scenes. I got her permission,” said Ken, looking sane in a navy blazer, light blue shirt and jeans, until he broke into his goofy character’s laughter.
Ken’s wife is Tran Ho, a doctor like him. The Duke University alum, a son of Korean immigrants, quit his day job when a slew of roles allowed him to pursue his real love—acting.
“Hangover,” the biggest R-rated comedy hit movie of all time, has one scene in which Ken’s mob boss character jumps naked from a car trunk, his private parts landing smack into Bradley Cooper’s neck.
“It was my idea to do it naked,” Ken said with a grin. “No one made me do it. I thought, if I do that, this movie will go like a bottle-rocket. Bradley and I are good friends. We did ‘All About Steve’ prior to ‘The Hangover.’ He and I had dinner the night before we shot that scene. I talked about my plan. Bradley loved it. As an actor, he was encouraging me to be fearless, too. So by the time we shot the scene, and I was naked and my genitals were on his neck, we were more concerned about things, like, ‘Okay, how does the camera work?’ We were not nervous about it.”
Well, until the director, Todd Phillips, asked if Bradley was okay. “Todd told Bradley, ‘If you feel uncomfortable, let me know.’ Bradley thought about it,” Ken recounted.
Laughing, Ken continued: “Bradley said to Todd, ‘Until you brought it up, I didn’t realize how disgusting this actually is.’ In other words, Bradley and I were thinking about the film and not about our personal feelings. It’s great and intoxicating when you’re working with actors who care about the final result, and who don’t mind going through some disgusting hardship.”
For enduring this “hardship,” Bradley, along with Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Mike Tyson and Ken are back in “The Hangover Part II.” Among the new cast members in the movie set in Thailand are Jamie Chung, who got a call to audition for the role as Ed’s bride while she was vacationing in Boracay (as we reported in an earlier column) and Paul Giamatti.
Best friend, collaborator
Ken is grateful to Tran, who started battling breast cancer as he was about to start shooting the first “Hangover.”
“I would never have been an actor if it weren’t for my wife,” he said. “She encouraged me to leave my job as a doctor to be an actor full time. She’s my best friend and collaborator.” Tran, who has twin girls (3 years old) with Ken, has reportedly licked the cancer.
“My parents were very supportive, too,” Ken added.
Although Mr. Chow is a villain, many “Hangover” fans love the hilarious gangster character. Ken said folks greet him everywhere. “People ask me to do the Mr. Chow voice,” he said. “I always do it. They like me to say to them, ‘Hey fat boys!’ (The politically incorrect Mr. Chow makes fun of Zach’s overweight Alan character in the first movie). They also love it when I say, ‘Toodaloo!’ ”
Inspired by ‘Goodfellas’
Asked for his inspiration in shaping his sassy criminal character, Ken answered: “It’s a combination of different characters in movies and people. Joe Pesci’s character in ‘Goodfellas’ was a big inspiration. In fact, there were times in Thailand when I’d watch ‘Goodfellas’ in my trailer just to get in the right mood. And Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight’ in terms of the sociopathic qualities of Mr. Chow.”
The US-born actor promises more mayhem in the sequel.
Instead of a tiger, Part 2 features a denim-clad monkey who plays a drug dealer and does crazy gags that are CGI-created. “Crystal the monkey may be the best actor I’ve ever worked with,” Ken said.
Of his own experience as an Asian-American actor trying to make it in Hollywood, Ken pointed out: “It’s a great challenge. But for me as an actor, I look at it this way—there were some roles that were written for white people that I got. For example, my role in ‘All About Steve’ was written for a white person. I got the role instead. I feel the joy of playing different characters.”
But make no mistake about it, he stressed, he’s so proud to be a Korean-American: “I’m part of a very exciting movement. There’s a groundswell of Asian-American talent and I’m honored to be among them. The best thing about it is we’re all different. We’re not the same. We don’t act or look alike. We’re helping redefine our identity.”
Talk of Ken’s Asian heritage led to his admission that he identified with Teddy, the over-achieving 16-year-old pre-med student who is the brother of Jamie’s character in the sequel. Teddy is played by Mason Lee, who is director Ang Lee’s son.
Ken revealed: “When I met Mason at the rehearsal, I told him, ‘Teddy is me as a kid.’ I love Mason so much. He’s such a good actor. We went out to have lunch the next day after that rehearsal. I told him my whole life story. I skipped a grade when I was a kid. My father wanted me to be a physician. I played the violin. I related to every aspect of Mason’s character. Mason does such a good job in the role.”
But Ken admitted: “I don’t think of myself as bright. My dad told me as a kid, ‘You’re not bright, you’re not a genius. You can only get ahead if you work hard. It’s not about how smart you are. It’s what you do with your tools.’”
A high school graduate at age 16, Ken was named Youth of the Year by his native Greensboro, North Carolina.
As a pre-med student at Duke, Ken enrolled in his first drama class. Ken agreed to compromise with his dad—he would go to medical school but the elder Jeong would also subsidize his acting forays.
While enrolled in medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ken started winning stand-up comedy contests. When he moved to Los Angeles, Ken kept his job as a doctor while doing small roles and stand-up gigs.
Then the big breaks came through “Knocked Up” and “The Hangover.”
Ken said he doesn’t miss the long hours a doctor keeps. With a chuckle, he quipped: “We do have a bit of a better lifestyle. I don’t miss certain aspects of working as a doctor. But I miss my patients. Since my wife is also a physician, we still talk about medicine all the time. I still go to conferences with her out of curiosity. I still read medical magazines and journals.”
Of his days as a general practitioner and a doctor of internal medicine, Ken said he was never funny with my patients. Laughing again, he remarked: “I never showed up naked in the examining room. I was always a professional. My patients knew that I really cared about them. They could not be happier for me.”
Although his nude scenes might have surprised his former patients, the doctor-turned-actor swears he hasn’t junked his medical license: “I can go back and practice. So this is really up to me. I’m redefining my own life. It’s the biggest honor and thrill.”
E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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