Ken Jeong has experienced a quite the rise to fame over the last couple of years. After catching his first big break in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, the doctor turned actor went on to make films like Role Models, Pineapple Express, Step Brothers and more. Then, in 2009, director Todd Phillips cast Jeong as Mr. Chow in The Hangover and the rest is, as they say, history.
This week The Hangover Part III heads into theatres and Jeong once again reprises his role as the series’ villain. Though his part was more of a supporting one in the first two outings, this time he has a much larger role as the entire story basically revolves around him. He has a ton of screen time and is funnier than ever.
Recently, Ken Jeong was in Toronto to promote the film and we had the chance to catch up with him for a bit. While talking with us, he discussed some of the stunts he did, a possible Chow spin-off film, his time as a doctor, the evolution of his character and more.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: Mr. Chow started off as this minor character in the series and now he’s blossomed into a major role. Can you talk a bit about how you’ve developed this character over the three films?
Ken Jeong: For me, the seeds were planted in the first film. It was my idea to jump naked out of the trunk. That was my main contribution [laughs]. In the script it said that Chow had clothes on but when I read it, I remember thinking that the scene screamed for Mr. Chow to be naked. And I’m not an exhibitionist at heart. I’m the kind of guy who is so shy about his body that I don’t even like to take my shirt off at the beach. But I did feel that because I’m an actor that it was imperative that that had to happen. And that kind of bonded me and Todd Phillips early on. He was kind of amazed that a guy like me, who was only working on the movie for a few days, was willing to just put himself on the line. Whereas in my head I was making a character choice, not a personal choice. So I think that helped Todd widen that spectrum for Chow and really expand his role.
We Got This Covered: What do you think it is that these movies resonate so well with people?
Ken Jeong: I think Todd’s vision is amazing. His relationship with the main three leads is also great. And speaking of them, I cannot say enough good things about Ed, Zach and Bradley. They are the three most egoless, diva-free leads that you can ask to work with. They set the tone for the whole movie. People are always shocked to see how kind of low key we really are in real life. We just save it all for the camera. We have a free exchange of ideas too. I feel like I can say anything to those guys. Just to have that complete trust more than anything is what I’m going to miss about the Hangover franchise and I think that really informed why people see these movies.
We Got This Covered: Your character actually gets to do some crazier stuff in this one like parachuting over Las Vegas. Did you get to do any of these things yourself?
Ken Jeong: The parachuting thing was actually MANY different stuntmen. I can’t take credit for that. There are some close ups where I was elevated maybe 40 feet while I was outside to simulate some of that intensity, but that’s about it.
There’s another part of the movie where Chow does a 30 foot free fall and there are hundreds of gallons of water coming out behind him, that was definitely all me. And it was crazy in a way because I was always deathly afraid of heights. But I worked with our stunt coordinator Jack Gill for about six months to sort of desensitize me. Once a week when I was done filming on Community I would go and work with Jack on being in a harness about ten feet in the air to the point where I wouldn’t freak out, and then we would go to fifteen feet, twenty feet, thirty feet. Then subsequently we would graduate to being in the harness and doing things at a fast rate. Then we actually went ahead and did the drop. That was the culmination of about eight weeks of me getting over my own mental block and then actually executing that. That was physically speaking probably the greatest day of my acting career, because just to be able to even for a day conquer some of your own demons for a bit was great and exciting
We Got This Covered: Since you didn’t start off as a comedian and you started as a doctor, who were your biggest inspirations to made you want to pursue comedy?
Ken Jeong: I grew up loving Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and David Letterman. Those guys are geniuses and I’m not, but there was something about how all three of them had this sense of fearlessness that I admired. I also really admired Dana Carvey and Will Ferrell on SNL. I really like Steve Carell and Sacha Baron Cohen too. Those guys really knew how to find what was funny and they could stick really well to themes. I have so many influences that it’s kind of ridiculous.
Honestly, Zach and I have been friends for almost 15 years now, and in a way he’s been a really big influence too. Even when we did stand up together he was always the funniest guy there. I have to say that the funniest actor working right now is Zach Galifianakis, and that’s not just because we’re friends or because I’ve worked with him. I’ve worked with just about everyone in comedy at one point or another and no one makes me laugh like Zach, and he knows that. I told him recently that I would gladly just give up my acting career to be his Ed McMahon. I would just get paid to laugh at Zach. That would be a great job, being able to laugh at Zach for the rest of my life.
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