Ken Jeong on Hangover Spin-Offs, Confronting Stereotypes, and Going Full-Frontal (Again)
How does Chow rank among the favorite characters you've played in your career?
Mr. Chow is the greatest character I've played. I love this character. He's complicated, I don't know what happens next, and these little clues are being filled in all the time. As an Asian American we're in an exciting time right now. We have people like Jamie Chung, Mason Lee, Justin Lin, a good friend of mine, John Cho, Maggie Q... we've got these amazing actors right now. There's a revolution that's going on in terms of not only Asian American actors that are getting exposure, but we're all different, completely different people. And I think the only way for us to move forward as an Asian American community of artists is to express our individuality. We're all different, and it's so important to show everybody that just because we're Asian we don't all act and look alike. I think sometimes people get confused by that and people look for role models in minorities where role models don't exist. I remember an interview on NPR with Denzel Washington --
[We both break out into laughter as Zach Galifianakis materializes out of nowhere and presses his face up to the window of the room.]
[Laughing] That is why Zach Galifianakis is the funniest man alive! He is my favorite comedian. So basically, I got paid to laugh at Zach Galifianakis on and off camera.
As evidenced by what just happened, he's got such a different sense of humor than most.
What I love about the movie is that all of our senses of comedy come from completely different places. They don't overlap, they don't compete. The casting is perfect. We all get along so well and we trust each other and we do different things. It's like Todd Phillips is the basketball coach who got different players who could do different things, so we all know our roles. And if it wasn't for the Wolf Pack -- the Wolf Pack allows me, Chow, to be crazy. It's just great to have these actors who are your friends; I've known Zach for a decade, from doing stand-up. And I did a movie with Bradley prior to the first Hangover and a movie with Ed prior to the first Hangover. So we're friends and we know each other, and on the second movie we got to be even better friends. Me and Ed went to Cambodia with his friends to go on a bicycle tour of Angkor Wat and the Buddhist temples there. I think people are always surprised to hear how mellow and close-knit we are. It's not like we're in character setting garbage fires in Bangkok in our off time! We're not crazy.
Some friends of mine might be that crazy. But back to Denzel.
I remember I heard an interview on NPR where Terry Gross had asked Denzel Washington, "Do you look for roles that are role models for the community?" And he said, and this is Denzel Washington talking, the icon, "No! If I'm following what other people want me to do, I wouldn't be doing my job as an artist, as an actor. That would be so boring." I'm very inspired by that. I think about that a lot.
I agree. My thought is that you can break stereotype by normalizing who you are.
Yes! You're Jen. Normalize. I think that's always a challenge for Asian Americans in general, but I think we're getting there. It's things like this where we're getting an identity through diversity.
Well, from that lofty conversation...
Let's talk about my penis!
We do have to talk about your penis. So, can establish that in The Hangover Part II that is indeed you and not a double going full frontal?
But, and not to spoil anything in great detail... was stunt penis involved or not?
You know, I don't want to break down some of the movie magic in the second one. All I can say is that in the first one, that was all me and my idea; I brought that up to Todd because in the script it had me coming out [of the trunk] with clothes on, and I told Todd, "I think it would be funny, could I do the scene naked?" The only thing that was surprising was how quick it happened. He was so into it -- "Let's do it right now!" You never have a director who says stuff like that, you know? He's the architect behind this and he gives me confidence as an actor because he embraces my choices so whole-heartily. It's because of him that I was able to have confidence in the other projects I've done in the last two years, whether it be on Community or the Adidas ads, or even Transformers. Todd instilled in me confidence in myself as an actor, and that's so important. You can have all the tools in the world but if you don't genuinely believe in yourself, it's useless.
Tell me more about your role in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Transformers 3 was really a recommendation from Todd Phillips, actually, to Michael Bay. Michael Bay had a role for me in mind and I met with him last spring. I play a co-worker of Shia LaBeouf and it was one of the greatest moments of my career because I saw how the big boys do it. This is sci-fi, this is action, this is fantasy, this is Steven Spielberg producing, and all my scenes were with Shia. And to work with CGI is the hardest form of acting ever, for me personally. When you have to imagine -- with Zach it's easy...
You have someone's energy to play off of.
That's right! There, I have to create that energy myself and then react off that energy. It's so much harder to do, so much harder mentally. That's why I have the highest respect for Shia, because he does that all the time. Three movies. Michael is a genius at finessing those reactions out and finessing that vision.
[SPOILERS] Coming up, you also maybe make an appearance in Jason Segel's Muppet Movie?
The Muppet Movie is just a cameo; I don't know if I'll even be in it. There were so many cameos in it. [Pause] But it was just an honor to meet Miss Piggy. [END SPOILERS]
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