In the “Hangover 3” Ken Jeong reprises his role as the one and only Mr. Chow, one of the colorful characters the guys encounter during their first roofie-enduced blackout in Las Vegas.
Now back Vegas Mr. Chow is also back and as usual is ready to stir things up. We sat down with the hilarious Ken Jeong to talk nudity and how he created Mr. Chow.
Q: Why do you like to be naked on screen so much?
KJ: So you can ask me that question.
Q: I just have to know. KJ: (Laughs) You know that was my idea right? That scene was screaming for Chow clothes on jumping out naked, which would have been horrific and I think that it was screaming for that scene to happen and come on, it’s a Todd Phillips movie, you got to do that you know. But I didn’t know Todd at the time and I was really nervous, is it ok, I think it would be funny you know. We can do it naked and he was like “You don’t have to tell me twice.” Like that so, he immediately gives me a nudity waiver to sign, he didn’t want me to change my mind that was his concern. Todd and I just fully bonded after that because I was just in the movie for four days so it wasn’t like the superstar role, it was something that was a complete character choice that I just wanted you know to service that script and I got nothing to brag about so it’s like you know I wasn’t try to show off you know and so, it wasn’t like I have the most to loss from that so it was kind of like but I felt compelled because that’s the moment that has become “the moment” that everyone talks about that has lead to that question. It was like you know, I can’t even describe it, it was like a character choice, not a personal choice because me as a person-I’m a happily married father of twin girls, you know. Five year old girls, they were in kindergarten so I have no, like I don’t even like to take my shirt off at the beach. I’m serious I’m really shy I don’t like to do any of that stuff. I’m not an exhibitionist. I have plenty of comedian friends you know, you give them a couple of glasses of wine you know they’re like that. I’m not like that guy. I’m very, talk to all of my friends and my wife, I’m very shy and very demure about my body and ashamed of my body but I just felt like, an actor acts, you got to, I mean that’s what I do what I do. You got to make fearless choices to be an actor otherwise everyone would do it. And that’s why a lot of people don’t, you know.
Q: What kind of reaction did you get from your wife on that?
KJ: I’m a dummy, I cleared up my wife even before I told Todd (laughs). I told my wife, my wife and I both love comedy and we both love Todd Phillips’ movies. Like “Old School” is one of our favorite movies of all time. So I told my wife, “I think I should be naked, what do you think?” And my wife’s very secure, has the best sense of humor in the world and she said teasing me, this is my wife, my best friend, my partner and wife saying “I guarantee Hangover will be the feel good movie of the summer because every guy will go home feeling good about themselves (laughs) so you would have done a public service.” This is my wife talking, this is my Boo. My Boo’s like telling me this, you got to love a woman like that!
Q: What about your parent’s reaction?
KJ: My parents that’s a different story. I told my parents I was going to be naked in this movie and in the Hangover 1 and my dad has a great sense of humor and he saw and he loved it. I waited for a couple of months for my mother to see it (laughs). My mother’s a little bit more traditional and conservative and I didn’t want to offend her sensibilities in any way so we actually forbid my mother to see it for two months and then she saw it two months later with my dad and said, I will never forget this, “I loved it, why you underestimate me? It’s funny.” I’m like “that’s funny because it’s famous now, I don’t know if you’d like it” (laughs).
Q: What was the reaction and forgive me for asking, from the Asian community about kind of playing into a stereotype?
KJ: I don’t think my dick is a stereotype, I think my dick is an actual penis that had produced a couple of kids. So I think the dick is the real deal. I laugh at that because here’s a little secret that no Asian actor will ever tell you. Every Asian has to read and has read a role and has performed a role that has required an accent. That is the business you guys have set up for us, all right. That’s just the way it’s done and that’s fine but to me, is my job to make fun of that stereotype, to poke fun at the stupid holes that are supplied to us to be honest and we get ridiculous lines that we audition for all the time. Asian guy number two, Asian assassin number three, it’s demeaning and Chow to me was my response to that, making fun of that stereotype. It’s like when Alan’s falling out of the car, I go “Haha, fun gosh, find that funny.” Here’s a guy who is mocking the Asian stereotype, mocking why people laugh at the fat guy falling down in movies. There’s levels upon levels of meta-humor. Chow in comedy terms is a meta-joke, you’re commenting on a comedy. You’re commenting on why “Long da dong” exists. You’re commenting on why “Breakfast at Tiffany’s Mickey Rooney’s character exists. You’re making fun of, you know for Asian actors dude they’re a couple that you know- there are thousands way more talented than me and we’re all reading for those roles and all getting rejected for them. I mean it sucks so Chow to me was my meta-response, was my response to all that. You’re poking fun of the stereotype. Dude, I was fucking with it so much in the first movie and when we turned over black dog I go “Da chick,” that wasn’t real Chinese. My wife’s Vietnamese and it was like saying “chicken die” in Vietnamese. I was doing it as an inside joke to my wife. We’re making fun of these ridiculous lines. You know that are given to us in these comedies you know, and I think on some level maybe not face to face but I think subconsciously the audience knows that, they know I’m a doctor, they know I’m like smart and they know that I’m always going to put a little extra mustard on something that I’m doing. You can never pay me enough money to read a line in an Asian accent “I like coffee” you know, I’m never going to do that but I guess I just did it (laughs) but I’m not going to do that, you got to add your own thing with like three words with what most Asian actors get, you know.
Q: Who was Chow on the page when you met him? Can you introduce us to that character and how did you change him?
KJ: That’s a great question. Chow was really written for a 60 year old man.
KJ: Yeah, like the bodyguards were his sons. It was a different thing. Again this was another audition I was going in for thinking like 60 year old guy, Asian I ain’t going to get this. This is the only audition I got all year. It ain’t going to happen, I ain’t going to get this. And so I went in and auditioned with Todd Philips who I actually knew before, we had met before and I like him a lot personally but I didn’t know him that well but I had one previous meeting with him. And I just, maybe it was due to that kind of frustration as an Asian, I just I had the most inspired audition ever. I was yelling, I was cursing. I was like improvising for ten whole minutes because I only had like four lines to read in the audition. It was almost like rage against the Hollywood machine. It was almost like an exorcism of that. And Todd was like “This guy is insane I must hire him” (laughs). It was like because of that audition I got the part and you know, it was kind of meant to be. I didn’t think I’d get that part at all and I didn’t think that –it’s just a long line of auditions you audition for the old Asian guy. I’m in that age range, I’m too old to play someone in their twenties yet too young to play someone in their fifties you know, it’s like the worse of the worse.
Q: Are there any similarities between you and Chow at all?
KJ: I think the only similarity is like making fearless choices like jumping out of a train. Like I’m 1% fearless where like Chow maybe 100% fearless. It sounds weird to say but I think Chow loves comedy. I think he loves comedy movies you know (laughs) and like I’m a comedy nerd so I love comedy movies so I feel that for me, other than that though it’s probably nothing else. I think that Chow is like the devil I mean the way I play it, I mean I don’t know if the Hangover was initially conceived of that, probably wasn’t but when you put all three films together, from Ken Jeong’s perspective I think it’s almost like a Shakespearean tragedy of like good verse evil where the wolf pack loosely does a deal with the devil to get Doug back, you know. And then you got to pay the consequences for just meeting Chow and doing a deal with having that kind of interaction with and then you have to face the consequences of Chow keeping in contact with Alan you know, for that second movie. And then Chow leading them to Bangkok, doing all sorts of stupid shit. Now, ok we’ve had a couple of those Hangover moments. We got to move on with our lives, this was like the wolf pack thing. We got to, we can’t stay in this hamster wheel of chaos forever, we got to like, we got to get of the train now, we got to grow up and then particularly Alan, and then for Alan to move on with his life and let go of his past he’s got to dance with the devil one more time and you know, just when you think that the devil is like down and out like think again because he’s always around, you know.
Q: Were you prepared for this film to be as Chow-centric as it is?
KJ: I mean it’s funny, like I remember cause when Chow does to prison in the second movie and I was thinking in myself this is the, as an insecure actor I was just hope that I had a part in the third one, I swear to God that’s all I was thinking and then for me to have such a big part, the biggest role in my career. I mean Todd has supplied me the biggest role any director as ever given me you know, I don’t think I’m so moved and flattered by that. I still don’t think I fully comprehend how big this is cause we’re still fresh in our memory right now but I made sure I was prepared, I threw the kitchen sink out. I conquered my fear of heights. I’m massively afraid of heights and if you see in the movie where I do a 30 foot free fall dope with water coming down behind my back, that’s all me, that wasn’t a stunt devil. 30 foot, three stories, that was a Mission Impossible kind of move. Jack Gill, Tom Crusie’s guy stunt coordinator in Mission Impossible 4, he was the student coordinator for H3. He kind of helped me conquer my fear of heights and I did that free fall all myself.
Q: Nobody could play that role like you.
KJ: No one could play the role like me and I know that, it’s just something that I helped create and be a part of and Todd Philips gave me the opportunity and I would love to do that.
The Hangover Part III hits theaters this Thursday, May 23.