Innocent pedestrians would be forgiven for crossing to the other side of the street at the sight of Ken Jeong. After all, the 43-year-old actor is best known for playing the criminally insane Leslie Chow in the successful "Hangover" trilogy. (This when he isn't playing the often equally insane Senor Chang on the NBC series "Community.") For many, the enduring image associated with Jeong's name is that moment in "The Hangover" when he jumped out of a car trunk, naked and screaming, and wrapped his legs around poor, innocent Bradley Cooper's neck. Yikes.
Jeong gets to say "toodaloo motherf***ers" to Mr. Chow in this weekend's "The Hangover Part III," acting as the movie's central antagonist and main provocateur. The man himself couldn't be further from his character, however: In conversation, the father of two is earnest and nice. He even maintains his medical license. (Jeong was a physician before he decided to pursue acting and comedy.)
We caught up with Jeong ahead of the release of "The Hangover Part III" to talk about the franchise's finale, Harry Potter and (the lack of) Mr. Chow impersonators.
You're calling me from Vegas! Are you getting to enjoy the city at all?
Um, no, I've pretty much been in interviews all day! But at night, we did go to an Elton John concert and had a fantastic time, and we did get to meet Sir Elton backstage, which was definitely something I'll never forget. He was amazing. It was an amazing concert.
Outside of the movies, have you gotten to do the whole Vegas thing before?
I've been to Vegas several times, way before the "Hangover" movies. I had my own bachelor party here in Vegas, my wife had her bachelorette party here in Vegas. My wife and I, we're doctors, and we would go to medical conferences here in Vegas. So we have a long history with Vegas that we love.
Any experiences worthy of being included in "The Hangover"?
Oh, no. Oh no. I don't live a life of danger. I live a life of boredom, so that's still good enough.
What's your favorite casino game?
No, I play some blackjack occasionally, very occasionally. And very badly, I might add.
I read that you keep your medical license current still. Would you ever give it up?
No, I'll always keep my medical license. I can't practice the way I practiced before, before I became so widely recognizable, but I do think that behind the scenes there are other ways to be a doctor.
I'm sure you can't really practice regularly.
Oh, no, I don't practice at all right now. No, no. I think when you hit a certain level of acting and also face recognition, there are other ways to make a contribution.
When people recognize you, what do they say?
Oh, yeah. They yell out "toodaloo, motherf***er" all the time. All the time. At least once a week. And it's great! It always makes me laugh. It still hasn't stopped making me laugh after four years. I actually genuinely love it, I love the Chow character, it's my favorite character I've ever played, so it's hard not to like. People yell out quotes from the movie, especially in Vegas. I'm probably recognized more here than in any other city in the world, so it's like this collective big hug from a town. It's pretty amazing.
Have you ever seen someone dressed like you?
No, I actually have not. I haven't ventured out to where the "Hangover" impersonators are. I don't know. I know Zach [Galifianakis] and some of the guys have met them, but I don't know if there's a Chow guy out there. I really don't know.
You make it sound like there's a specific Hangover impersonators district.
In Vegas, somewhere on the strip. Yeah, you take this block, I'll take this block.
What aspect of your personality is most like Chow's?
Um, we both love to laugh? I'm a good laugher. I'll go to any movie, any comedy, both me and my wife, we're just the loudest laughers in the world, so we have that in common. There's a sense of like when it's called for I can potentially be a little fearless, but not all the time in life. There's a sense of fearlessness I do respond to, but I'm not nearly as fearless as Chow. I'm full of anxiety most of the time in most situations, and pretty much nothing else. Chow is the devil, you know, he's pure evil. Make no mistake about it. I know I'm playing that character. The Wolf Pack is basically dealing with the devil for three movies, and for Allen to move on with his life, he's gotta dance with the devil one more time. It's when the Wolf Pack thinks the devil's not there, he's always there.
You both have a propensity for stealing gold bricks.
[laughing] I've never seen, I'd be scared holding anything gold, I wouldn't know what to do with it. I wouldn't know what to do.
One of the movie's posters was a take on "Harry Potter." Are you more of a Harry or Voldemort?
In real life I'm Harry, but if I choose as an actor what I want to play, I'd want to play Voldemort.
What house would you be?
What house would I be? Single story. Because it would be, yeah. I don't like stairs and that's because I have kids. So our house would like a wider base house that is just designed to be a kid's house. It's designed for kids. That's a great question.
I meant in Harry Potter, but a literal house is good, too. In the movie, Mr. Chow sings "Hurt" at karaoke. Do you have a karaoke jam?
I love Guns 'N Roses, "Patience." I love that one.
Are you a good singer?
I'm, I think I'm a good karaoke singer. In fact, those are my instincts. I used to sing a lot at a karaoke bar when I was in med school in New Orleans, so I was really into karaoke, so my instinct was to sing that song really well, and [director] Todd [Phillips] was like, "What are you doing? We want him to be nervous and vulnerable, so DON'T sing well, don't do that." He was so right, to do it nervously and then swat the microphone away. That made me laugh, that was all Todd's genius. That's why "Hangover III" is the best thing I've ever done, because of Todd's guidance. He knew when to give me latitude, he knew when to rein me in. He knew when to give me direction on something I hadn't really thought of. He really knew how to cultivate my instincts even more as an actor.
He's like, "That's beautiful. Stop it."
Yeah, exactly! That's exactly it. Basically what he said: [in a deep voice] "Ken, that sounds gorgeous. Stop it."
In a fight to the death amongst your cast, who would win?
Chow. I mean, yeah. Chow. You know, he's evil. He's the devil. He's an international criminal.