The Hangover Part II is hitting theaters this Thursday and, all week, ComingSoon.net has been bringing you exclusive interviews with the cast and crew. If you missed them, please check out our first conversation with writer/director Todd Phillips by clicking here and our second with Zach Galifianakis by clicking here.
Topping the over-the-top character of Galifianakis’ Alan isn’t a easy task, but Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow may be the guy to do it. Though he played the villain in the first film, the sequel features Chow’s return as a sociopathic tour guide of sorts for Alan, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), guiding the Wolfpack through the nightlife of Bangkok, Thailand.
ComingSoon.net sat down with the doctor-turned-actor to talk about bringing Chow back and re-teaming with Crystal, the monkey actor extraordinaire who also appeared with Jeong on “Community.”
Please be aware, the below interview does contain some minor spoilers:
ComingSoon.net: Take me back to when you first found out that Mr. Chow would be returning for the sequel. Ken Jeong: I was at home and I got notified by Todd [Phillips]. I was ecstatic to be on board, man. Just to be invited to the big dance was all I wanted. And when I found out that the role would be bigger, I was just beside myself because all the success I’ve had in the last few years is due to “The Hangover.” I mean, “Knocked Up” opened the door for me and “The Hangover” burst it wide open. I think that to be invited back to the big dance and to have an expanded role was just a priceless opportunity. You get a chance to get better as an actor and then revisit the character and kind of work with family. That’s what these guys are to me.
CS: You even made it to a Slurpee cup this time around. Jeong: That’s right! I haven’t seen it in person. I’ve had people send pictures. I’ve gotta pick one up. That, I can’t believe. Honestly, that’s just the power of the movie and the media. To have these kind of opportunities right now — You gotta understand, I was happy with the first one. I was happy being the doctor from “Knocked Up.” I used to be a doctor and to be able to say that I’m Mr. Chow from “The Hangover” and now “The Hangover 2” is just — Wow. And to say that I’m Senor Chang on “Community” or the King from “Role Models.” I’ve already had a lifetime of memories already. For me, this is really heavy stuff. I’ve always wanted to be an actor since I was in college. For me to get to live this dream, I just can’t believe it. I really can’t.
CS: I just learned this and was amazed. Crystal, the drunk dealing monkey in “The Hangover Part II” is the same one as Annie’s Boobs on “Community”? Jeong: She’s Annie’s Boobs! She is so talented. We shot “The Hangover 2” in December and then I came back in January to start working on “Community” and me and Crystal did the flashback episode. I don’t know if you saw that one.
CS: Oh, definitely. I’m a big, big fan of “Community.” Jeong: Thank you! It makes me so happy when people say that because it really is my passion project. Me and Crystal had a scene in that flashback episode where I go, “You and me have had some pretty good times, huh?” It was so dripping with irony because we couldn’t really talk about what happened in Bangkok. To get to work together again was kind of amazing. Her hitting me on the head in the vent on “Community” was amazing. I don’t know. I just saw her two days ago and my friends who were with me were like, “Oh my gosh! It looked like she was actually conversing with you. She was trying to talk to you.” She’s a miracle. She’s more than a monkey, she’s a miracle.
CS: There’s something great about you appearing on-screen in anything where it’s really tangible how much fun you’re having. Even though I would imagine that you’re very different from Mr. Chow in real life, that sense of just enjoying life shows through. Jeong: Thanks, man. It’s so funny you say that because I really am a pretty happy guy and I do think that I love comedy. I’m kind of obsessed with comedy and Chow is obsessed with mayhem, so we’re using that love of comedy to get that across. I’m using the same genuine passion that Chow has. I think he was more of a villain in the first one. This time he’s not so angry. He’s just an agent of mayhem in this one. He’s an unwanted tour guide, if you will. The one thing that helped me out in the second movie in figuring out the subtle difference of Chow. In the first movie, he sees Zach’s character and he goes, “Haha! Funny fat guy fall on face!” My motivation was that I wanted to kill them for kidnapping me. That’s why I sent my bodyguard to shoot them. I was so mad at them. In this one, Alan and I have stayed in touch. So they meet me again and they’re like, “Okay. He’s no longer an angry guy, but he is a sociopath.” He just loves chaos. In the car crash, my favorite scene was when they were shooting and everyone else is screaming and Chow is just laughing. Todd noticed that and, when you watch the movie, you’ll see that every reaction I have in the car chase is the opposite of what the other guys are doing.
CS: This one is a lot bigger and a lot darker… Jeong: It’s the “Empire Strikes Back” of the trilogy.
CS: …well, you sort of get the reverse. The darker it gets, the crazier you get to be. Jeong: I think that elevator scene says it all. I think you got it. I literally never thought about it before but, when we’re on the elevator to meet their nemesis, it’s not unlike Luke Skywalker going up the elevator to do the climactic battle with Darth Vader. There’s a bit of anticipation and the quiet and the singing “Time in a Bottle” while you’re waiting for what could kill you at the top of the tower. I like the darkness of it and it really appealed to me. I’m really glad they didn’t softshoe it and make it milder in the second one. That would have been the cardinal sin. That, to me, would have been offensive if it wasn’t darker and didn’t up the ante. This movie has to. You have to. It’s “The Hangover.” That’s the rule. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Todd Phillips. What I mean by that is that I trust him and I just follow him. That’s to say that, if someone else wanted me to make a very solid choice, I wouldn’t necessarily follow unless I really believed in them and the project. With Todd, I do. We have this mutual love of mayhem and comedy.
CS: Is there something that you do, right before the cameras roll to get into the Mr. Chow mindset? Jeong: No, it’s a simple [snaps]. I think on the first one there was. It was about, even on the day, finding the best voice and the best thing. I was figuring that out as we went along. But once it clicked, it clicked. We shot out of sequence, but right around the desert time I had it figured out. The best thing about this one is that the script is better. The script is funnier. It’s tighter. The characters are all based on what we had kind of created. Most people don’t know this, but the original script existed before Todd even came on board, much less before we came on board. We finally had a script that was just for us and in our voices. Everything this time was really on the page. There was very little that I did that I had to improvise. I mean, I do some. That’s what I do. I guess I still improvise a lot. In my head, it wasn’t improvising. It was just collaborating. But there were a lot of lines that Chow had in the script that there was no way I could top.
CS: It was said in the press conference that there were times were you didn’t drop character, even for the still photos at the end. Jeong: That’s very true. Even in the first movie, Zach was making fun of me for doing that. It’s probably due to my overacting tendencies and my overcommitment to it. I remember that, even with the stills in the first movie with some of the girls in Vegas, Zach said, “Why are you acting, Ken?” He’s an old friend and was just teasing me. In the second, I started doing it again and Todd was like, “I love it! Keep doing it! Keep doing it! I love that energy!” He loved the energy and maybe not the talking. Maybe I was doing that a little bit too much. In terms of the energy for the still photos, though, it’s about keeping up with this cast. Zach Galifianakis is the funniest man alive. He’s my favorite comedian. I’ve known him for a decade. Staring out in standup, I met him. It’s just so cool to work with him. We’re good friends and working together is a dream come true. Bradley Cooper I knew from “All About Steve” before “The Hangover” and Ed Helms I did “The Goods” with. I’ve known all those guys before and we became even better friends the second time around. I went to Cambodia with Ed over Christmas break because it was too far to go back home. We went on a bicycle tour and saw some of the temples. I had never been in Thailand or in Cambodia. It’s very friendly. It’s called “Land of a Thousand Smiles.” They’re just friendly and hardworking and so, so nice. From what I understand, all males are required to study three years to be a monk. You have a pure Buddhist culture there. There’s such serenity to that culture. I believe it’s one of the few unoccupied far east cultures. I think it’s a monarchy there. There’s something about that country that’s so peaceful and serene.
CS: Todd was discussing the fact that, since it’s going to be such a big release, this is how people are going to think of Bangkok for quite some time. Jeong: That is, I think, thanks to the director of photography, Lawrence Sher. He did the first “Hangover” and he did “Due Date.” It blends a lot of panoramic, cinematic views. One of my favorite shots camera-wise is them walking through the streets of Bangkok with an elephant behind them. It has that “Year of Living Dangerously” quality. Larry has just got an art form to the way he shoots it. He doesn’t shoot like most studio comedies. He shoots with such expectations. Every frame tells a story. But I also think that Bangkok, like Vegas, is what you want it to be. My wife came with me while we were shooting. We went on the river and to a very famous temple that’s a landmark. You’re seeing these things that have nothing to do with the movie. If you go there, curious about the movie, you’re going to get so much more about Bangkok than what was represented in the movie.
CS: Todd’s fascinating as a director since he’s both obviously a guy with a huge sense of humor and someone who can be very strict and down-to-business when he needs to. Since there’s no character more over-the-top than Mr. Chow, I’m curious if there were ever moments where he had to say, “Tone it down.” Jeong: I’ve never clashed with Todd. Todd gave me unprecedented freedom in the first movie to figure out what Chow was. In the first draft, Chow was actually a 55-year-old man with sons. We had to figure that out and, when I auditioned for him, Todd liked the fact that I prepared very seriously for the audition and had very specific ideas for the character. I did my homework and he loves actors who do their homework. I came in with a very specific mindset and plan and he and I actually, independently, came up with very similar backstories for Chow on our first day on set. We were just kindred spirits in that way. When I asked to do it naked, Todd was like, “Sure!” There was such a respect he had for my efforts. He really appreciated me putting myself on the line and just thinking things through. Chow was a very complete, thought-out character and Todd was very appreciative of that. For me, I would just do anything for Todd. There’s a trust and a sensibility. He alluded to this in the press conference. This isn’t like a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode. We’re pretty focused on what we do. No one is harder on me than me. Bradley Cooper laughs at me, but I’m the same way in real life. There’s a time to work and there’s a time to play.