In the past, South Korean-American actor Ken Jeong has played memorable characters in movies like Knocked Up (2007), Pineapple Express (2008), Couples Retreat (2009), and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011). But the role that shot him to instant fame was that of Leslie Chow in the Hangover film series. Currently, the actor is exploring the small screen and roles behind the camera, but he says fame hasn’t affected his personal life, thanks to his wife, Tran, who “helps set the tone of the family”.
From a practicing physician to a comedian, that’s quite a journey.
I come from an academic family; my dad is a professor of economics. I did well in school and attended Duke University (USA) for my undergraduate studies. I proceeded to join medical school at University Of North Carolina (USA). During college, I discovered acting, and fell in love with it. I was even accepted into the acting school at Duke University, but I declined because I was committed to my pre-medical schedules.
So, how did acting happen?
I still had a dream, so I started performing as a hobby. Fast forward 10 years, I moved to Los Angeles, worked as a doctor and did stand-up comedy at clubs there. Then, I got an agent, and got the part in Knocked Up, where I played a doctor, and then eventually The Hangover (2009) happened. So yes, that’s been my journey.
Would you say The Hangover was the turning point in your career?
Yes, I think Tran encouraged me to continue pursuing my dream, and I got the part in The Hangover. It changed my career. Every bit of the success I have achieved in the past six years is due to that film.
How has your sudden fame changed your family life?
I am lucky to have a down-to-earth wife, who is also a doctor. We have twin daughters, aged eight. To be honest, the transition has not been that bad because of my wife. She helps set the tone of the family. Also, our family is so rooted in academics that we typically try to normalise situations.
You’ve been quite vocal about how you owe your acting career to your wife. Is she also your best critic?
Yes, she’s my partner in every way. She’s my life partner and my creative partner. We have similar tastes in comedy, and we like the same things artistically. That’s really helped me. She is instrumental in my success in so many ways that I can’t articulate how much appreciation I have for her.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to being a full-time doctor?
No, I don’t think I’ll ever practice full-time again. But I’d like to be involved in medicine in the future in some way. Whether it would be charity work, behind-the-scenes administration, or maybe more legislative things, I don’t know. But I think that I’ll always be a doctor. It’s a hard thing to let go. It’s a reminder of where I come from.
Do you take an active interest in diminishing the stereotypical portrayal of Asians on television shows?
I think that diversity is growing in Hollywood, especially on TV. We have a few Asian-American family sitcoms now. It’s really an amazing time to be an Asian- American actor. I’m also a producer, so I have a final say in certain things. I am responsible for casting as well, along with the network. This is quite unprecedented.
Ken Jeong is also a popular meme now:
As a child, did you relate to any character you saw on TV?
I think TV is universal. I watched Family Ties. Michael J Fox is one of my favourite actors. I grew up loving him and his show. I also loved Different Strokes as a kid.
You are currently co-producing a TV show. Are you considering taking up more roles in showbiz?
I directed a documentary for a sports channel about an Asian-American football player, Reggie Ho. He was also a doctor. It was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to directing some more.