Ken Jeong is having a nice couple of weeks. First, the doctor-turned-actor's television series, "Community," was surprisingly renewed for a fifth season. And next week, the third and final installment of the hugely successful "Hangover" series will be released -- featuring a substantially larger role for Jeong in his criminal, scoundrel role as Mr. Chow. We caught up with an excited Jeong about the end of "The Hangover," the future of "Community" and his dreams for a Mr. Chow spinoff movie.
Congratulations on the renewal of "Community."
Oh, thank you so much. I'm excited. I'm just really excited and pleasantly surprised. You know, I really didn't know what the chances of renewal would be. I really didn't know. That's really a testament to the fanbase, the devoted fanbase, that the show has.
Do they give you any hints on renewal either way before the announcement?
We get our information probably off of the Internet, just like you guys -- at least for the actors -- so everyone is kind of kept in the dark. There are a lot of decisions to be made at the last minute right before upfronts for any network. And I think that's good, because you don't want any information to be leaked out. I'm sure people are changing their minds and finessing their decisions right until the eleventh hour. So we were definitely an eleventh-hour renewal. I think the whole cast, we're such good friends that we're just so grateful to come back.
When you first read the script for "The Hangover Part III," were you at all like, "I'm in this a lot"?
Yeah, exactly. I was surprised, again in a good way. I couldn't believe that I had an expanded role. And I was just excited to come back to the third movie. I was just hoping to have a part in the third movie, to be honest. So, to me, I was so grateful that they gave me a part in it. Then to find out I had an expanded role? It's like, "Wow, oh my goodness."
In the past two, your role has been memorable but small. In this third movie, Chow even opens up the film with a prison escape.
I think I'm still kind of wrapping my head around it. And I've already finished filming it -- it's kind of a mind-blowing thing. Coming from a guy, not too long ago quit his medical day job, and to end up in this situation is beyond a dream come true. When I quit my day job as a doctor, I was thinking, "You know, I just want to be a working actor."
You had a successful run with guest appearances for a really long time. You were in a lot of things.
Yeah, well, thank you for noticing. And I was really happy doing that. That was really the goal: I wanted to get lines on TV shows and movies. That was really it, I just wanted to have lines. And that's what a working actor does: A working actor works. And that's still the goal. All I want to do is just work, and I think the ultimate reward for a guy like me is just to keep working steadily the rest of his life.
Does having a medical degree ever help you on set? Let's say Chow shoots someone, can you say, "Well, you would want to aim at that part of the body if you want him to die right away."
You know, that doesn't really happen in this context. But I do think -- I remember in "Knocked Up," it did. I'm trying to think of some other times that I was a physician. I would offer, sometimes, those things if I was asked. It really depends on the context of the story, and sometimes accuracy is not what is important in the scene. You are telling a story and it's all contextual, like anything else.
Both Chow and Chang from "Community" are over-the-top characters. You mentioned "Knocked Up" -- do you ever miss doing the straight-shooting dick like that character?
I'm going with the flow at this point in my career. And the good thing about it, at the very least, I feel -- how do I say? -- secure in the knowledge that I can go back to roles like Dr. Kuni as well as Mr. Chow. I enjoy doing both of those roles in many ways. It's so much fun doing a role like Mr. Chow because I am a doctor. For me to be known for playing "crazy villain roles" is -- as a guy in real life who is a mild-mannered doctor -- that's the biggest accomplishment that I could think of. I think other people would look at it like, "Oh, he's typecast as the villain." I'm looking at it like, "Oh my God, I'm typecast as a villain! It's amazing!" [laughs]. It's all about perspective. To be honest, I can always go back to playing those types of roles, the medical roles. Those come to me -- quite frankly, I hate to say it like this -- but it's pretty easy, because I was a doctor for 10 years!
Speaking of the villain role, I've seen every episode of "Community," but I was recently watching some episodes from early in the first season and it's crazy how the tone of the show has changed.
Well, that's television.
Right, you can watch the first episode of "Friends" and the characters are very different then how we know them later.
But Chang's arc, he's not really anything like the character that we know now.
Oh, yeah. They've done so many permutations to my character, it's like I can't keep count anymore. But I look at that show -- honestly, for me, it's experimental theater, you know? They're always trying something new every year and it keeps it fresh. And I actually enjoy that, if that makes any sense. I look at it as: I became a better actor because of "Community," because of all of the hours in front of the camera for four years. That's been my formal training, to be honest. In between "Hangover" movies, [director] Todd Phillips was like, "Oh my God, between movies you're like a better actor every year."
That's a nice thing to hear.
And it's because of "Community." So I make it work. Does that make sense? Whatever circumstances I have, I don't complain and I just make it work. That's kind of the key to doing all of this, in my opinion. And, again, to go back to "Hangover III" -- to be honest, I think "Hangover III" is the best work I've ever done. And I think it's a culmination of the years of "Community" and the previous two "Hangover" movies and movies like "Knocked Up" and "Role Models" that I've been a part of. I honestly don't know if it can get any better than this. People have asked me, "What goals do you have after 'Hangover III'?" I really don't know, because I honestly don't think it could get any better than this. I have an expanded part in a franchise that people know and love -- what's not to like?
As far as after "Hangover III," I feel like you've gotten yourself into the Michael Bay club. You were in both "Transformers 3" and "Pain & Gain."
That's right, yeah. It was through "Hangover" -- because Michael Bay is a big "Hangover" fan, you know -- I got to be in "Transformers 3" and "Pain & Gain." Honestly, I would like to keep doing more Mr. Chow. I would love to do a Chow spinoff or anything Chow related. He's my favorite character that I've ever played, because you can literally say or do anything in that character.
You mentioned that you feel this is your best work. On top of that, the second "Hangover" has a reputation for being repetitive of the first movie, and that's not the case with this installment.
Yeah, this is not a bachelor party situation. There's no missing person. It doesn't adhere to the formula of the first two movies, and it's a fitting finale to it. I personally love the second movie. I really enjoyed making it and I loved being in Thailand. I felt, as an actor, that we were really, really in a pocket ... and I think all of those experiences are very additive, and that leads to this movie ... it's not a sprint, it's a marathon.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.