Are we ready for the serious side of Ken Jeong? Or even weirder: the warm, fuzzy side?
PopcorrnBiz’s promised you more of our conversation with Jeong, the spazzy-but-sinister Mr. Chow in “The Hangover” films and aggro-sadsack Senor Chang on “Community,” and now we’ve got the lowdown on two more summer movies where once again we expect him to walk off with every scene he can: the blockbuster-in-waiting “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and family-friendly “Zookeeper.”
“In 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' I play a coworker of Shia LaBeouf,” says Jeong, who networked his way into the role. “I was recommended to Michael Bay by [“Hangover” director] Todd Phillips and he helped me get the job. Michael Bay had a role with me in mind, and I met with him and we really got along. It was one of the greatest moments of my career, because I was a fly on the wall watching the big boys play: you're talking Shia, you're talking about Michael Bay, you're talking about Steven Spielberg producing it.”
Jeong’s aware that the merits of the “Transformers” films are hotly debated, but says “I really admire Michael's ability of making something so big and huge so intimate. I think to make these Transformers, Autobots and Decepticons so intimate, to care about them, is no small feat, and he does it seamlessly. I think this movie is going to be the best of the franchise, I really do.”
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He doesn’t play his role in the action film entirely straight, he confesses. “There's a bit of a funny edge, and a bit of an important edge to it. Shia would constantly tell me, 'You're really furthering the plot along in a very important way.' He was always reminding me of that, in a good way. I love working off of him because, number one, he's worked with Michael Bay twice on these 'Transformer' movies, so both of them know what they're talking about; and number two, how he reacts off of CGI – I was really copying Shia's lead.”
“It's easy to react off of you and your energy, but it's so much harder to generate my own energy and then react off that,” Jeong says of his green screen experience. “It's double the work. It's mentally exhausting. Shia has to do that all the time. It's so hard. Michael is a genius at finessing that reaction. It's the hardest form of acting that I've ever done, in so many ways. You really have to emote and that has nothing to do with comedy. It's another form of acting that I learned. It's almost like taking a master class with the best.”
“I looked at 'Transformers' for me as an educational experience,” he says, “like, 'Wow, this is how the big boys do it! Maybe I can do something like this again and continue to get better at it, much like I'm continuing to get better in comedy.' I really looked at it like being a fly on the wall. Even the interviews that I've done for 'Transformers' have all been in the mindset of, like, 'Oh, I'm stupid. I just want to hear everyone else talk. I know nothing. I'm just learning.'”
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Just week after “Transformers” debuts, Jeong’s next outing, “Zookeeper,” bows, poised to be a major hit with film-going families and yet another challenge for the actor. “With the 'Zookeeper', I love the fact that I'm a part of 'The Hangover 2' and then in a sci-fi movie and then in a family movie. It's very, very enjoyable, mainly comedy. It's a sweet movie with Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Joe Rogan and Donnie Wahlberg. I just saw the second trailer yesterday and it looks really, really sweet and cute. My character is Venom – I have long hair with tattoos. I'm like a reptile expert at the zoo.”
Jeong says that when it comes to roles that test his acting abilities, even outside his comedic comfort zone, he’s ready to take on all comers with the ferocity of Mr. Chow popping out of trunk.
“With every opportunity that I get I really want to make the most of it,” he explains. “I really just want to do the best that I can because I know I'll never get this chance ever to do it. People say, 'Oh, it'll always happen.' It'll NEVER happen! You have to take advantage of it right now. You have to, at the very least, do your best. Otherwise, five years from now I won't be working at all and I'll just be regretting all these opportunities that I had that I didn't make the most of. So I'm tired, but I'm a happy tired. My heart’s not tired.”