Ken Jeong began his career as a doctor — a real life, practicing physician — before answering Hollywood’s call in comedy smash films like “Knocked Up,” “The Hangover” and on NBC’s “Community.” “I got Koreaned into being pre-med and I got Americaned into being an actor,” he jokes.
Born in Detroit and raised in North Carolina, the Korean American wrote, starred in and executive produced his own ABC sitcom, “Dr. Ken.” After reading “Crazy Rich Asians” he reached out to Jon M. Chu to offer his support for the project — and was later cast as Mr. Goh, leaving the cast and crew in stitches while filming scenes opposite on-screen daughter Awkwafina.
In your own words: What’s your Hollywood story?
My Hollywood story couldn’t be more roundabout! I used to be a practicing physician. Even when I was pre-med at Duke I had this yearning to be an actor — I just didn’t know if that could be a viable profession, or so my dad told me. To say it’s been a dream is an understatement. My own personal journey has really just been a wonderful ride at California Adventure.
My first movie was “Knocked Up,” written and directed by Judd Apatow, and that really opened the door for me acting-wise and then “The Hangover” just burst that door wide open and changed my life from black and white to Technicolor. If it wasn’t for “The Hangover” I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now, and I wouldn’t be in a position to have my own show.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is the first movie of its kind in 25 years. What does it mean to you to be part of this moment?
As we’re getting closer to the release date I find myself very emotional about it on a deeper level than I’ve ever been, because the movie’s bigger than all of us.
It’s important, honestly, whether I’m in the movie or not. It’s something that you know can ripple out and give other Asian American filmmakers a voice on a more viable commercial platform. You know everyone knows the end game.
It’s one thing to be deeply passionate about a film, but to be emotional about it from a cultural standpoint — I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way.
When you were young, did you see yourself reflected on-screen?
When I was little my favorite actor was Michael J. Fox. I loved “Family Ties” and I never thought in a million years I’d ever be an actor. It was not even a dream. I was like, “That is a guy I relate to. He is short and he’s funny. You know, he’s a scene-stealer.
You know who else I really loved? Pat Morita from “The Karate Kid.” He was an amazing stand-up comic and he was a towering figure in my worldview because his timing was exceptional.