Ken Jeong originally wanted to be an actor but when he thought that dream wouldn’t materialize, he decided to go to medical school instead.
“When I got into medical school, I started doing stand up on the side as a hobby,” he says. “I still wanted to be an actor, but realistically I did not know if it would ever happen. At least with stand-up, I got to perform and it was a great outlet from my day job. I found a way to be completely happy working full-time as a doctor and just doing stand up on the side. Eventually, I got enough notice on BET and on Comedy Central that I was able to get an acting agent and then got the role in Knocked Up where I was playing a doctor. Everything turned out to be serendipitous.”
Knocked Up led to a career-defining role as a half-crazed ganster in The Hangover. Now, Jeong has no trouble getting work. In Pain & Gain, the new dark comedy from Michael Bay (Transformers), Jeong plays Jonny Wu, a motivational speaker who encourages Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) to become a “doer.” As a result, Daniel teams up with bodybuilding buddies Pual (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and tries to make millions by kidnapping a rich businessman (Tony Shalhoub).
“It’s an amalgamation of different motivational speakers that’s loosely based on Tom Vu, who was a famous motivational speaker in the ‘90s who had bikini girls and some similar wardrobe,” says Jeong of his role. “I watched some other motivational speakers. My goal was to play a really bad guy who had empty catchphrases and make that guy true to life.”
While Jeong is only in the movie for a few brief moments, he leaves a lasting impression and motivational videos regularly play on TV screens in the background of some scenes.
“My scenes are just with Mark Wahlberg’s character,” says Jeong “I was always a fan of his, but I had never met him or worked with him. It was a career highlight. I want to work with him more in the future. I love the man. He’s a sincere, grounded person. I love his energy and I love being around him.”
With a role in another Hangover film slated to come out this summer and a recurring role in the sit-com Community, Jeong has been plenty busy. He says the career has been so fulfilling to this point that he wouldn’t mind if it ended prematurely.
“If it were all to end tomorrow, I would be a happy man,” he says. “This has all exceeded my expectations. I never expected to have this kind of recognition on any level. If it weren’t for The Hangover, I wouldn’t have met Michael Bay with Transformers 3 and then worked with Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It’s so surreal. Here I am in Miami chilling out and promoting the movie. It’s been a fantastic roller coaster ride.”