Ken Jeong

The actor who portrays King Argotron talks about his role in the film, the similarities between David Wain and Judd Apatow and future projects

Ken Jeong is another rising comedic star that has found his way into David Wain's stable. After a string of episodic TV spots, Wain appeared as the cranky doctor in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, an employment agent in the Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly film Step Brothers and also appeared in the Apatow-produced Pineapple Express as well. He takes the role of royalty in his latest performance, that of King Argotron in Role Models, which hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on March 10. I had the chance to speak with Jeong over the phone about his role in the film, and here's what he had to say.

So how did this whole project first come about for you?

Ken Jeong: Well, I was offered the role, I think it was right after Knocked Up came out, in the summer of '07. I had met Paul on the set of Knocked Up. I think that had a lot to do with it and I think, basically, they were trying to find that right antagonist for the movie. I definitely applied a lot of stuff I learned on the set while doing Knocked Up and playing Dr. Juni. It was definitely the most antagonistic character in the movie and I was applying that even more in Role Models. It was the most difficult role I'd ever done because, unlike Dr. Kuni, that was relatively easy for me to go back, since I had medical training. This one, I had no experience in live-action role-playing or I didn't know anything about Dungeons & Dragons or any of those kind of things. I definitely did a lot of research for about six weeks. I watched Darkon about 20 times, a documentary on LARPing, and, in fact, I based my character on a couple of those people from Darkon. I really loved that movie. Once I got into it, I was like, hey, I could possibly do this. I went to some actual live-action role-playing events they have in Malibu. The technical advisor on the film took me out to these LARPing events, to educate me on these things. It was great and I really learned a lot. There is so much LARPing in Role Models and I think it perfectly captures the events that I saw and the events that I saw on Darkon. It really captures them perfectly. I look at Argotron as a guy who not really is a bully so much, as he probably was like Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse's character) and he turned out to be the very guy he despised.

Yeah. Power corrupts.

Ken Jeong: Yeah. Exactly. Then I had to learn the fight choreography from Jeff Imada, who did the choreography for The Bourne Ultimatum and all these things. He was way over-qualified to teach me and Chris Mintz-Plasse to use foam swords, but that was a lot of fun shooting that. I had an amazing time doing that movie.

One of the things that I thought was pretty funny was when you and your high court would be eating at that same diner before these events. Did you guys actually go out, in costume, to see how people reacted to that garb of yours?

Ken Jeong: We shot that in the valley and we never really walked around on the streets. We had to do some outside stuff, and yes, people would look. People would look at us differently but I remember seeing in Darkon, though, guys, after they were done doing their events, they would go to a Burger King and they would be in their garb. I remember referencing that a lot. I think these guys who do the live-action role-playing, they're no different from actors or professional wrestlers, where they're always in character all the time. You almost kind of forget that you're... you accidentally play that character a little too much in real life, because it's the only thing you have going in your life. I definitely felt like, yeah, that was the only thing that made me happy, was being in that crown, otherwise, I was this dork who worked at Kinko's, you know. I felt like that was the only thing that gave me happiness, so it was a lot like Locke in Lost, that first season, where he's being this bad-ass but he's working in a cubicle, handicapped. I definitely had that mentality, but yeah, to be wearing all that 10 to 15 hours a day, you definitely got a lot of stares.

Most of your scenes are with Chris (Mintz-Plasse) and Matt Walsh and Paul Rudd, and there's a great cast around you as well, so what was it like working with all of these guys?

Ken Jeong: Yeah, they were the funniest guys. I think they're some of the funniest guys in the world right now. Matt Walsh, actually, and I'm glad the DVD is coming out because I think you'll really see him go, he's one of the funniest people I've ever worked with. He's so funny and I give him a lot of credit for making my character looking like even more of an asshole. He was like my Dwight (Schrute), you know, like on The Office, the loyal assistant. If you'd go back a year or two, I probably worked at the Burger Hole. I probably was the manager at that Burger Hole and Matt's character was probably my assistant at the Burger Hole (Laughs). He is so funny and, you know, he founded UCB (Upright Citizen's Brigade), one of the founding fathers of that improv group, and I can't say enough about him. He made me laugh so many times on set. I probably broke more than I've ever broke on a set from laughing. Paul Rudd, I met him on Knocked Up, and he has it all. He can act, he's possibly the smartest guy I've met. Evan Goldberg, of Pineapple Express, calls him the smartest guy he's ever met, and I'd have to agree with that. His approach to comedy is the most thought-out approach and he makes it look so easy. He's so easy to work with. He's like the one guy I had in med school who is a bad-ass surgeon, but he never came across that way. He's so unassuming and so relatable. And Chris Mintz-Plasse, we've become great friends after shooting. I worked with him right at the height of Superbad, and just seeing him handle, he handled his fame. I mean, his fame was white-hot. There was like Elvis dust coming off him, you know. He just carried himself so well. He was really serious about running lines and making sure we got our characters down. He's definitely beyond his years, in terms of how he approaches his acting and I'm so happy for him because he just has another great performance in this movie.

Do you have a favorite scene, like one of the battle scenes, or a particular memorable moment from behind the scenes from this movie?

Ken Jeong: (Laughs) Yeah. I don't know if this is on the DVD, but when I get into an argument with Paul, Matt Walsh gave me this great line and, it's not in the movie, but it's where Paul and I are arguing back and forth about the crown and stuff like that. He basically says, 'You're so pathetic, that you feel the need to be superior to young boys.' I said, 'Dude, shut up. You're sounding like my wife.' Then he keeps going on and Matt Walsh came in and said, 'Shut the f*&% up Karen!' (Laughs) That was the funniest line, my favorite line while filming, and that was from Matt Walsh. That was one of Paul's favorite lines too, and we were remarking that he just turned into my wife. That was one of my favorite moments. There was so much stuff that was improvised. Also, I think me having Paul kiss my ring and me putting my finger up his nostril, in his nasal cavity, was another favorite moment. That was something I didn't think they'd use for the final cut. We just did four takes prior just of him kissing the ring and then the final take, I thought it would be specifically for the DVD, I literally picked his nose, because Paul had laughed during that take, but they cut away just at the right time, right before he broke and I was laughing too during that take. I was more than pleasantly surprised that was in the final print. It just gave my character a more creepy vibe than intended.

David Wain has really been making a name for himself with just a few films under his belt. What was it like working with him and how would you compare him to people like Judd Apatow that you've worked with?

Ken Jeong: David I've been a huge fan of since Wet Hot American Summer, or, really, since The State. I was definitely in awe of him and Ken Marino and Joe Lo Truglio. There's like half the members from The State, Kerri Kinney. So, for me, it was very similar to Judd where Judd has a lot of his friends from Freaks and Geeks and David has some of the guys that he's worked with since NYU, since they were in college, and doing The State, so there's definitely that familiarity. They really bring out the best performances because they know the actors so well. I've found that one day, one of the final LARPing scenes, they had like half the cast from Wet Hot American Summer there. I was just talking to Walsh or Chris and it was like, 'Oh my God. This is really surreal to watch.' I thought that was one of the coolest moments. Similarly, when I was at the table read for Knocked Up, you literally had the cast of Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared and The 40 Year Old Virgin in the same room. That blew my mind. I was a big fan of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, so at the table read I was sitting right next to Martin Starr. That's great because Judd knows just how to use those guys. It's like a basketball team where the coach knows how to use all the players strengths. It's no different when you're working with actors who are great and funny and know how to improvise and also working with a director who knows how to use their strengths. That's half the battle, when you're working with a director that you don't' know very well, you don't know what that guy is capable of doing. I definitely see a lot of similarities in that. David was so nice and he gave me a lot of guidance and a lot of freedom, a blend of both and Judd is a master at that. It's still the biggest "holy sh*t" moment of my career, to be in Knocked Up, to be in that movie because Judd gave me a career. It just goes without saying that if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here talking to you (Laughs). I still can't believe I was in Knocked Up. That was just on HBO last night and it just brought back all these memories.

I was actually on the set of Judd's new movie, Funny People, and I believe you have a part in that as well. Is there anything you can say about your role in that?

Ken Jeong: Oh yeah. That's a cameo. I don't know if I'll be in the final print or not. I shot a cameo where I play... I'm in the movie within the movie, if that makes any sense. Adam Sandler's character is a movie star and they showed clips of his past movies and they actually filmed those clips, like some of the movies he was in in the 80s. You'll see posters of that movie in the film and I played one of the characters of the movie within the movie. That was great, just being on set with Judd because it really is the same people behind the scenes, and to see the same people over again was just nice. It wasn't work at all.

Finally, Role Models did really well in the theaters, but for those who might not have caught it, what would you like to say to get them to pick this up on DVD?

Ken Jeong: Oh yeah. Get the DVD. You'll get to see all the guys you knew before like Paul and Chris and myself and Joe Lo Truglio and Matt Walsh. You get to see the actors you've seen before, in a different light, in different roles and different capacities. It's really cool to see all these actors in other movies you've seen before just doing other types of roles and that's just a lot of fun. I thought the chemistry of the movie was great and I think the live-action role-playing was some of my favorite scenes I've ever shot. It was amazing to be a part of this movie and Paul and Seann William Scott, again, you have this big ensemble of actors who really work well together and I really think they did a tremendous job. You'll definitely not be disappointed. You'll definitely be thoroughly entertained by Role Models... or your money back (Laughs).

Well, that's about all I have for you, Ken. Thanks a lot for your time and, best of luck.

Ken Jeong: Thank you. Thanks so much, man. See you, Brian.

You can catch Ken Jeong and the rest of the super-hilarious cast of Role Models when the film comes to DVD and Blu-ray on March 10.