This story first appeared in the May 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
From doctor to struggling stand-up to key part of a $1 billion franchise, Ken Jeong's career arc is nothing but improbable. With the Hangover trilogy ending May 23, the actor has plenty of options. Sources say Jeong pulled down more than $5 million to reprise his role as Mr. Chow in The Hangover Part III -- not too shabby for a former general practitioner who quit the medical profession in his late 30s to pursue comedy.
In addition to another season on NBC's Community, Jeong is developing four film projects that could catapult him to leading-man status, including the comedy After Prom (with producer Jason Blumenthal) and indie satire The Clapper that Dito Montiel will direct. "Ever since Hangover, my life went from black-and-white to Technicolor," says Jeong, 43.
Those dark days included years as a stand-up until manager Brett Carducci helped Jeong land his first film role as an obstetrician in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up (2007). That led to an audition for Hangover director Todd Phillips, who saw Jeong in YouTube videos with comic Mike O'Connell. "I really improvised a lot in that audition," recalls Jeong. "I was in character, screaming and yelling. I remember Todd saying: 'This guy is insane. I must hire him.' "
Jeong, raised in North Carolina by South Korean immigrant parents, says his four years on Community served as acting grad school. His reps now are focusing on film, with Jeong also mulling two studio comedies and new commercials to follow his well-received Miller Lite ads directed by Peter Berg. And though his character died in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a Paramount insider says the door is open for a return. Notes Jeong, "I'm kind of humbled and pleasantly surprised and grateful for all of this."
Name: Ken Jeong, 43
Reps: CAA, manager Brett Carducci, attorney Chad Christopher
Low Point: Years of rejection after quitting a medical practice to pursue comedy.
Big Break: The scene-stealing role of Mr. Chow in 2009's The Hangover. "From the moment I jumped out naked from that trunk," says Jeong, "everything just changed."
Big Payday: $5 million-plus for Hangover: Part III.
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- Ken Jeong