How Ken Jeong Ended Up Going Fully Naked in ‘The Hangover’
When The Hangover came out in 2009, it was an innovative movie for several reasons. For starters, instead of documenting the debauchery of a Las Vegas bachelor party, the film skipped over the night entirely. It was all about the aftermath, with none of the clichés of party night in Vegas.
Another notable thing about the movie was the chances it took with the characters. No one had any idea what the characters played by Zack Galifianakis and Ken Jeong might do. And they did just about everything.
In Jeong’s case, the doctor-turned-comic actor was going through the most difficult time of his life during the Hangover shoot. His wife, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, was undergoing chemotherapy right around that period.
Jeong said he “was working out his demons” while taking his character (Leslie Chow) to the extreme. Part of that involved Jeong going fully naked during the movie. But director Todd Phillips hadn’t written that into the script.
Jeong came up with the idea of going fully nude
While we’ve heard stories of directors coaxing actors (usually female leads) to go nude, that wasn’t the case in The Hangover. Jeong came up with the idea on his own and pitched it to Phillips, who didn’t need any convincing.
“That was my idea,” Jeong told Dan Patrick in 2015. “Old School was one of my favorite movies of all time and … [it] was screaming for Mr. Chow to jump out naked.” After running it by his wife (she gave Jeong her blessing), he brought it to Phillips.
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Jeong recalled Phillips telling him. Almost immediately following their conversation, Phillips’s people had Jeong sign a nudity waiver so the games could begin. But before they could do the scene, they needed someone who’d agree to having a nude Jeong jump on him.
“Ed Helms and Zack said, ‘No way,'” Jeong said. “But Bradley [Cooper] said, ‘I’ll sign up for it.’ So we did 40 takes of my privates on his shoulder. [pause] Every woman’s dream.”
Jeong had a feeling it would be a breakout scene for him
When he shot The Hangover, Jeong had only had a few film roles and was worried he could get typecast as a doctor. So he had a feeling going buck-naked in a major picture would be a good thing for him, career-wise. “I wanted to do something shocking,” he told the Today Show in 2017.
Indeed, the scene was shocking to viewers. (When I caught the film in a theater in Argentina in 2009, Jeong’s genitals were obscured by national censors.) Many years later, it’s clear Jeong has no regrets about it.
But that’s not to say The Hangover production went smoothly once Jeong stripped. Phillips and Helms recalled a cop threatening to shut the shoot down.
“Ken is sprinting through an empty lot naked, and the cop says something like, ‘This is Vegas — we don’t act like that. This is not that kind of town,” Helms said in 2013. “Behind the cop, as he’s saying this, is a billboard of naked women,” Cooper said.