THE REAL-LIFE wolfpack behind the "Hangover" movies is a strange one - no alpha males.
So says Ken Jeong, who credits his career surge to the generosity of his "Hangover" co-stars - over the years, they've encouraged his Mr. Chow to take an ever-larger role in the story, culminating with the character's centerpiece role in the series' finale.
"Chow basically takes his place in the third movie as the devil. And in order for the wolfpack to move on with their lives, they have to dance with the devil," says Jeong, whose Chow is typically the dominant character in any "Hangover" sequence.
All without pushback from more established stars Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper, a newly minted Academy Award nominee.
I asked Jeong if Oscar big shot Cooper was big-timing his co-stars, and he laughed.
"I know Bradley pretty well; I can tell you he's one of those guys who will never change. He's so well-grounded. He's just the same guy I knew seven years ago," said Jeong, who was mostly a bit player when he met Cooper on a movie set.
Jeong grew up the son of Korean-American academics in North Carolina, where he graduated high school at 16 and pursued a career in medicine, which led him to New Orleans, where he practiced medicine by day and stand-up by night.
He did the same thing in L.A., landing a noteworthy role in "Knocked Up," then working on "All About Steve," with an up-and-coming Cooper.
"I can't tell you what a generous guy he was," Jeong said. "He really showed me the ropes, how to be a movie actor, and we just became instant friends. It's one of those weird twists of fate. We got cast together in 'The Hangover' by coincidence, and our friendship, I think, really helped the movie."
He felt comfortable enough with Cooper, for instance, to suggest that he do his famous, career-making trunk scene in the nude.
"I don't think I'd have felt comfortable jumping naked onto the back of some guy I didn't know. That requires a certain degree of intimacy," he jokes. But Cooper endorsed the idea with enthusiasm.
"He was so excited that it was going to happen," Jeong said. "He was so proud of the strong choice I'd made. It meant the world to me."
Jeong also has become close friends with Helms and director Todd Phillips, and said that the real-life wolfpack is far less acrimonious than the group onscreen.
"Movie sets can be like other relationships. Especially when you do three movies together. People fall in and out of love, or lose respect for each other. And it just didn't happen with 'The Hangover' movies. We've all changed and grown and become stronger friends. It's really kind of surreal. I'm convinced I'll never have another experience this good."
Professionally, that is. Jeong said that the other driving force in his life has been his wife, Tran, still a working doctor. It was she who insisted that Jeong, while still practicing, set medicine aside for a run at acting - the inverse of the usual follow-your-dreams cliché about the showbiz dreamer.
"She's the one who really encouraged me. She said that, deep down, she'd always known she'd married an actor," said Jeong, who at the time he made "Knocked Up" was still working full time as a doctor.
"I was reluctant to leave. I had a good thing going. I was a partner in a very stable practice, and had a good living for the rest of my life. But she told me I should do it now, or I'd always regret it. Quite frankly, I didn't have much confidence in myself. In my heart, I was an actor, but my head said, 'Don't quit your day job, why would you leave all this?'
"Cut to seven years later, and the answer is obvious. I'm much happier now," said Jeong, who also has a regular gig on "Community."
Jeong has talked candidly about his wife's battle with breast cancer - she was diagnosed during the filming of the first "Hangover." She is now fully recovered.
"My wife is cancer-free, going on five years now. I'm just so grateful she's healthy and we are able to enjoy this time together."
I asked Jeong, the comedian/physician, where he comes down on the "best medicine" debate.