In the seven years since his breakout role in “Knocked Up,” Ken Jeong has played a string of extremes. His role on “Community” as the insane and diabolical Ben Chang has been unpredictable, but his turns in the “Hangover” series and “Role Models” (as the King of LAIRE, or Live Action Interactive Role-playing Explorers) have been just as funny and unsettling. That's why it's downright intriguing to watch him play a sensitive English teacher in “The DUFF,” a high school comedy starring Mae Whitman as a girl dubbed The Designated Ugly Fat Friend, a buffer for her hottie pals.
We caught up with Jeong to discuss “The DUFF,” which was just released on Blu-Ray and DVD, and how he relished the chance to play a character who isn't threatening community college students for a living.
When you first heard about the “The DUFF” and inevitably learned that the title meant “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” what did you think?
I loved it. I'd heard of the book. Once I read the script, you got the sense that it's a wonderful misleading title like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” I got the title pretty readily, and I was really flattered that they would think of me. It wasn't like it was a part specifically written for me. I think the beautiful part of it was how the author Kody Keplinger happily signed off on me. Publicly! She was so nice and so welcoming. That really put me at ease. It was really one of my favorite movies I've been a part of. I think the script has a lot of heart and sends a great message.
Have you had any favorite kinds of feedback to the film?
I really, really enjoy when people say it's a great throwback to mid '80s John Hughes movies that I grew up on.
Mae Whitman is a joy to watch. How is she different from other actors you've worked with?
She's one of the best actresses I've ever worked with, no joke. She has a presence about her that just screams experience and professionalism, yet she's so young. Certain actors, you want to make sure you rise to their level. That was the case with Mae. I didn't want to let her down. I didn't want to let the project down. She raised the bar with her thoughtfulness. Her communication with the director and producers was great too. She didn't just know her lines; she knew the tone, the whole movie. This was her universe. She set the tone for that universe.