From The Real World to Real Life: Jamie Chung

Jamie Chung wants to party—you don’t end up on The Real World if you don’t. But seven years later, the California native is still having fun, and getting paid for it to boot. Little did we know, her party-girl persona was a red herring—she’s actually a workaholic in disguise.

Before she landed on television, Chung worked two jobs to get through college, and still found time to enjoy sorority sisterhood. Flash-forward a few years, and she’s getting cast in movies as, well, waitresses and sorority girls. The ambitious actress soon began shedding her reality-television roots, turning small roles into not-so-small roles until, suddenly, she’s in Berlin, partying at the German premiere of The Hangover Part II.

And while the bride-to-be isn’t the most glamorous role in a Hangover movie, being in a much talked about, high-profile summer comedy comes with its own rewards. But it’s not in Chung’s nature to start coasting now; just this week, she signed on to star opposite Rob Lowe in a promising political film. We caught up with her over the phone to discuss The Hangover Part II, upcoming projects, and the monkey who stole all of her screen time.

RAY RAHMAN: At the movie’s Hollywood premiere, you wore a racy chain mail dress that looked like it could’ve come from another one of your movies, Sucker Punch. What inspired that decision?

JAMIE CHUNG: Yeah, it was really risqué, yet it was just such a unique gown. The truth is I would normally never wear anything like that, but it seems pretty appropriate. It’s a risqué movie, so I figured a risqué dress wouldn’t hurt. The movie’s so shocking and vulgar, a dress like that wouldn’t offend anyone.

RAHMAN: Right, well, there are parts of the movie that are pretty uncomfortable to sit through as it is. I can’t imagine chain mail would help.

CHUNG: You know, you’d think that, but it was actually quite comfortable.

RAHMAN: Was it difficult coming into a cast where all the actors had already worked together and established a relationship?

CHUNG: I’m just starstruck by these guys. I’m such a big fan of the first Hangover, and to see and hang out with them is surreal. Thankfully, I’m much more normal [about it] now, because when I first met them, I would act like a 14-year-old geek-fan. I’d blabber gibberish and not make any sense, just embarrass myself, and then walk away feeling like an asshole. But now I’m myself around these guys. I finally don’t feel like an asshole.

RAHMAN: You’ve been in a number of comedies that center around male bonding: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Grown Ups, and now this. Do you become “just one the guys” on set?

CHUNG: To be honest with you, I’m more of a girl’s girl. I’m much more comfortable being around other girls. Really, the Hangover guys are so talented and funny that they’re intimidating, almost scary to be around. And I’m the only female cast member, you know? [laughs] But they’ve all been great.

RAHMAN: Your character is engaged to Stu, the nice dentist, but which character do you think you’d end up with in real life?

CHUNG: I’d have to say Doug. There’s something about his dry sarcasm. He’s a good big brother to Alan, Zach’s character. Even though he only married into the family, he still looks out for him. And I kind of think Justin [Bartha] himself is like that with all of us.

RAHMAN: Did you all get a chance hang out offset in Thailand? Any fun stories?

CHUNG: Overall, it was mostly work for us, but it’s such a beautiful location that we tried to take advantage of the great outdoors as much as possible. We went around in these little putt-putt boats to snorkeling, rock climbing, and cruised through to Monkey Beach.

RAHMAN: Speaking of, did you spend a lot of time with Crystal the monkey?

CHUNG: Everyone keeps talking about this monkey! But no, I did not spend time with the monkey. She filmed mostly in Bangkok. She’s actually the other female cast member, so I got quite jealous of this monkey. The performance she gave, the screen time she got, the buzz she’s getting—I’m envious of this monkey. If I saw the monkey in real life, I’d fight this monkey. I would punch the monkey. [laughs] No, I’m kidding, I love animals.

RAHMAN: Back when you were a Real World cast member, MTV noted that you have “traditional,” conservative Korean parents. How are they going to react to this movie?

CHUNG: Oh, man, they’re so frail and much older now, I think they’d be completely shocked. I’ll have escort them out of the theater right before the end credits, when everyone sees the slideshow, because I feel that’s the most shocking thing. It definitely doesn’t disappoint all the fans who are looking forward to this film. But my parents, at their age—they’re in their 60s and 70s—I’ll have to scoot them out of there before they see the pictures. Or they’d be proud of me—I’m not one of the lady-boys. I think they’d be happy about that.

RAHMAN: When was the last time you yourself had a Hangover-like experience?

CHUNG: It happens all the time—it happened last night! No, I kid. The older I get, the easier it is for me to get a hangover, so the less I want to drink. I hate spending the entire next day feeling like poo poo and having to piece together the night before… OK, to be quite honest, it’s happening right now. [laughs] I don’t know if it’s jetlag or if I’m under the weather, but we did have a good time at the premiere last night. I had a couple glasses of champagne and just couldn’t go to sleep. When I woke up today, I had to do press all morning, and I felt like a zombie—a talking, walking zombie. It was awful, but I have to do it. There’s a monkey out there trying to steal my shit, so I’ve got to fucking do it.

RAHMAN: You’ll be starring in Premium Rush with Joseph-Gordon Levitt, who plays a New York City bike messenger in trouble. Are you going to be riding alongside him?

CHUNG: No, I’m not on a bike. I play a Chinese immigrant who uses his services in order to get a package delivered to Chinatown. Michael Shannon is in it, too. He’s incredible—I got totally choked up by him. And again, it’s another film where I’m surrounded by fantastic actors. It’s been quite the run.

RAHMAN: And now news has it you’ve been cast with Rob Lowe in Knife Fight, an indie political drama, as the assistant to his political consultant. How did that come about?

CHUNG: It’s a fascinating story. You see all these nasty campaigns during elections, and they’re all driven by these geniuses who know how to manipulate and twist the truth. A campaign manager [Chris Lehane] who used to work for Bill Clinton and Al Gore co-wrote the script. They were originally going to make it into a documentary, but of course that wouldn’t ever happen, so they’re turning it into a drama. And Rob Lowe is just perfect for this. When you see him on The West Wing, he’s just great at playing that sort of character. I’m so excited to play with this… well, legend, in his own right.

RAHMAN: It’s quite a departure from a lot of your previous work. Are you starting to look for more serious roles?

CHUNG: Yeah, it is much different. Luckily, these are the kinds of choices I’m able to make now. These opportunities are finally starting to come around. It’s so important to work with material you can really mold and milk and create and evolve. And I’m grateful for the roles in Grown Ups and Chuck and Larry, because they’ve given me some screen time. But there wasn’t a lot of depth. There wasn’t really much that I could work with. Knife Fight is so completely different, completely out of my comfort zone. I mean, like the rest of America, I wasn’t really into politics until Obama went into office, so it’s all kind of new to me, but I’m excited about it. I’ve been watching a lot of campaign ads, doing a lot of research for it. It’s so different, it’ll be interesting.

RAHMAN: You’ve said before that you hope to one day guest star on True Blood. Are you looking to play a vampire or someone who gets bitten?

CHUNG: I want to be the victim. I’d like—oh my God, this sounds awful!—but I’d like one of them to suck my blood. Specifically [Alexander] Skarsgård. I would love that. I’d be in heaven—particularly if it were Skarsgård.

Dexter is another show I want to do. And Game of Thrones—that’s never going to happen, but a girl can only hope. There are these creative shows, all on cable, that are just so daring and out there. That’s the stuff I really want to be a part of, like with Sucker Punch and Hangover 2. Those movies didn’t hold back. They really went for it. They didn’t half-ass it, you know? It was unapologetic. That’s the kind of material and work I’d like to be in.

RAHMAN: Sean Duffy, a fellow Real World alum, was recently elected to Congress, while your old castmate The Miz later won a professional-wrestling championship. Do you have any extracurricular ambitions up your sleeve?

CHUNG: Oh, yeah. If acting doesn’t work out, I plan to do food photography and just eat my way through the entire world. I’m a big foodie, and if I could make some career out it, that would be fantastic. It’s already become a kind of sub-career for me—just being fat and eating out at restaurants and trying different things. Really, I want to be Anthony Bourdain… but also someone who takes photos for menus and websites. I love photography, I love food, and I love traveling, and to put those three things together would just be the ultimate dream.


Slideshow photo credits
Photographer: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Stylist: Ashley Phan-Weston
Makeup: Agostina at Exclusive Artists
Hair: Kristin Ess
Special thanks to Barbara Guillaume