Ken Jeong Exclusive Interview: Dr. Ken, Dicky Wexler and a Career High

Ken: You’re right. In “Ken at the Concert” there’s a moment where Molly, just beautifully played by Krista Marie Yu,  tells Ken, “Dad, go away.” That felt so real. I have two daughters, they’re eight years old right now but I do envision that, you know the way she said it was so real…

MFT: Yes.

Ken: …and it stung! And, you know shoot anything you do it  several times, and so we did that take a number of times and there was not one bad take in the bunch and it cut my character to the core and it does  touch you there. I felt that Molly telling Ken, “Dad go away” was the truth of the episode and everything just spiraled out of that moment. 

MFT: Yes!

Ken: And that’s what activates Ken to go up on that stage and that’s what activates him to overreact and to embarrass himself. And I love the ending. It’s just a peck on the cheek, noting was fully communicated…and that’s the brilliance of Mike Sikowitz our head writer. He takes these little moments, especially between father and child, and he captures that little moment between Molly and Ken beautifully.

Just that little peck on the check and then she goes away. She doesn’t say anything and it really does ring true and he knows he’s going to have a great day.  And that is how teenage daughters react and fathers react, I love that moment. Both those moments, “Dad go away” and then that peck on the cheek and the Ken trying to keep his cool. 

MFT: Yes those were perfect.

Ken: Those were two of my favorite moments in the series. Comedy is comedy. A lot of people can do comedy, a lot of them can read jokes; a lot of people can do this. But these moments of authenticity? Not as many people can do that. And thank you for those kind words because I’m really proud of the writing and the performances of everybody in the cast who make authentic. 

MFT: There are a lot of moment of truth. For example on “Dicky Wexler’s Last Show” Dr. Ken is such a huge fan of Dicky’s that whenever he makes a joke, Ken explains, or justifies it. Which people do, when we come across our heroes we tend to act like a real muppet.

Ken: That was so funny, the way Ken would explain why it was so funny. That episode, for me, counts as the best episode we’ve ever done. It’s not only my favorite episode in the series it’s also one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in my career.  It’s based on so many truths  but a lot of people had a hand in creating that episode.

MFT: Yes.

Ken: It was based upon a conversation with the writers of the need and the desire to do more patient cases on the show. I had pitched to the writers, well what about Ken’s favorite patient and them having something terminal. That really resonated with Mike (Sikowitz) the head writer and he came up with the storyline of Ken’s favorite patient being this Friars Club comedian. 

Now that wasn’t my design, that was all his [Sikowitz] and thenErik Sommers  who wrote the script  and is credited for the script wrote something that was so well done and nuanced. Just the right amount of hard jokes and undercutting of some of the dramatic tension, while still allowing the dramatic moments to breath.  What’s amazing is that the first draft was so well done that it made me cry.

It also really channeled what I wanted to show; that I had practiced internal medicine and worked as a general practitioner and I treated several patients who had terminal diseases and it felt very real and it reminded me of happens when you get too close to your favorite patients and it happens. 

But you can’t get too close and that’s what Julie, the resident, is telling Ken, “you’re getting too close and you’re losing your objectivity and its clouding your judgement.” I loved that because that’s real and also on a more personal note, my wife (who’s also a physician) is a breast cancer survivor, for many years, and she’s cancer free we’re very happy to say. 

So it’s a very personal episode, even at the table read I was just crying I just couldn’t get through it and then even when we were rehearsing it…even with some simple moments like me and Dicky just in rehearsal .  We have a table read and then three days of rehearsal before we start filming. 

And during those three days there were just moments that were just “ahh” and I really needed to get it out of my system, this being really emotional during the rehearsals. Even in scenes that didn’t call for a lot of emotion. There were a lot of tears shed that week. 

It was cathartic and then at that end scene, I still get choked up when I think about it. 

MFT: I definitely got choked up watching it.

Ken: And what I love about that tag (that end scene) there are these really funny, naughty jokes about bags, Vegas and mistresses and it’s so funny that it all buffets the blow of the loss. And it’s  so real. Everything about it just felt real.

MFT: I’ve got to say, it was brilliantly written and brilliantly done. Everything about it clicked into place perfectly. One thing I wanted to mention was Dr. Julie’s role in the episode. It’s shown in “Ken’s Physical” that Julie, for all her quiet, almost “wall-flower” type personality, really has a strong will, a steel spine that allows her to keep reasserting herself.  And she does it again in Dicky Wexler’s Last Show where she makes Ken realize that “yeah, I’m not being quite honest with myself or my patient. I love that her character arc works so well and shows that she does still have that and she is getting better at it.

Ken: I love that too for her role. I remember telling Kate that her character is an amazing one, in that she is the “rookie” of the group yet she still a medical doctor on par, or nearly on par,  with Ken. Although everyone,  Damona, Clark and Pat all treat her like a rookie.  Julie is the only one qualified, like on “Ken’s Physical” and again in Dicky Wexler, to step in professionally. 

MFT: Exactly.

Ken: Kate and I love doing those scenes and I add in dialogue, even in “Ken’s Physical, “where she says “your holster monitor shows multiple PVC’s” and I try to “true up” that medical dialogue just for the character of Julie, even if the audience doesn’t understand because I wanted Julie to be authentic so the the subtext is “Oh she’s a doctor just like Ken.”

As one of the writers and executive producer, I enjoy writing for Julie because she can easily be the comedy foil and then she can also drive a scene medically. And with Dicky Wexler, you’re right, it really culminates and is like an extension and a further climb that trampolined off “Ken’s Physical” onto this. There are wonderful moments, for example, there is one where Dicky is doing his stand-up performance from his hospital bed and  Julie just gives me a thumbs up or a pat to the shoulder and I couldn’t even bring myself to smile. It was a tiny moment and the audience may never even catch it but it was deliberately placed in to foreshadow what is to come.  

MFT: Yes.

Ken: I’m so glad that moment stayed in there because you’re laughing, but, the physician knows what’s about to happen. And it was beautifully placed. I’ve got to give a shout out to Mark Cendrowski who directed this episode, and also “Kevin O’Connell.” Mark directs a lot of “The Big Bang Theory” as the main director and he’s also lent his services to Dr. Ken and we’re all big fans of Mark and he likes the show.

He directed this episode and did such an amazing job. Like I said, we have an intense and emotional three day rehearsal and then Monday we had to shoot it. And it ended up being the quickest day we’ve ever had on set.

MFT: Wow.

Ken: Yes. We had blocked off a lot of time to shoot this. Knowing that these were dramatic scenes that may take hours to do because it may take some time to get to that “place” emotionally for the actors and it ended up being the quickest day we ever had. Because when the cameras were on, we’d already felt it so deeply so that all we needed was just a great director and a great DP and just making sure the cameras capture  the moment and the director catches the performance and this was not just a case of being my favorite Dr. Ken moment but it was a career defining moment for me. What is more amazing is that we knew we had it after two takes and so we moved on. 

MFT: Yes.

Ken: And what we also realized that when you’re doing something this heavy, this substantive,  some of those intense moments can fade away and you can never get them back. Even when we shot the tag, the very end scene, where Ken alone listening to Dicky Wexler’s CD we just did two performances of that. And what makes that all the more remarkable is that sometimes you have lightning in a bottle and this time we knew we had it. 

We are all experienced professionals in this business and we all knew, “we can’t follow up with this,” and it was very exhilarating on so many fronts. It was creatively cathartic and liberating and fulfilling and even the execution of it as an executive producer it was such a smooth day.

For something so heavy, that is a real testament to the crew that we have. Every crew member was affected by it but we all got through it. What a lot of people won’t know is what a joy it is to work on this show. We are a combination of intensity plus a good time. It’s like any winning team in basketball, you play hard and we have a certainly level of standard that we want to maintain. But…we also keep it light, which is very difficult to do. 

MFT: Yes.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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