New Delhi, Oct 12 (PTI) As a father of teenage twin daughters, Hollywood star and comic Ken Jeong says his upcoming animated film 'Over the Moon', led by an all Asian-American voice cast, is for all those girls searching for role models in their formative years.
Directed by Oscar-winning animation legend Glen Keane, 'Over the Moon' follows a bright young girl named Fei Fei, who is passionate about science and builds a rocket ship to the moon to prove the existence of Chang'e, a legendary Moon Goddess in Chinese culture.
The 51-year-old actor, popular for his roles in the blockbuster hit 'Crazy Rich Asians', the 'Hangover' movie series, said besides being an Asian American animated film, 'Over the Moon' has 'strong female characters', voiced by the likes of comic Margaret Cho and Emmy winner Sandra Oh.
Asked about the importance of an animated film with a young girl as protagonist who is a science nerd, Jeong told PTI in a Zoom roundtable interview, 'I have fraternal twin daughters, they are 13. They are both active in science, academics, and writing. This movie is for them. It's so strong to have an Asian American animated film but more importantly to have a film with so many strong female characters.' 'I think about my daughters all the time. Who are their role models? People like Margaret Cho, Sandra Oh, Phillipa Soo, Cathy Ang - they are all in this movie,' he added.
The story of the film revolves around Fei Fei, voiced by newcomer Cathy Ang. Fei Fei feels her father (John Cho) has started forgetting her late mother (Ruthie Ann Miles), who told her Chang'e's stories, and the teenager believes if she can prove that the goddess (Phillipa Soo) truly lives on the moon, he will not marry Mrs Zhong (Sandra Oh).
The American-Chinese fantasy musical adventure, penned by the late Audrey Wells for her daughter Tatiana, highlights the theme of overcoming the loss of a loved one. Wells, also an acclaimed director-producer, died of cancer in 2018.
According to Jeong, mythology and science are bound together by 'humanity'.
'To try to find a layer of emotion and reaction whether be through science or to the loss of a loved one. The subjects may be different but the feeling and the process of emotions are the same,' he said.
The actor, born in Detroit, Michigan, to South Korean immigrant parents, said it was an 'honour' for him to be a part of such a culturally important movie. 'To have an animated movie with an all-Asian American cast. Not only that it's a wonderful story, great script, great director, producers and also ethnicity notwithstanding one of the most talented voice cast in animated films recently that I've been a part of. Collectively, we have created something that is truly unique.' Jeong who plays Gobi, a green alien glowworm who becomes a part of Fei Fei's adventure on the moon, credited director Keane for bringing out his performance.
'Glen allowed me to use my strengths as a comic and the kind of silliness I'm known for but he always reminded me of what the story is all about. This disciplined me and grounded me in a great way. It is one of my favourite characters because of Glen's direction, script and story. There's so much magic in this film. The beauty about what we do is that some things just happen,' the actor, also known for sitcoms like 'Community' and 'Dr Ken', said.
Every character in the film, be it sentient beings or 'other worldly' beings, had a full arc, which is 'a hallmark of a great film', he added.
'With Fei Fei having had this kind of emotional and scientific resilience and using her imagination to go through something incredibly tragic and intense, to me, that defines her character.
'When it comes to Gobi, I think it's a reminder that every character whether they are on the moon or earth, they are going through some pain,' he said.
A physician by qualification, Jeong began performing regularly at The Improv and Laugh Factory comedy clubs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
His stand-up work landed him stints on TV, including cult favourite sitcoms 'The Office', 'Entourage' and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'. But his role in the 2007 comedy 'Knocked Up', directed by Judd Apatow, in which playing the role of Dr Kuni proved to be his breakout performance.
Citing co-star Cho as a 'pioneer for Asian American comedians', Jeong recalled doing an opening stand-up act for her when he was pursuing medicine at Duke University, which he said was a career turnaround for him.
The duo later went on to play siblings in 'Dr Ken', on which Jeong was creator, writer, and executive producer.
'When I first met Margaret, it was a sign of impossible made possible. I don't know a comedian in our community who isn't influenced by Margaret. So when I was in medical school and went to Duke University undergrad... I just had a notion to try and do stand-up and I basically begged the Asian Student Association to let me be the opening act for her.
'That was a watershed moment for me - getting to open for Margaret Cho in front of a predominantly Asian student community at Duke. I still remember that evening vividly. To see it become possible is a full circle moment to have worked with Margaret on other projects,' he said.
'Over The Moon' is slated to be released on Netflix on October 23. PTI RDS BK RDS RDS