Kenneth Choi Talks Playing One of Jordan Belfort’s Enforcers in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
You studied to be an accountant back in college, did you have any other prior business experience before becoming an actor? Did any of these experiences help you in preparing for this role?
“I was enrolled as an accounting major at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management. I wanted to be an actor since I was a kid. My parents didn’t agree with that choice of profession, so I had to choose something. Because I was away from my parents for the first time and left to my own devices, I didn’t really concentrate on my studies. I started partying and was really out of control for my entire college experience so I didn’t learn much about accounting or business. So, no, that part of my college experience did not help in preparing for this role, but the partying CERTAINLY did!”
Walk us through how you prepared for this role.
“Most of my preparation entailed eating as much food as I could! I received a note after I won the role that Martin Scorsese wanted me to gain twenty pounds as the character is described as “Oddjob from the James Bond movies.” Chester Ming is a bit of an enforcer for Leo’s character so it was important for him to have some real heft. I gained the twenty pounds, twenty five actually, but it wasn’t enough so, in the end, they had a fat suit made for me.”
What are some things that you liked in particular about your part in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” compared to all the other parts that you’ve played in the past?
“From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to approach the character of Chester with subtlety. He’s one of the big guys in the room. He doesn’t need to say or do much to be a presence. And I especially wanted to approach the funny moments with the same subtlety. I was cast with a group of actors that have very strong comedy and improv backgrounds. I do not. So, for me, I needed to find the “funny” in the real moments of whatever situation, play them as real as possible and, hopefully, I could be funny. I think I achieved that.”
What was it like working with Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese? Has the experience helped you grow as an actor?
“They are both at the top of their games for a good reason. Amazingly talented! And, at the same time, both are very gracious and generous. They were both very accessible and made everyone around them feel at ease. So not only does your game elevate because you are working with some of the best, but you WANT to elevate your game because they are so gracious, generous, and nice. You WANT to work as diligently as possible for these guys who are steering the ship.”
What was your most favorite experience while shooting the film?
“We were all on a golf course waiting to shoot a scene, and one of the actors asked Martin Scorsese if he allows as much improvisation on all of his films. He gave us some examples of films where there was no improvisation and examples of films where there was a lot of improvisation, one in particular being “Goodfellas.” So then he starts telling us stories about “Goodfellas” and giving us examples of scenes that were improvised, and I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “Holy shit, Martin Scorsese is actually standing in front of me telling me fucking stories about fucking ‘Goodfellas’ …are you fucking kidding me!?!” Bucket list moment.”