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Jamie Chung: Packing a Punch

Failure is not an option for this driven actress.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Accessory issue 04/04/2011

It’s a good thing Jamie Chung, 27, has a promising career in movies. “I’d be an awful temp,” she says. “I look at my friends with office jobs, and I can’t think of anything worse.”

By now, audiences may be familiar with Chung’s visage from numerous billboards and ads for the big-budget movie Sucker Punch. A fantasy-action tale of five young women who escape the reality of confinement in an insane asylum by creating an elaborate escape plan in an alternate universe, the movie stars up-and-comers Abbie Cornish, Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens and Jena Malone.

Even though Chung’s character, Amber, piloted the planes during the action-fantasy sequences, she did the weapons training for two months with her co-stars. “Within one month we’d gotten so ridiculously ripped, we were deadlifting 180 pounds. There was crying at times. There was throwing up. It was pretty gnarly, but it helped build this camaraderie. When you suffer together like that, you celebrate together.”

Director Zack Snyder (300, The Watchmen and the upcoming Superman reboot) says it was all part of his master plan.

“I tortured them all so they could see each other at their most vulnerable. It’s not as hard to imagine the bond these characters have when the actors have been through these real trials.” Chung, he says, “trained just as hard as everybody else. She went strong, and that was cool.” Snyder even added a few scenes just for her, so she could also partake in the shoot-’em-up action.

“Out of all the experiences and friendships I’ve made on set, no other movie can compare. I want it to do well, but I feel like I got the best experience already,” she says.

Chung isn’t one to rest on her laurels, having made three films since wrapping Sucker Punch. Premium Rush, a thriller co-starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon, centers around a New York City bike messenger trying to deliver a package to a human trafficker. Chung plays a Chinese woman trying to smuggle her son into the States, a part for which she had to learn Mandarin. She followed that with Hangover 2, which hits theaters in May and promises the same laugh-out-loud shenanigans as the original comedy.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Accessory issue 04/04/2011

“I play Stu’s [Ed Helms] Thai-American fiancée, so part of the movie takes place there. Thailand is a million times more crazy than Las Vegas. I mean, it gets dirty,” she laughs. And Chung just finished The Man With the Iron Fists, a kung fu throwback starring Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu.

Chung, wearing a gray off-the-shoulder T-shirt and purple tank top and a black pleated chiffon miniskirt as she arrives for a shoot, describes her own style as “dressing appropriately for the occasion.”

“I’m a girl’s girl,” she says, “I love to dress up.” Her favorite designers are Rodarte and Alexander Wang, “because they are edgy and out of the box — and you can’t go wrong with Chanel.”

Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Korea and she was born in San Francisco. She dabbled with the drama club at her public school, but her parents wanted her to get a college degree, so she earned a bachelor’s in economics from the University of California, Riverside.

“I just did it to get it over with. I have no passion for economics. My parents wanted me to finish, so I got my degree and that was that.”

She worked two jobs to pay for college, one of which was waiting tables at a sports bar. When MTV held auditions for the reality series The Real World there, they asked her to audition and she ended up with a part. Ever the pragmatist, Chung says, “I didn’t do it to be on TV. For me, The Real World was free rent and getting paid to do something fun. Ultimately, it paid off my college education.”

Chung had always planned to move to Los Angeles to pursue acting, but she kept her ambitions a secret, working as an extra until she booked her first job. “I was a bit embarrassed because it was so cliché after doing a reality show. So I did the legwork, got an agent, went to classes and learned from awful auditions.”

She landed a part on the long-running soap opera Days of Our Lives, which led to a starring role in the ABC Family miniseries Samurai Girl, based on the young-adult book series. Soon after, she booked the films Sorority Row and Dragon Ball. Those two films, plus Grown Ups and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, grossed a combined total of more than $542 million.

Even with all her good fortune, Chung calls herself “a pessimist,” though she speaks more like a realist.

“You learn as an actor not to get emotionally attached to the part you are auditioning for because they come and go so quickly. Some days you just screw up. You have to take the criticism lightly, but there are times when you kick yourself in the ass. You can’t make everyone happy. That would be exhausting.”