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Q&A: James Hong

The actor voices Mr. Ping on Nickelodeon’s new Kung Fu Panda series

November 07, 2011
NICKELODEON. ©2011 VIACOM, INTERNATIONAL, INC.

Po and the Furious Five are back in Nickelodeon's new animated series "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness."

Po the panda battled the movie box office twice—and won big. Now everyone’s favorite kung-fu-fighting bear leaps back into action in the animated series Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, premiering today on Nickelodeon. The cartoon picks up where the movies left off, with Po getting more comfortable in his role as the Dragon Warrior.

The series will also give other characters in the Kung Fu Panda world more time in the spotlight. Actor James Hong, who lends his voice to Po’s dad, Mr. Ping, in the films, returns for the TV series. Hong promises many tasty storylines for his noodle-making goose character. TFK spoke to Hong about what Kung Fu Panda fans can expect from Legends of Awesomeness.

TFK:

What is it about a kung-fu-fighting panda that you think people love so much?

JAMES HONG:

Why do they love Po so much? You’re not asking me the right question! It should be: “Why do they love the goose so much?” [Laughs] Well, I think they love Po because there’s just something so magical about a big fat panda that talks and is friendly and is kind of nerdy. And on top of all that, he’s a super hero!

TFK:

So, why do you think fans love Mr. Ping so much?

HONG:

[Laughs] Actually, I was originally going to play Shifu, but something got switched and I ended up playing the goose. I like playing Mr. Ping better, because he too is very lovable. He’s got a big mouth and talks a lot. He’s full of faults, and he’s very emotional—he has these big ups and downs. It’s a great character for doing voiceovers.

TFK:

What was your original inspiration for the character? Was he based off you or anyone you know?

HONG:

I based Mr. Ping on myself and also on my father. He was very expressive and bragged a lot. He liked to tell big stories. That’s what Mr. Ping is like. He wants the best for his son. Even if Po doesn’t want to be a noodle maker, Mr. Ping wants him to be the best, and to go out and save the world.

TFK:

You've gotten to know Mr. Ping very well over the past few years. Do you feel like there are still some mysteries to be uncovered?

Mr. Ping, voiced by James Hong, joins in on more of the action in Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.
NICKELODEON. ©2011 VIACOM, INTERNATIONAL, INC.
Mr. Ping, voiced by James Hong, joins in on more of the action in Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.

HONG:

Yes. I’ve always wondered what Mr. Ping was like before Po came into his life. Maybe there will be an episode about it that will lead up to how he found Po in the backyard, near the radishes.

TFK:

It looks like Mr. Ping has some very fun storylines coming up this season. Can you give us the scoop on some of those? We hear that in one episode, Mr. Ping has a girlfriend. [Laughs]

HONG:

Why are you laughing? It’s very natural! He’s a single parent, and he’s looking for a female partner, so obviously, he is going to have some fun. He finds a scorpion as a girlfriend. It’s hilarious. He loves this scorpion dearly, but Po is trying to protect his dad. The girlfriend is no good for him. There’s another episode that I love, where Mr. Ping is trying to entertain some children by putting on a show with Chinese puppets. So I got to do some voices other than Mr. Ping’s. I’d love to do a puppet show for children in my own community. I do a lot of community work.

TFK:

What kind of community service do you do?

HONG:

I formed the East West Players, in Los Angeles, California, which has now become the biggest Asian American theatrical group in the U.S. When I began, it was the actor Mako and myself. The two of us were out of work, and we said, “We’ve got to do something.” From two guys, [the theater group] has now grown into thousands. I’m also an advocate for Asian Americans having better roles on TV, instead of just the [stereotypical] roles.

TFK:

You’ve had a long career in Hollywood, and in that time, you’ve done a lot of voice work. What do you enjoy most about it?

HONG:

There’s a lot of pressure acting on camera. For voiceover work, you’re in the studio with a director and an editor and a few technicians. You feel freer; you don’t feel the pressure of a thousand people waiting for you to get it right. You get to adlib and chat and drink tea and eat dim sum, but you still get your work done. You’re done in an hour and a half, you collect your pay, and you go home! But I’m a trained actor, so I still like to be on camera. Originally, I was a civil engineer, but then I devoted my whole life to acting. Hopefully, I’ll be directing and producing from now on too.

TFK:

Why the switch from civil engineering to acting?

HONG:

That is a long story. It would take an hour to tell it! To make it short, I’ve always wanted to be an actor. I did civil engineering at USC (the University of Southern California) to please my parents, but then I started to deviate and go into acting. I got roles right away, and I said, “Wow, this is great.” So I told my engineering supervisor that I wanted a leave of absence for a year. One year blossomed into two years, and then to three years, and now, 50 years later, I still love it.

TFK:

So, you don’t regret the decision then?

HONG:

I can’t say that I do! It’s a grand life.

TFK:

Aside from Mr. Ping, do you have any other favorite characters from the Kung Fu Panda world?

HONG:

Po, of course. I also loved the turtle, Oogway, in the first feature film. All of the animals are good, but Po is so lovable, especially little baby panda Po. The expression on Mr. Ping’s face when he found baby Po was really my own.

TFK:

What do you think kids will enjoy about the cartoon series?

HONG:

The cartoon is a lot like the movies, but it’s different too. I would love to watch it every day if I had time—especially the episodes with Mr. Ping. They are excellent. [Laughs]


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