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It’s one thing to have to learn the essence of a character when preparing for a role, but it’s quite another to have to try and learn an entire language. That’s the task Jay Chou faced when he took over as the ever-present sidekick Kato to Seth Rogen’s titular superhero in Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet. Well, that and the fact that Chou — already an internationally famous recording artist in eastern Asia — is making his American debut in a role that also introduced the States to Bruce Lee.

Movieline spoke to a now-partially English-speaking Chou (sometimes with the help of a translator) about taking on such a challenging role, why he shouldn’t be compared to Bruce Lee and the real life similarities that he has with The Green Hornet.

What did you know about The Green Hornet before accepting this role? Even in the U.S., its popularity could be considered a cult following.
It’s my parent’s generation. So, when I got the role, I told my father. And they were very happy because Kato is his hero. I always wanted to be a hero, so this is a good opportunity for me to do so.
Bruce Lee was pretty well known in Hong Kong, but The Green Hornet was his introduction to American audiences. You’re very well known in China. Do you see similarities?
So, I tried in a different way to play Kato. Because Bruce Lee is a legend, nobody can replace him. I play music, so my Kato plays piano. But know one can compare, to me, I’m just playing a different Kato than the original. I’m not trying to be Bruce Lee, just Kato.
This Kato almost seems like he’s running the team, as opposed to the 60s television show. His attitude toward Britt Reid is almost just one of, “You’ve got the money, but I want to call the shots.”
I was using Britt’s money to do what I wanted to do. And personally [laughs] I have a lot of friends who do that. I have many, many sidekicks.
Are you now reevaluating your friendships as a result of the film?
A lot of my friends drive my cars… In my real life, I’m the Green Hornet [laughs].
A lot of comedy comes from timing and tone. How difficult was it to hit comedic tones when you’re using a language that you are not 100 percent comfortable with?
I’d say 30 percent [comfortable]. I like English and I’ve always wanted to learn it. Before the movie, I didn’t know anything and now I know about 30 percent, which I learned in approximately a month.
So you didn’t know any English at all before taking this role?
Zero. Well, I knew some bad language. You know, we all do [laughs].
So when deciding to take this role, did that worry you at all? I mean, most actors worry about just learning a character. Not worrying about learning a whole new language.
It was at the beginning, but I like to challenge myself. So it was a challenge for me to speak another language. But I like to challenge myself, so…
In Hong Kong, the television show was titled The Kato Show because Bruce Lee was so popular. In Taiwan, should this movie be called The Kato Movie?
In the beginning, back then, nobody paid attention to The Green Hornet because Bruce Lee was so popular. Now, here in the states, Seth Rogen changed that. Because he’s a really funny guy.
What exactly is your background in martial arts? I watched your music video, “Nunchucks,” and between that and this film, it seems like you handle them pretty well.
Because I shot that video, “Nunchucks,” yeah. I’m a Kung Fu fan, so I watched many action movies. So I like Jet Li, Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan’s son is my friend. I asked Jackie Chan to come see the movie, because Jackie Chan is known for martial arts. Jackie Chan should be careful, because Kato is coming [laughs].
In this film, Kato is a martial arts expert. Do people make the assumption that you have a background in martial arts?
I don’t have a martial arts background.
Oh, I know, but because Kato does so many martial arts stunts in the film, does anyone just assume you have that in your background?
Well, I think that’s a good thing as an actor. Maybe a lot of other filmmakers will go for me in the future.
Which do you enjoy more right now, your musical career or your acting career?
Singing more than acting. You did seem to enjoy singing Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” in the film.
Well the reason why they put the song in the movie is because Seth thought it was really funny. Because it’s a more old school hip-hop, gangsta song. Back in the days…
Do you even aspire to have an acting career in Hollywood movies?
If there’s a sequel to The Green Hornet, that would be a start. And if there are any musicals, I would be very interested.
Is it difficult for an Asian entertainer to break though in the United States?
Yeah, it was a challenge. It’s hard for Asian people to come to Hollywood and start in any kind of career, especially toward filming and show business.

As you mentioned earlier, Jet Li and Jackie Chan have broken through, but that list does seem fairly short.
Those actors are known for fighting and martial arts, I want to be known for more than just that… or something different.

I’ve read that you don’t particularly enjoy doing interviews. Is there a difference this time around with the American media versus what you are used to?
I like doing phone interviews. It makes me less nervous. It feels like I’m chatting with a friend over the phone. And in China, there are just so many more people. But responding in Chinese does make me more comfortable.