Stealing the spotlight as the badass sidekick in his first Hollywood role, Jay Chou stars as half of the crime-fighting duo in Michel Gondry’s new film The Green Hornet. Zipping around Los Angeles in Black Beauty, the Hornet’s indestructible ride, Chou’s character, Kato, undermines the city’s gritty underworld as the brains and brawn of the operation.
In real life, the 31-year-old ditches Kato’s weapons and wields a microphone instead, selling out stadiums as one of Asia’s brightest music superstars (his song “Nun-chuks” can be heard in the film). Before you catch the flick, opening Jan. 14, meet the Taiwanese native who’s just as inventive – and smoldering – as his onscreen alter ego.
1. Music is his first love
Wanting to stay on the straight and narrow, Chou used piano as an outlet to deal with any angst he had growing up in a single-parent household. “A lot of people think kids from single-parent homes turn out bad,” he tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to prove them wrong, so I needed an outlet. Some play basketball and others drive fast cars. I make music.”
After receiving formal training in piano and cello, he began writing music in his teens for pop artists. His debut album, which consisted of songs others had rejected, went on to sell 2 million copies. Over the past 10 years, Chou has sold more than 28 million albums worldwide and has won four World Music Awards.
2. He learned to speak English in one month
Despite having only a light accent in the film, Chou spoke close to no English before stepping on the set of The Green Hornet. “I spent three hours every day for a month memorizing the script and learning the meaning of the words,” he says. “When audiences watch the movie, they might think my English is good, but I really don’t know much.” He even fooled co-stars Cameron Diaz and Seth Rogen, who recalled Chou improvising his lines several weeks into filming. “We were all like, ‘What the hell?’ ” Rogen joked at the film’s press junket earlier this month. “It took me 15 years to be able to do that.”
3. His favorite American movie is Titanic
While he plays a badass on screen and is a rocker in real life, Chou admits he’s a big softie at heart. “I might look like an action movie kind of guy, but I love Titanic because it’s so romantic,” he tells PEOPLE. “I like making everyone think I’m a bad guy, but I’m really not.” Unlike other rock stars, Chou insists he doesn’t “smoke, drink or break guitars.”
4. He did magic tricks for Cameron Diaz
Since learning magic tricks from a friend, Chou’s been charming his way through music video shoots and movie sets. “I always cast foreign actresses for my videos,” Chou says. “Since we can’t communicate through words, I do magic tricks. Magic and music are similar. They’re universal languages.” The scene in which Kato flips a pen from his briefcase into a cup on Lenore’s (played by Diaz) desk? All him. “He would come up with things [like that] on set,” Diaz said at the junket, calling Chou a “phenomenal” magician. “He entertained us a lot with cards and slight of hand.”
5. Fast food is his favorite part of America
Because he’s hounded by paparazzi in Asia, Chou says he feels more relaxed in America, where he’s relatively unknown. “It feels like I’m on holiday,” he admits. “I’m able to walk around markets and eat what I want because no one recognizes me.” His favorite fast food joints? In-N-Out Burger, Carl’s Jr. and Yoshinoya. “I love really fast food,” he says. Other activities he enjoys in the states include sightseeing and playing basketball at Venice Beach. “I’m not as good as Kobe, but I’m pretty fast,” he says.