Justin Bartha On Set Interview – THE HANGOVER

     April 27, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Opening this June is a comedy that looks great. It’s called “The Hangover” and it was directed by Todd Phillips (“Old School”). The premise is it’s a bachelor party gone horribly wrong.

The film is about a group of friends – Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms – who go to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for Justin’s bachelor party and everything goes wrong. It ends up the group parties too hard, and when they wake up the next morning, they can’t remember a thing. Their posh hotel suite is trashed and the groom is nowhere to be found. With no clue of what happened and little time to spare, the trio attempt to retrace their bad decisions from the night before in order to figure out where things went wrong and hopefully get Justin back to L.A. in time for his wedding. However, the more they begin to uncover, the more they realize just how much trouble they’re really in.

And if you’re thinking this is going to be some stale and safe Vegas movie, it’s rated R, and I’ve heard from friends that have seen it that it’s great.

But while I could go on and on about how much I’m looking forward to “The Hangover”, watch this trailer and then tell me you aren’t excited to check it out.

Anyhow, last year when they were filming in Vegas, I was invited – along with a few other online journalists – to the set of “The Hangover” to watch some filming and interview the cast. If you missed my set report you can read it here.

So while we were there we got to speak with the cast and the interview below is with Justin Bartha.

While most of you will recognize Justin from his work in the “National Treasure” movies, I’m sure he’s trying to expand his audience and show he can do comedy with “The Hangover”. We’ll know soon enough.

During the interview Justin talks about the pro’s and con’s of being the straight man in the movie, what he’s doing on his off days as he’s not in the entire movie, improvising on set and a lot more.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. “The Hangover” opens June 5th at theaters everywhere.

Question: Did you not have the 7:30am call time today?

Justin Bartha: I had it, but then they realized that I wasn’t in the scene. They don’t really care. But I’m staying in the hotel, so I just kind of go back upstairs.

How is that, actually staying in Caesar’s Palace as you shoot here?

Justin: You know how whenever you go to Vegas and you say to someone that you’re only there for two days and they say, “Two days?! One day is enough in Vegas.” We’ve been here for a month. So it’s a lot to be here for that long, but it’s, you know, it’s fun. It’s a good group of people.

We’ve heard that a lot of your costars have been hitting the parties. Zach said that he went to the Mariah Carrey thing.

Justin: Yeah, he just did that so that he’d have something to talk about. I’m not a big partier. I went out one night and that was about it and then a picture ended up everywhere. It’s the same thing everywhere you go. I’ve been gambling. I like to gamble a lot. I spend all of my per diems and most of my paycheck.

What do you play?

Justin: I play poker. And blackjack. And craps. And slot. Baccarach. Roulette. Kind of everything. I gamble in the street. I throw dice in the street. Kind of anything.

Do you come up on top?

Justin: I’m about even so far. Before we leave at the end of the week, I’m definitely going to have to make a few big bets so that I can say, “Aw, I lost big!” or “Ah! I won big!”. Because you can’t say you’re even.

Can you tell us a little about your character?

Justin: I play Doug. I’m the groom, basically, who gets lost. It’s my bachelor party and we come to Vegas for a good time. The guys wake up and I’m gone and they have to find me.

So where were you?

Justin: I can’t tell you that! I know I can’t tell you that. But it’s definitely fun and interesting. You should watch the whole movie.

But there are scenes later on that show what happens to you?

Justin: Oh yeah, but I’m not in the middle of the movie so people can just fast-forward, I guess.

So do you end up getting a lot of interaction or are you sort of off on your own little mini-movie?

Justin: No, I literally disappear. In the beginning you see kind of the setup of me getting married and my fiancee’s family you see a little bit. Then you go on the trip and I’m gone. But at the end you get to see me again and find out whether I get married or not.

What do you wind up doing with all the days you’re not shooting?

Justin: I go back to Los Angeles a good amount. I mean, we’re close to there and I have to go back for meetings and work stuff so it’s an advantage that we’re so close. It’s not like we’re in South Dakota and it’s hard to get places.

You did mention that your character has a big influence on the others. Because you don’t spend a lot of time on-screen together, did you try to develop a certain kind of rapport beforehand?

Justin: Well, one advantage is that — one of the reasons I wanted to do this movie — the guys are either people that I’m huge fans of or people that I’ve known for a really long time. I’ve known Todd for a long time. He was kind of my mentor back in the day. Bradley Cooper, I’ve done a couple of movies with. One where we did a lot of scenes together. So I knew them very well. And Zach Galifinakis, I’ve been a fan of. He’s been my favorite comedian for years since I first saw him on Conan seven or eight years ago. And then Ed is just brilliant. The stabilizing thing is this line in the very beginning of the film which I love that has the idea that you need four wheels to be balanced. What’s interesting to me is you have these four friends and together they’re balanced and it all works but once one disappears, it becomes the squeaky wheel and they all fall apart. So that’s kind of the basis for my character. I’m that grounder in a sense. I’m that bridge between these three people that are kind of opposites of each other. He’s a buffer. I always have a group of friends that are like that. There’s one guy who it’s awkward if you’re not hanging out with because he’s the common bond.

So are you the straight guy?

Justin: I kind of am, yeah. I’ve never really been a straight guy before.

Is that a bummer? Having to be the straight guy and letting Zach do everything funny?

Justin: You know, you’d think so, but since I’ve never done it before it’s kind of freeing. I just wanted to be some part. It’s a really cool movie. It’s fun. I guarantee it. You can come back to me and I’ll give you the money. It’s going to be the funniest movie when it comes out of the year. I just wanted to be part of that. Todd makes really cool, funny movies. No doubt about it. The last few movies I’ve done, I have been kind of the funny quirky guy. So it was nice to play it straight and let these guys who are brilliant kind of take the brunt of the work.

Do you get to do much improvising on-set?

Justin: You know, for me, I kind of just try to set it up so that they can hit it out of the park in this thing. That’s another thing. Those characters are really kind of the improvising guys. Every project I do, I try to bring a little improvisation to it, but this character is not really the guy who does that. I’m letting everyone else do everything and I’m just kind of taking a backseat.

Is that a relief?

Justin: It is. It’s kind of a relief, yeah. It really is. Just sitting back and watching these guys work and being able to play off of Zach and Bradley and Ed, who are so brilliant at coming up with stuff. I usually feel like I’m the one in the stuff I do who has to do that kind of thing. So it’s nice to kind of take a back seat.

We saw a scene outside where Zach and Bradley couldn’t stop laughing. Have you had any takes where you couldn’t hold it together?

Justin: Pretty much every take. I mean, they are so funny. Everything Zach does makes me laugh. So it’s a lot of takes. Usually I kind of try to work in a laugh into the scene so it seems natural, but really it’s a real laugh.

Todd has had a lot of high-profile cameos in his other films. Can we except some more in this one?

Justin: There are some great comedy character actors who pop up throughout the movie, but no one like Jerry Lewis. It’s not going to be like that, I don’t think. This doesn’t have the kitschy thing that I think you’re talking about. This is just really a play for laughs, balls-out comedy. I wouldn’t say light. There’s a lot of dark elements to it, which I think you’ve come to love in Todd’s movies. There’s nothing shy and polite about it at all. There’s some really out there funny stuff that you’ve never seen before. I can’t even talk about it. There’s some x-rated stuff, but it’s not like “how can we one-up the comedies of Judd Apatow?” It comes from natural improvistation from these guys. Everything about it is genuine. I know it sounds like bullshit when I say that, but it is so funny.

What’s it like working on a set with such a large civilian background interested in what you’re doing?

Justin: I haven’t been here as long as the other guys, but it hasn’t been that big of an issue. I mean, we were out on the street in old Vegas and Zach was standing on a cop car shooting a shotgun in the air. There’s a few people. It’s Vegas! So much weird and crazy shit happens here, it’s not that weird for a movie to shoot. They’ve been very nice and gracious. From my perspective.

And for more interviews from the set of “The Hangover”, just click on the links:

Bradley Cooper

Zach Galifianakis

Ed Helms

and director Todd Phillips

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