With director Todd Phillips The Hangover Part II opening this weekend, I recently participated in a press conference with Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong and Phillips in Los Angeles. As most of you know, the sequel puts the guys in Thailand for Stu’s wedding and they’re again forced to try and figure out what happened the night before.
During the press conference, the group talked about the challenges of filming in Thailand, where to go in Bangkok, what were they able to bring to their characters in the sequel, how did Ang Lee’s son end up in the movie (he plays an important part), why did they use so much Billy Joel music, what’s the status of a third Hangover movie, and a lot more. Hit the jump either listen to the audio or read the transcript.
As usual, you can click here for the audio or here’s the transcript.
Warning: If you are trying to stay spoiler free, I strongly advise you not to read or listen to this interview until you have seen the movie. You’ve been warned…
Bradley Cooper: Well, I think unfortunately for Ed, it was the food.
Ed Helms: I had a very serious hurdle to get past the first week, which was severe food poisoning.
Cooper: That lasted throughout the movie.
Helms: Well, it never fully went away. Maybe I should just leave the rest up to your imagination. Let’s just say my body exploded.
Zach Galifianakis: I think in general just the city itself, just getting used to the city for the first few days and the jetlag was a little bit tough but once you got there and you got settled in, the people are so brilliantly nice that you feel welcome and it’s a great society, it really is.
Cooper: You know what was odd, was challenging I thought, was the sheer number of people that were constantly on the set. There’s something about doing a production in Bangkok where there’s just tons of people all over the place. Todd to his credit, thank God, likes a lean set and that just makes it easier to work, so that aw as challenge, having to adapt to there just being so many bodies around all the time.
Todd Phillips: I think in a nutshell, Bangkok is just a very crowded, very chaotic and very hot city so I think we all had just challenges like Bradley was saying, dealing with the crowds and the chaos but ultimately the movie’s about mayhem. To make a movie about mayhem, sometimes you have to go to mayhem. I think it all found its way into the movie and it helped.
Cooper: Mike was amazing. It was great to see him. First of all, he looked fantastic. He lost about 50 pounds and he was in great spirits. He promoted the first one. We really got to spend a lot of time with him actually, not just the shooting of the first Hangover so we all got to know him. My memory of Mike is before his day of shooting in Krabi which is a resort town, you’d see him walking around, it looked like he was prepping for a fight. He had his headphones on and his robe, he took it so seriously. It was also great to have him in the last scene where we’re looking at the photographs.
Phillips: For me, I think Mike is just such an iconic part of the first Hangover, even though he wasn’t in it a ton. Sometimes people will be like, “You remember The Hangover, that movie with Mike Tyson.” The Hangover became very identified with Mike’s image so personally I thought it was really important to bring him back. One, because we all love him so much and two, I think he just was such a surprise and so great in the movie and just one of those fun things. So we couldn’t be more excited when I called him and asked him to do it and he came all the way to Krabi in Thailand and hung out with us. Yeah, it was fun to have him.
What were the challenges of working with Crystal the monkey?
Cooper: Crystal turned out to be just kind of this miracle monkey. She’s incredible, she can do anything. Todd, I know, when we were talking about it, he was saying there’s going to be this drug dealing mule that’s a monkey and he’s going to smoke. I was like, ‘How the hell are you going to pull this off.’ One of my favorite scenes in the movie is this montage, it’s Curtis Mayfield, right?
Cooper: It’s just one of the greatest ??? in the movie. The only downside to Crystal is she has very long claws. You don’t want to get Crystal around an elephant. There was one scene where we were walking down the street, there was an elephant and she sort of destroyed my shoulder.
Helms: My favorite part about Crystal is her trainer is this guy named Tom who’s a sweet guy, but whenever he needed Crystal to do something, he would literally just say, “Crystal, jump on the table. Jump on the table, jump on the table, jump on the table.” And then Crystal would do it. So I don’t know if Crystal actually understands English or she’s just able to read the energy based on what he’s saying. I just found it so hilarious that her trainer would just repeat an English command over and over and over again until Crystal eventually did what she needed to do.
Is there any even raunchier stuff on the DVD?
Phillips: It’s not so much raunchier. I don’t know that it’s raunchier stuff for the DVD. It’s very clear to me, this is my 7th movie, so I kind of know what the line is with the MPAA and even with audiences, where you can kind of push it and what not to. It’s not that we have a bunch of raunchier stuff even for the DVD. I mean, I think there will be deleted scenes and some things that you’ll see, but it’s not like we cut anything out really because it was too raunchy at this point.
Helms: We put things in because they’re too raunchy.
Phillips: Well, yeah, we did some special things for the DVD if you’re talking about the DVD. I think Ken did a really cool thing where Mr. Chow gives us a tour of Bangkok and his version of Bangkok and how he kind of runs the joint that I think is funny. We did special things like that for sure.
Where would you recommend someone go in Thailand?
Phillips: For me, Bangkok is just one of the most beautiful cities. That’s where you have to go. Bangkok’s a very cosmopolitan city. In our movie, we shot a lot in the Chinatown district of Bangkok. We really took a liking to the look and the feel of that area but Bangkok as a city is just a beautiful, unbelievable, like I said cosmopolitan city. I was there for about three months and still felt like I could’ve stayed longer, just more to see. But Thailand in general is beautiful. These guys went to a lot of the islands at some points.
Cooper: Yeah, we spent Christmas in Chiang Mai which is incredible, but I would echo what Todd said. For me I just fell in love with Bangkok. We spend two weeks in a resort town and I couldn’t wait to get back to Bangkok.
Was there a restaurant or bar you liked?
Cooper: I actually took a liking to Top Menu which was a Chinese restaurant that I ate a lot in Bangkok.
Phillips: Yeah, definitely check out Top Menu. It’s called Top Menu. It’s the best.
Helms: It’s just like any Chinese takeout place in New York City.
Phillips: No, he’s wrong. It’s great.
Cooper: How dare you, Ed.
Phillips: He wonders why he got food poisoning. It’s that attitude.
No upscale places?
Cooper: Well, Zach did.
Galifianakis: There’s another place called Very Top Menu. Don’t go to Bottom Shelf.
How did you decide how similar to make it to the first one and when to be different?
Phillips: I think we were aware that the fun part of the first Hangover for me, obviously the guys a are really funny in it and the chemistry and all that, but it’s also a mystery. We didn’t want to lose that investigative element that is present in the first one because I think that keeps people leaning forward on their seat and involved in the story. So it was something we made a conscious decision early on that we were going to stick with that template. We kind of “owned” that template and we were going to embrace it.
What were you able to bring to your characters this time that you felt was unfinished in the first Hangover?
Cooper: Well, I think that’s part of the reason why there was so much room for the second one, because there was so much unfinished. You really didn’t get to know the characters. The narrative which was really this mystery, this ticking clock pressing them in the first one, I think the difference between that one and this one is this movie’s more about the dynamic of the three guys and you really get to know them. For example, for me watching the first one, it could almost be boiled down to one joke. The whole movie’s the setup and the punchline are the credits. When you get to the end of this movie, I’m excited to see the credits, but that’s not what I’ve been thinking about the whole movie. I got very caught up in what happened to Stu and how they dealt with that dynamic and what Alan did. Much more about that which I found to be a much more pleasing movie as a viewer.
Helms: I think the first movie we were defining those characters and discovering them ourselves. They were really kind of more in archetype. They were more just conventional archetypes in a way that we just added our own accents and inflections to. When it came time for the second movie, it was very exciting because just to echo what Bradley said, we were able to add dimension to these characters in a way because we’d already done the homework. You knew who they were, you knew what their relationships were and Craig, Todd and Scot gave us a lot of fun stuff. It just fleshes these guys out. Getting to go to Stu’s dental office, it’s just more layers on these guys that is fun to explore. It’s just onion layers peeling back is a lot of fun.
Cooper: It was obviously a conscious decision by Todd to do that because the movie breathes more. There’s more room for it just in terms of the timing of the cuts than the first one. It just has a different musicality to it, this movie.
Galifianakis: One of the big differences, I think what these guys had touched on, also the sequel, I think the audience or Todd or we all wanted to see us turning against each other a bit which was fun to watch. It kind of calls for it for Phil and Stu to all clash. Even Phil and I have a relationship where I admire him but he gets mad at me and he’s been real gentle with me in the first one but this one I think he’s at his wit’s end so I think that was something new that we explored. Also as Ed was saying, to go behind the scenes, to see people in their environment, to see Alan in his bedroom is really fun.
Is he crazier this time?
Galifianakis: Yeah, I think he’s in a lot of mental trouble for the rest of his life, yeah.
What do you think of Asian women?
Cooper: The people in Bangkok in general are beautiful, men and women. It’s just such a beautiful aesthetic, it’s incredible. Certainly the women are gorgeous over there but it’s not even the aesthetic of them. There’s just something about the spirit of the people there. They call it the land of 1000 smiles and there’s sort of reason for that. It’s just an openness and a gentility. So it’s very infectious. There’s something about the energy of the women and the people there that is infectious, you want to be around. That’s certainly one of the reasons I fell in love with Bangkok and would go back in a heartbeat.
Galifianakis: I’ve been dedicated to the same woman for a number of years and I don’t look at other women.
Helms: It’s a beautiful country, a beautiful culture, all the people.
Phillips: It’s a bit of a weird question, right? I mean, let’s be serious.
Ken Jeong: That’s a personal question, but yes. Sorry.
Did you let Zach improvise?
Phillips: You know, certainly there’s a lot of improvised lines in the movie. We don’t do a ton of improvisation in general on set. We kind of more do it off to the side in the morning when the four of us will get together and we’ll just kind of, not rewrite the scene but make some notes and Zach will say, “How about this line there? How about that?” Then of course while we’re shooting, these guys are always free to add and do stuff like that. It’s not like a lot of people think it’s just a sort of made up movie, a lot of improv, a lot of freeform. But I’d be a bad director if I had these guys here and was like, “No, no, no, just read this line and say it like that.” Zach, Ed and Bradley, Bradley has a great improv in that scene in IHOP where he goes, “Drink up, oh, I forgot, we’re at an IHOP.” That’s something Bradley just throws in right there so things like that they’re free to do.
Zach, why didn’t you develop a character of Nathaniel Buckner character?
Galifianakis: Oh, quickly, I’ll just say it just never happened. I don’t have enough discipline to do it.
Why do you think the women are so patient with the men’s escapades?
Phillips: You have to understand, they went to a wedding in Thailand. What is there to agree to? That’s where the wedding is. The guys woke up in Bangkok, the women didn’t agree.
But the theme is we have a dark side, how did you portray the women to deal with that?
Phillips: Well, I think the thing is that Stu has a demon in him and he’s always kept that sort of quelled maybe, especially in the presence of this new relationship. So I don’t know that she was so aware of how deep or how dark that demon in Stu can get. The fact that they got married in Thailand was solely because she’s Asian-American, her parents are Thai and that’s where they live. As far as Phil’s wife who we knew from the first one or Justin’s wife Sasha, they’re going to go there because that’s where the destination wedding is.
Helms: I would also presume that wedding scene at the end is sort of like everyone is happy to see each other, happy that everyone’s safe and alive and that there might be some couples therapy happening afterward.
Phillips: Mason came in like a lot of actors come in to read a part. I actually didn’t know he was Ang Lee’s son until the table read when we’d already cast him. I was talking to him and it turned out he’s Ang Lee’s son. I love Ang Lee obviously and I remember I asked Mason, “Do you think you could get your dad to shoot second unit?” Mason I think was nervous and he didn’t know I was joking and he’s like, “Uh, I will, uh, I’ll call him. I can see but he’s doing a movie in Taiwan.” I was like okay, you know. But he was a great find and a great kid. You’re right, I don’t know how many people know that, but the guy who played Teddy, it’s the director Ang Lee’s son.
Why does Alan imagine everyone as children in his dream?
Phillips: Well, he sees his friends as children and to me it was sort of the Michael Jackson idea. Michael I really believe thought he was a young kid so he would surround himself with kids. I think that’s how Alan sees the world. In the first movie, Alan says he can’t go within 200 feet of a junior high or a Chuck E Cheese. He says that not because he’s a child molester, he’s not. He’s just somebody who hangs out with a skateboard at the local junior high because he just wants to be friends. So it’s how he sees himself. There are adults, like if you notice in the flashbacks there are adults, but his posse, his crew is 12-year-old boys.
Galifianakis: I think what they said is pretty good.
Ken, were you nervous about showing skin again? Do you give your wife the heads up?
Jeong: Oh yeah, I run everything by my wife before I do anything so I had full permission to do all the nudity prior to filming. I’m very blessed that I have such a supportive wife who is secure with letting me embarrass myself. She always says to me that these movies are good for men because after watching me, they always go home feeling good about themselves. I wish I was lying.
Phillips: Oh, sure. I know Ian, he’s not joking.
Where do you see this series going after Hangover II?
Phillips: If we were to do a third one, and quite honestly we really haven’t talked about it. We just finished the movie two weeks ago. This is the first time we’ve all been together in a while. If we were to do a third one, if the audience, if the desire was there, I think we have a very clear idea where that would head. It’s certainly not in the same template that you’ve seen these movies. Obviously we always envisioned it as a trilogy as you can imagine. The third would be very much a finale and an ending. The most I could say about it, what’s in my head, and I haven’t discussed it with these actors, is that it is not following that template but very much a new idea. As far as where it takes place, I said I’m very open, like the Olympic committee, to being pitched and presented cities, flown around with wine and women and bribed. Then I will make my decision.
Galifianakis: And the winner is, Salt Lake City.
Couldn’t there be a spinoff?
Phillips: Oh yeah, I mean, listen, I love this world that we’ve created. I love every actor in these movies, even all the ones that aren’t here today as well. Who knows, we do a Mr. Chow movie, I haven’t talked to Ken about it but Chow is definitely a man of mystery much like Austin Powers. He obviously has a web that is woven deep in crime and women.
I meant a new group of three comedians having their own adventure.
Phillips: Yeah, please tell that to these guys and their agents.
Helms: We’re just like the kids in the Vacation movies.
Phillips: No, I would not see spinning it off like that. I thought you meant in the other way. No, I wouldn’t do that.
Phillips: Well, that all came early on in just the idea of Bill Brzeski, the production designer, and myself talking about Alan’s bedroom and I wanted to see one of those big Billy Joel Glass Houses posters in his bedroom because it just seemed like the kind of guy he would really connect with. I love Billy Joel by the way but Alan just sort of latches on to certain random things. Then I think Down Easter is Billy Joel’s greatest song. I love the way it’s used. Even though it’s sort of funny that he’s listening to it on his iPod, or his Zune, sorry. I just think it’s a very powerful great song and then we just had this kind of runner that Alan loves Billy Joel, then Allentown came about. That wasn’t in the script. That was something we all decided in Bangkok, “Hey, let’s try something.” We actually thought it was going to be just for the DVD, that Allentown idea. Then Craig and I wrote a version of it and we went ahead and did it.
Kanye West too.
Phillips: I love Kanye. That’s not even anything specific. That’s just a track I love. I just love the energy of how it kicks off that moment in the movie. Music is just one of the tools a director has with which to paint and I think it’s one of the most effective. I take it very seriously and think about it a lot.
Did you know when you shot the first film that it would take off? What do you think it was?
Phillips: I think it’s quite honestly a bunch of things, sort of all planets aligned. I think it’s a lot to do with the unapologetic nature of the comedy. I think a lot of American comedies tend to apologize for their bad behavior in the last 10 minutes of the movie. The Hangover just doesn’t do that. It’s like f*** it, whatever, it’s over, leave. It just doesn’t apologize. You know what I mean, it just sort of has an unapologetic tone that I actually think people responded to because we’re used to a certain way of these stories being told.
Galifianakis: By the way, if you went to a party at Todd’s house, that’s how he ends it.
What was the discussion of dropping the N word?
Galifianakis: I think Alan, for someone to say that word so cluelessly, it’s funny because it comes out of a place of ignorance. Alan just doesn’t know any better, he’s just an idiot so he gets away with that kind of thing. It’s kind of commenting that anybody that would say that so loosely is an idiot. That word can be very inflammatory but Alan is such a dimwit that it’s not excusable at all but you’re making fun of people that would say that word, I think. That’s the way I see it.
Phillips: For me, it’s really an illustration of how left footed Alan is with the world. It’s just what you do as writers and as a director and an actor, you sort of exhibit these qualities. You have certain tools with which to work and I think that moment right there just highlights how out of step and out of rhythm – - in fact, he goes, “Oh, I’m on my way niggas” and then he corrects it wrongly with the N word. It just shows you how backwards Alan’s thinking is and out of step it is. I think that’s what makes Alan’s character fun quite honestly.
And it starts with Chow, a bad guy.
Phillips: But he’s also a pseudo gangster who obviously uses that word, Chow does, in that way. Then Alan of course in his left footedness misinterprets that. I think that’s the best way to describe it.
How important is surprise and is it frustrating when so much is in the trailers?
Helms: I think there are abundant surprises in this movie. It’s sort of fun to hear about a nugget here or there and then see where it fits in in this movie. This is always a conversation when promoting comedies, how many jokes do you put in the trailer. I don’t think it really matters because when you’re in the movie, it’s a whole different presentation of that same information.
Phillips: And more specifically to that, it’s an R-rated movie, you can only show so much. There are so many things we aren’t able to show on TV and in the trailers just by nature of being R-rated. Most of you I think have seen the movie so you know what I’m talking about, but there is a difference. When you make the first Hangover, it’s nice to make a comedy when you’re flying under the radar. On this movie, obviously we were not under the radar. It was a sequel to a big comedy, biggest R-rated comedy of all time so it’s not going to fly under the radar. So you have casting decisions that are getting announced before or people dissecting casting decisions before we’ve even had a chance to shoot the scene. That said, I call it uptown problems. The fact that people are anticipating the movie so much that they want to talk about it, whether it’s on the internet or on entertainment shows, it’s kind of an uptown problem. It’s nice to have them talking about it. It’s a double-edged sword, or I don’t know what the right word is. It’s a single edged sword, I guess. I don’t know. It’s a spoon.
Phillips: As a producer on the movie, I can tell you that we did have to show the script to Thai government and Thai film officials and the film office of Thailand. They were really pretty great with what they saw. There are certain touchy hot button issues in Thailand that we just happened to not touch in the script that we naturally avoided. Everything there they read and saw. I think again, the same way Vegas really embraced us filming The Hangover there and benefited from it afterwards I think, Bangkok was really happy to have The Hangover II there. The prime minister visited the set. It wasn’t like we were there shooting a small little movie. Everyone knew we were there. It was in the paper all the time. We had a blast. I think they were happy to have us but you’re right, a lot of people don’t know, it’s actually kind of a conservative city or culture.
The photos at the end have a cinema verite quality. Do you just shoot them after a scene?
Phillips: No, it’s very random because we have these ideas of where and what we’re going to shoot a scene of. Like okay, Teddy losing his finger. Then it’s like oh, I saw this great Chinese restaurant in the Chinatown section of Bangkok. Let’s shoot the finger thing over there after we’re done today so we get the actors and we literally shoot it with my regular camera, because like you said it’s real verite. We want it to feel very homemade like your friends would post on Facebook with your own little point and shoot camera. We do it really by the seat of our pants sort of. Of course we go clear it with the restaurant, hey, we’re going to shoot this thing here, is that cool? But not a lot of forethought is put into it outside of this is the basic idea. Then we go and everybody just gets real crazy. It’s always good when Chow’s in the photos because Chow doesn’t realize we’re not rolling sound. He’s really acting it out to the fullest. He always takes it just to the limit. He does the full – - it’s the greatest. It is one of the most amazing things to watch when Chow just walks into a photo shoot scene, full on Mr. Chow treating everybody like sh*t as Mr. Chow would. It’s the best.
So a lot of ad libbing in the picture?
Phillips: Yeah, it’s a real free form thing and these guys will have ideas of what it should be and what to do in the pictures. We had a lot of pictures done in that run down motel room or hotel room. All we had was a couple bags of “cocaine,” a monkey, a couple of guns and that was the idea. We shot 40-50 pictures and I love them all. They’re ridiculous photos.
Do the actors get final say?
Helms: Clearly not.