When you think of Todd Phillips’ filmography, there’s a few key names that come to mind: Will Ferrell (who’s starred or cameo’d in a good number of Phillips’ films) for instance, or Juliette Lewis (who appeared in Old School and Due Date), or Seann William Scott (who cameo’d in Old School and starred in School For Scoundrels). Add another name to that list: Scot Armstrong, who wrote Old School, Road Trip, School For Scoundrels, and this week’s The Hangover Part Two for the director. We interviewed Armstrong prior to the release of the Hangover sequel, and he had some interesting things to say about sequels, dark comedy, the chances for a Hangover Part Three, and he also talked about his directorial debut Road to Nardo (being written by Mike Gagerman and Andrew Waller). Read on for the interview, after the jump…
He may not have the same name-recognition as the director he’s been working under for the past decade or so, but Scot Armstrong’s been a major part of director Todd Phillips’ career. Armstrong wrote Old School (and a draft for an Old School sequel called Old School Dos), School For Scoundrels, The Hangover, and this week’s The Hangover Part Two for Phillips, and he’s about to branch out into his own director’s chair with Road to Nardo later this year. Collider.com’s Scott Wampler sat down with Armstrong to see what he had to say about writing the sequel to the biggest R-rated comedy of all time, what the chances are for a third Hangover, and what Road to Nardo‘s all about. Here’s some highlights from what he had to say:
– Armstrong says there’s “been talk” about a Hangover Part Three, and that he’d “love to be involved” if Warner Bros. moves ahead with it.
– The writer will climb into the director’s seat for the first time later this year for Road to Nardo, which he describes as “Traffic plus Superbad.” He also says the budget is $22m and they start casting this month.
– Apparently, a draft for an Old School sequel was written– Old School Dos— but Armstrong says the time for that to have happened has “come and gone”.
– Armstrong says that he (and co-writers Craig Mazin and director/co-writer Todd Phillips) went out of their way to make The Hangover Part Two much darker than the original, but that he feels the first film’s the better of the two.
Here’s the full interview:
Collider.com: So, I got to see the film on Monday night, and– while I want to talk to you about some of your other projects, this seems like a good enough place to start– I gotta say: The Hangover Part Two‘s a helluva lot darker than the first film. You guys really…uh…
Scot Armstrong: (Laughs) Yeah…
I assume ya’ll knew you’d have to top yourselves from the first film. Was the darkness intentional, or a happy accident?
SA: It was definitely a conscious effort, and it all comes back to Todd Phillips and his vision for what he wanted the film to be. It was me, Craig Mazin, and Todd Phillips sitting in a room together trying to heighten what happens to these guys. For us, for the sequel to be something new and be fresh, it felt like the best way to go about it was to challenge them (the characters) even more and to really surprise people with what we’d be willing to put them through. Yes, they wake up and they don’t know what’s happened and they’ve gotta figure it out, but then what?
Uh-huh. Well, the audience I saw the film with was definitely caught-off guard by the film’s balls.
SA: Y’know, oftentimes sequels are difficult, and we asked ourselves why they normally don’t work, and we realized that most sequels just try to play it safe. We made one move to have these three guys black out again, and that’s part of the premise– what happens to these guys– but what happens besides that should be much more shocking and intense of an adventure. To me, I think it’s the best comic performance from Bradley Cooper, Zach (Galifianakis), and Ed (Helms). It’s one thing to be a part of writing the script, but it’s another thing entirely to see it brought to life so well. These guys really knocked it outta the park. Especially Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong).
Is all that really…him? Like, is that Ken Jeong in all those nude scenes?
SA: Yep. That guy will do anything.
Man. That motherf-cker is crazy.
SA: Honestly, it’s like, these guys are committed on a level that’s…these guys just love working together, making these films, pushing the limits together, and making it as funny as it can be. If this movie isn’t successful for some reason, it’s not for lack of effort. These guys were killing themselves over there in Bangkok, working in weather that’s hot as hell, working with another culture trying to arrange sets and shutting down streets so we could shoot the action and…y’know, it was a challenge. But everyone truly loved the first one, and we were so relieved that– when we showed it to our first test audience– that it played so well.
With Todd Phillips’ filmography, I feel like he gets the lion’s share of the credit for that filmography–
SA: As he should. As he should.
Yeah, but when you look over your filmography, you’ve been a vital part of his filmography. You did Old School together, Road Trip, School For Scoundrels…In fact, I remember hearing rumors that Old School was going to get a sequel at one point called Old School Dos, and– if I remember correctly– the rumors were that Old School Dos would be set in Thailand. Is that true, and if so, did you cannibalize any of the ideas you had for that film for Hangover 2?
SA: There is an Old School Dos rough-draft, but it took place…well, not in Thailand. We loved Old School so much we tried to get it going, but…y’know, we learned on The Hangover Part Two that to really get a sequel going, it takes a true passion from the people involved to get it up and going. And the guys from The Hangover— Ed, Zach, Bradley, Ken Jeong– were so cool to work with and so excited to get back into it, it was realy inspiring. As a writer, it’s a gift to be able to write in these voices. Usually as a screenwriter starting from scratch, you have to educate the audience about who these people are, how they talk, what they’re point of view is. With this, you’re way ahead of (the audience) and you can just focus on where they are in their lives, two years later, and to just push ’em into Bangkok and test ’em. It’s so fun.
I just rewatched Old School a few weeks ago, and that really does hold up fairly well. Is there any chance you’d return to it, do something with that rough outline? Or have the chances of an Old School Dos come and gone?
SA: Um, I think the chances have come and gone. Unfortunately.
Well, for what it’s worth, I think people would be happy to see it.
SA: (Laughs) Yeah, y’know, I’m not the hold-up.
Fair enough. I understand that you’re directing a feature this year, is that correct?
SA: Yeah, this Fall.
Can you tell me about the film? It’s called Road to Nardo, but I don’t know anything about it besides that.
SA: Yeah! It’s gonna be a $22m budgeted comedy for Sony– which means it’s not a huge budget, but it gives me a chance to…y’know how people take two movie titles and combine ’em to explain a movie? If you were gonna do that with this, it’d be Traffic plus Superbad. Y’know, it gets into the drug world of Mexico. We’re gonna start casting this month, and I’m looking forward to breaking some young actors and talent. There’s been big-name stars doing some great comedies, but I don’t think there’s been a comedy with three guys in their mid-20’s that’s really discovered the next wave of comedic talent, so I’m really looking forward to that.
Did you write the film, too?
SA: It’s based on a spec (script) that I found by (ed.note: names unintelligble, sorry guys), and I’ve spent the better part of the last year rewriting it for myself.
Do you have any big names in mind for the cast, or are you going completely unknown?
SA: Um, I think it’s gonna be up-and-comers, pretty much. If some big, gigantic name wants to come do it for no money, of course I’m gonna let ’em, but I’m really more interested in launching some new talent.
I also understand that you’re working on Will with Demetri Martin, what’s up with that?
SA: Demetri’s a flat-out genius. It’s an idea we’ve had with him for some time, and I’m acting as a producer and he’s the screenwriter. We’re in the middle of setting up independent financing on it, and it’s one of my favorite scripts that I’ve ever read. It’s a huge idea…basically about…it’s hard to explain. Basically, it’s about how destiny works and how a group of people in the beyond are monitoring everyone’s death in the universe, and how everything goes awry. Have you seen Brazil?
SA: Well, it’s like that, where people’s destinies start to not match up because of a mistake, and there’s one guy whose destiny is completely blank, a guy who has no map forward. It’s a big, existential comedy.
It doesn’t sound like an easy movie to peg, but I can’t say I’m surprised given Dimitri Martin’s involvement. He’s not really a “Larry The Cable Guy”-style of comedy type.
SA: A simpler way to describe it would be: everyone’s life on Earth is written in a book, and one day a guy wakes up and his pages are completely blank. So…
So, someone without a pre-determined fate.
That’s an ambititious idea for a comedy. We need more comedies like that. How do you feel about the state of comedy as it is?
SA: Well, comedy works in fashion cycles, in a way. And sometimes, studios will imitate those cycles a little too much. And I like to think that I’m not one of those people that’s following those trends. I just like to write stuff that makes people laugh, stuff that works, a fun movie that everyone can enjoy. I’m not really worried about the packaging, marketing, and what the studios are going to run next. I’ve been lucky– with Todd and Craig– to have a lot of trust with Warner Bros. to just do what we wanted to do with The Hangover Part Two.
Did you get any push-back from them when you turned in the script, considering how dark sh-t gets?
SA: Nothing. Nothing but praise. They were psyched. But that speaks mostly to what a great filmmaker Todd Phillips is and how much trust they have in him. They’re smart enough not to get in his way on this one. There were no limits in how far we wanted to go, and Warner Bros. knows there’s something special about it and that it’s not an apologetic comedy.
Did you find it any more difficult writing a sequel than the original, considering that you can surprise people more with an original film? Especially something like this film, where the character dynamics are so strong and you knew you wouldn’t have the element of surprise in introducing these characters to an audience?
SA: I think it’s definitely…the biggest thing for me was how tricky it was to write a big mystery. You had to know what these guys did when they were blacked out, what they do next…the wake-up scene, for instance. It had to be funny, different than the first one, and have efficient clues that would give them the tools to save themselves. And each new scene has to unspool the solution to the mystery a little more. For me, it was more of a giant puzzle.
SA: There’s a little bit of everything, really. Sometimes we’d say “this’d be funny to wake up with” and sometimes we’d say “wouldn’t it be funny to do a scene in a monastery”, so we’d put a pin in that, or we’d say, “Let’s map out what they did the night before, and if they did that, what would they wake up with?” There’s a lot of ways to make up the movie. And then when you have those three guys, they start improvising in that world and…y’know, the script’s tight, but they can still add to it without getting too far away from what we wrote.
Were there any big ideas you came up with that didn’t make it into the film?
SA: Nope, everything we wanted is in there. We wanted Bangkok, we were able to block traffic for a motorcycle chase…it was mindboggling to see how many people were out there. I climbed up on the bumper of a car and was looking around, and it was just mindboggling how many people were out there just waiting for us so we could film those scenes. It was one of the busiest intersetions imaginable. It was…I doubt I’ll work on a movie bigger than this.
Was it a pain in the ass shooting in that environment?
SA: Well, everyone’s so nice in Thailand, and it’s a beautiful place– the temples, the culture. But everyone’s so nice that it’s almost inefficient. You’ll say, “Can you shut down this street tomorrow?” And they’d say, “Oh, yes, of course, no problem”, and then we’d show up the next day and…they haven’t done anything. So, we’d have to figure out how to shut the street down and get the shot…they’re so motivated to please you, they’re actually overstating what they can do. Which is a cultural difference: here, they’d just say they couldn’t do it even if they could. It was hard to get an answer sometime because we were getting “Yes’d” to death, and that could be frustrating. But the movie does look incredible…
There’s shots in that movie that wouldn’t look out of place in a David Fincher movie. I mean, it looks really…like, physically repellent.
SA: Yeah, and the thing is, these guys have done some bad things, and this is how they’re paying for what they did. That’s kinda one of the reasons you root for the guys in these movies, though: once they find out what it is they did, they’re just as shock and horrified as everyone else.
So, Road to Nardo‘s your next project?
SA: Yep, we’re prepping to shoot in the Fall.
If Warner Bros. wanted a Hangover 3, would you do it?
SA: There’s already been talk, and if they (move ahead on it), I’d love to be a part of it. I don’t know what, exactly, it’d be– I mean, we just locked picture on this one a few weeks ago…maybe they could wake up on the moon?
I don’t envy you having to top yourselves on the plot of The Hangover Part Two.
SA: Thank you, so much. I still think Hangover’s the best, one of the best comedies of the decade, but we just wanted to be in the same league with that movie. And judging from the reaction of audiences, we’ve done that.
And that, my friends, was the time I had with Scot Armstrong. Special thanks to Warner Bros., Greg Longstreet, Collider.com, Scot Armstrong, and the cast/crew of The Hangover Part Two.