‘Hangover 3′ Interview: Director Todd Phillips Says There Will Never Be Another ‘Hangover’ Movie
No filmmaker has done more for the bromance than Todd Phillips. From 'Road Trip' to 'Old School' to, now, three 'Hangover' films, he’s detailed the love one man has for another man more thoroughly than just about anyone in Hollywood. And 'The Hangover Part III' feels almost weirdly like a last hurrah for the sorts of shenanigans that have become his stock and trade: reuniting the Wolf Pack under the pretense of getting Alan (Zach Galifianakis) some much-needed emotional counseling, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) find themselves unwittingly teamed with their man-child companion yet again after a gangster (John Goodman) holds Doug (Justin Bartha) hostage in exchange for them locating Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), whom he claims stole $21 million from him.
At the risk of great physical harm – namely, a pretty wicked hangover -- we headed to Las Vegas to talk to director Todd Phillips and screenwriter Craig Mazin about 'The Hangover Part III.' In addition to discussing the process of wrapping up the Wolf Pack saga, Mazin and Phillips explored the underlying appeal of the films to audiences, and gingerly addressed questions about what might follow from the purveyors of the most successful R-rated comedy series of all time.
So, how did 'Part III' work out in terms of getting the story set? Did you know when you finished 2 that this was how it was going to go? Was it a while...
Todd Phillips - We talked about it while we were making 2 about what we would do. We knew we wanted to do another one. There’s probably five legitimate different versions of 'The Hangover III' in terms of directions it could have gone and we didn’t settle on this one until we sat down in the summer and started to write, two summers ago.
Craig Mazin - Yeah, prior to that, there were some big ideas. He would call me. I would call him and say, "OK that is a big idea," but then there was a moment where you sort of say, "OK, here are these three or four big plot points. Let’s talk about how this is actually a movie. How is satisfying? Why do we care and how do we make this a true end, so that it in fact ends." It needs to end.
Todd Phillips - Yeah, exactly. We really wanted it to feel like an ending. We really thought Alan was the one character that needed to be healed still and it just felt naturally that it should be Alan’s story.
Some of the set pieces in the film are very logistically complicated – they look like they would require shutting down the strip. How’d you get permission to do that?
Todd Phillips - You know, Hangover means a lot to this town. It does. It’s a testament. Listen, when Hangover I came out it was a recession. It was the summer of 2009 and I literally got a call from a casino CEO, called me. Not Caesar’s, a different one, and said, "Hey, I just want to thank you for making Hangover and bringing the young people back to Vegas this summer. It’s done a lot for the town." So, when we came back for 'The Hangover III' and we have Chow parachuting and we’re dealing with six different properties. It’s like asking six movie studios to all work together. They’re competitors. You can’t get DreamWorks and Paramount and Universal to all kind of work together, but they did for 'The Hangover' because of what it meant. So, it was cool. The Bellagio let us control the fountains, even though Caesar’s is really featured in the movie and then we go here and there and there. So, it was kind of a neat thing, but I think it speaks to the love that Vegas has for the 'Hangover' franchise. It’s fun to have made a movie that is a seminal Vegas film, you know what I mean?
This series has seemed to get darker with each installment. How much creative freedom have you had on these films, and what led you to bring it to darker places -- and also, what is the appeal of making such a dark comedy as opposed to making a drama?
Todd Phillips - It’s cooler. It seems cooler. [laughs] Yeah, I think that filmmakers in their very nature are dark people. I think that as you get more freedom, I think if you look at 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' it gets darker as the series goes on because they got a little more freedom and a little more confidence and they got to sort of move their arms around a little bit and I think that’s what happened with 'The Hangover.' I think my tastes tend to lie a little bit... I think if you rewatch 'Hangover 1,' it’s dark too. [But] it’s a natural evolution and I just felt like, I don’t know. It just feels like a more interesting place to go with comedy. It’s more challenging, because it’s like, "How am I supposed to laugh? They just killed Mike Epps. How am I supposed to laugh here?" and two seconds later, we have a giant laugh in the movie where Alan is like, "Can you bring me sweatpants?" So, to me, it’s kind of, I don’t know, it’s a challenging and more fun way to do it and also, I think it gives the movie a little more depth.
Craig Mazin - Well, yeah, because dramatically, you start with a movie and if the second one is, I don’t know, lower stakes, at that point, you might as well just make a movie about the guys raising their kids.
Todd Phillips - Well, that’s interesting too. It helps raise the stakes as we go along. I think that happened. I think that’s a good point.
Both 'Due Date' and the second Hangover seem to have like a real sort of meanness to the comedy that I feel like this movie actually has less of. Do you feel like there was a deliberate choice to make this one less mean?
Todd Phillips - I think honestly it’s in response to where the story takes you. 'Due Date' had to feel that way. You had to feel Robert Downey’s frustration and the kind of character he was for him to be healed through the Ethan Tremblay character. 'Hangover II' feeling mean, it doesn’t feel mean to me, but this one is definitely a more emotional film, dealing with Alan’s real life and Alan meeting someone who is equally left-footed as him in Melissa McCarthy. That in and of itself is just going to add a sweetness to it. but it wasn’t an intentional, let’s make this less mean. It’s just where the story took us. So, if you’re going to tackle Alan’s story, it’s naturally going to be a little bit more emotional, because he’s naturally a little bit more genuinely fucked up.
Alan’s sort of the classic man-child, a comedic figure like Lou Costello was or Jerry Lewis. How do you see the other two then, Ed and Bradley? They’re not exactly the straight man to him.
Todd Phillips - Well, Ed to me, it’s been said that comedy is not action, it’s reaction and Ed is the king of reaction, Ed is, when he wakes up and sees his tooth missing or a tattoo on his face, or at the end of this movie, no one does reaction better than Ed. Ed is really the unsung hero of these movies, I think. Bradley is a little bit more the father figure of the group if we’re going to call Alan the man-child, but Bradley also is a guy who is just down for anything. So, I think his comedy comes in his attitude of, "Who gives a fuck? He killed a giraffe. Big deal." He’s a cool guy.
Craig Mazin - He’s a cool guy. I actually think the interesting thing abut Alan is that he is that classic cinematic figure of the goofy clown we love, and this movie actually asks the question, "Is that ok?" Because there is a history of these guys. I mean, Belushi was this kind of guy, but there was never a movie where all the characters in the movie said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a second… even though he’s hysterical here at the frat house, we need to get him help, because he’s dangerous." I love that about this movie that it actually took a real look and said, "You’re not ok. This has to stop."
I mean, there are three movies, what do you think, they really did hit something. What do you think it hit?
Todd Phillips - I feel like I’ve probably answered it in this room. I feel like you guys are gonna go, "He’s said this before," but I think people responded a little bit to the irreverence of the movie, the sort of unapologetic nature of the comedy. I think the movie worked internationally, quite honestly, because at first, it’s a concept that works internationally....hangover. Everyone’s sort of had rough nights. Everyone has made bad decisions. I had a rough night last night. So, it just happens. I’m kidding. So, I don’t know, but ultimately it’s down to these three guys. Ultimately it’s the casting of these three guys, I think really connected in a way. It was just the right timing for these three. Their comedy all comes from a different place, so they really fit together interestingly. A lot of times you see movies with actors and the comedy comes from a very similar place, you’re sort of tapping the same nerve with it and with these guys I think they all just fill each other in so well.
You mentioned three guys. Of course, there are four...
Todd Phillips - Well, there’s five really. Ken Jeong is the fifth Beatle really.But people are gonna be, "Do you hate Justin Bartha?" I’ve been friends with Justin Bartha for longer than any of these guys. He used to live in my house.
How did that running gag evolve, where he ends up being excluded from the fun?
Todd Phillips - We just think it’s funny that one of these guys could disappear and we just have a good time with it.
Craig Mazin - If you’re going to take one of those guys and hold him hostage, Justin’s got that face. He’s got hostage face. You’ve just got to grab him.
When you choose to focus on Alan and Chow who are such, they will take all of the air out of the room, how careful do you have to be to make sure that Bradley and Ed’s character have something to do and that they still have a presence in the film instead of just being spectators, as we are, of the chaos Chow and Alan are causing?
Todd Phillips - I think that’s an interesting question and it’s just something you have to do and you have to be mindful as you do it. It’s the same as saying, you know, when you do an ensemble movie, it’s going to focus sometimes in one direction, It doesn’t mean the other guys are replaceable or don’t need to be there. I feel like, again, it’s always been these all three of these guy’s journey together going through this thing. Alan takes a more active role, but Alan took a way less active role in the other two movies but he still felt very much a part of it to me. So, it was just switching things around. The actors might answer that better, but I think that, you know, I think everyone the three guys, Chow, whatever, they all liked the idea of this being Alan’s story.
What was the last scene that you shot with all of the guys, and what was the mood on the set, knowing this was it?
Todd Phillips - Well, the last scene we shot was the last scene of the movie actually. We end the movie kind of sweetly and when we looked at it, they’re walking down the hall. It’s actually kind of an emotional feeling for people that like the movies. Ok? So, it’s actually kind of an emotional thing and in a weird way we looked at each other and go, "Do we really want to end it like or do we want to kind of undercut, like we always do, that emotion, and just be like, Blah, but it’s still The Hangover."
Five years from now, if they came to you guys and said, "Come on..." or you had a great idea, would you ever bring it back together or is it really over forever?
Todd Phillips - I think it’s over forever with this cast and us and me and I think it is over forever. I think this was the last word on it and we’re happy with that.
So what will you guys do next after I mean this is done now...?
Todd Phillips - For me, it’s not done until its out and done. It’s hard. It is really hard. I read once, a quote from Jim Cameron. He goes, "You know, you guys ask me what’s next. You know, it’s like asking a pregnant woman who is nine months pregnant, 'So, are you thinking about having another baby?'" And I thought, that’s exactly right. That’s how I feel. It’s is quote, but for me it’s hard until it’s out in the world. We’re still sort of in it, you know.
Well, ultimately, how much sort of growth or how much of an arch in retrospect did you conceive, particularly when you were completing this one, thinking like we want these characters to come to a certain place be the end of all three films much less this last installment?
Craig Mazin - Well, I mean, certainly by the end of this installment, we wanted... We felt like Stu was at peace. He’d been through the ringer twice. Bradley doesn’t need peace. He’s always been at peace. He’s got a wife and kids. Bradley’s the only cool one who understands how to live on the edge and then return on his own, like an adult, but Alan was the one that needed desperately to grow up. I mean, his father says it to him in the beginning of the movie and we realize it. That’s why, frankly, I love the fact that second movie is about it happening again, because you can’t make a third and final movie about how can we finally stop this from happening anymore if it only happens once. That’s why I liked that it happened a second time. So, yeah, that was the goal was to finish with Alan and once Alan is finished, obviously, the rest of them are in pretty good shape.
So, do you think Alan has grown up?
Craig Mazin - I do think Alan has grown up. Well, he’s replaced the Wolfpack with this new master, this new harsh mistress who is obviously going to run his life.
Todd Phillips - Yeah, and he’s met somebody equally flawed. I think that’s the thing. It’s like, you can be left-footed your whole life, but you meet somebody who’s equally left-footed. Suddenly he’s out of step with the world, but when he meets someone else also out of step, suddenly they’re out of step together and it’s like, he’s going to be OK.
Craig Mazin - They’ll end up doing a lot of damage out there.
Well, people feel it should be spun off, the two of them.
Todd Phillips - Yeah, people...
You don’t feel that way?
Todd Phillips - Well, you know, we’ve talked about a lot of things like that, but I think Zach and Melissa together would be a pretty frightening amazing comedy team.