The Wolf Pack's back but this time they're waking up in Bangkok without a clue as to why in The Hangover sequel, The Hangover Part 2. Writer/director Todd Phillips and co-writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong stick closely to the formula that propelled the original 2009 comedy to the top spot as the most successful R-rated comedy in history, moving the action from Vegas to Thailand but keeping the premise pretty much the same. Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) come to after what's apparently been a wild night of partying only to find themselves in a dingy hotel room in an unfamiliar city with a severed finger, one new facial tattoo, one bald head, a monkey, and Mr Chow (Ken Jeong). And just as with the first film, it'll take most of The Hangover Part 2 before they understand what they were up to while they were completely wasted and out of control.
Together for a press conference in support of the Warner Bros Pictures comedy, writer/director Phillips, Cooper, Galifianakis, and Helms talked about the challenges of making the sequel, shooting in Thailand, working with an adorable scene-stealing monkey, and the possibility of a third Hangover.
Todd Phillips, Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, and Ed Helms Press Conference
What was your most challenging experience on the film?
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."
Bradley Cooper: "That lasted throughout the movie."
Ed 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. 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. It’s a great society, it really is."
Bradley 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 was a 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."
How did you decide how to use Mike Tyson again?
Bradley 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."
Todd 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?
Bradley 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?"
Todd Phillips: "Yeah."
Bradley Cooper: "It’s just one of the greatest [scenes] 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."
Ed 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?
Todd 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."
Ed Helms: "We put things in because they’re too raunchy."
Are there other extra scenes from Bangkok?
Todd 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?
Todd 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."
Bradley 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?
Bradley Cooper: "I actually took a liking to Top Menu, which was a Chinese restaurant that I ate a lot in Bangkok."
Todd Phillips: "Yeah, definitely check out Top Menu. It’s called Top Menu. It’s the best."
Ed Helms: "It’s just like any Chinese takeout place in New York City."
Bradley Cooper: "I would totally disagree with you."
Todd Phillips: "No, he’s wrong. It’s great."
Bradley Cooper: "How dare you, Ed."
Todd Phillips: "He wonders why he got food poisoning. It’s that attitude."
How did you decide how similar to make it to the first one and when to be different?
Todd Phillips: "I think we were aware that the fun part of the first Hangover for me, obviously the guys 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?
Bradley 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."
Ed 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 [Mazin], Todd and Scot [Armstrong] 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."
Bradley 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."
Zach 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?
Zach Galifianakis: "Yeah, I think he’s in a lot of mental trouble for the rest of his life, yeah."
Todd, did you let Zach improvise?
Todd 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."
When you were casting Mason Lee, do you know Ang Lee and did you know Mason was his son?
Todd 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?
Todd 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."
Where do you see this series going after Hangover 2?
Todd 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."
Did you know when you shot the first film that it would take off? What do you think it was?
Todd 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--k 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."
Zach Galifianakis: "By the way, if you went to a party at Todd’s house, that’s how he ends it."
How important is surprise and is it frustrating when so much is in the trailers?
Ed 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."
Todd 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."
"[...]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."
Did you have to pull back on jokes for permissions from Thailand?
Todd 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 2 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?
Todd 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. 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."
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The Hangover Part 2 hits theaters on May 26, 2011.