We head to the Los Angeles set of The Hangover Part III to chat with The Wolf Pack, director Todd Phillips, and more
Roosters were heard cackling as I walked onto the set of The Hangover Part III on the Warner Bros. lot last November. Needless to say, given the history of this hilarious, blockbuster franchise, I was not surprised. After two highly-successful installments (The Hangover and The Hangover Part II have combined to earn more than $1 billion at the box office worldwide), which have included tigers, monkeys, crazy (lawsuit-inducing) face tattoos, bizarre gangsters, and much more lunacy, the one thing that might be surprising is that director Todd Phillips is wrapping up his beloved series after three movies. Although there will likely be more than enough demand for at least one more movie, The Hangover Part III will be the last of The Wolf Pack's madcap adventures.
Oh yeah, the roosters. The scene they were shooting on that late November day was set in a rundown Tijuana, Mexico house. The Wolf Pack - Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) have caught up with enigmatic Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who is running a cock-fighting ring in TJ. This scene involved the trio confronting Chow, when Alan suddenly falls on a crate of roosters, and all hell breaks loose. Just another day in the life of The Wolf Pack.
The second trailer that was released last week gave us a better idea of what the story is all about, with The Wolf Pack enlisted by a mysterious villain (John Goodman) to find Mr. Chow, who ran off with $21 million. Back in November, though, plot details were still very thin. All we knew, at the time, was there wasn't a wedding to get back for, and it would be set in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and several other places in between.
The first person we got to speak with on the set was screenwriter Craig Mazin, who co-wrote this finale with director Todd Phillips. The writer was brought on very early on, back in May 2011, but even then he didn't have much of an idea of where this finale would go.
"Todd and I had talked about wanting to finish things. We liked the idea that lightning had struck twice in these poor guys, and we knew that the third one was going to be a true conclusion, a true finish. So, in that sense, it wasn't going to be another episode the way that James Bond always seems to have a cold open and always seems to have a mission and always seems to have gadgets, because those are designed to go on forever. 'This is the end, my beautiful friend,' and so we really came at this story from that point of view. What was unfinished business and what needed to be fixed and solved for these three people to move on with their lives? So that's really what we started with. It was kind of scary, because we could have done anything, really, and sometimes that's the scariest thing of all."
The writer also spoke about the many different locations this sequel is set in, and how at calls back a plot point from The Hangover that nobody 'picked up on.'
"It's not mainly in any one place. There is quite a bit of Los Angeles, part of the movie takes place in Tijuana, Mexico, part of the movie takes place in the Mojave Desert, part of the movie takes place in Vegas. It begins and ends in Los Angeles. Vegas is-- There's some unfinished business, it turns out. Something that happened in the first movie that none of you picked up on, but we know about, and you'll see what we mean. But there's some unfinished business. So eventually you knew Stu, in particular, even though he swore he would never go back, is going to have to find himself there. That is kind of the heart of darkness for these guys. It doesn't take place in any one area particularly."
The Hangover Part III does not feature several of the staples from the past two movies. There is just, "a little bit of drinking," but no memory loss that the guys suffer from. However, Craig Mazin teased there still is a race-against-the-clock element that will be even more serious than getting to a wedding on time.
"Yes. That's exactly right. Death is in the air. There is death in this movie. I will tell you, people die. I will say that. Not everybody lives. We don't mess around."
When asked about Justin Bartha's Doug, and whether or not he is more involved, Craig Mazin ominously teased that Doug still can't catch a break in this franchise finale, while offering some interesting details regarding John Goodman's villainous character.
"So the first one, he was parked on a roof. The second one, he was poolside. This one, he's more involved, and tragically so. Poor Justin. He's just one of those guys. Poor guy's snakebit. You'll see. He's got an interesting encounter with John Goodman, who's in the movie, who's terrific. And that was a real joy. I can tell you that John Goodman's a dangerous man, and that John Goodman, in a way, has always been in the movies. And when you see the movie, you'll see what I mean. It's a presence, a dark presence that's been lingering."
When we got back to our designated press area, where we could watch the footage being shot, the roosters were hemming and hawing once again. They were shooting a continuation of that previous scene we saw, this time, with roosters flying around all over the place, with one rooster flying right into the arms of Phil. Chow, in all his wisdom, pulls out a gun and shoots at the rooster Phil is struggling with.
Phil - "What the f--k?"
Chow - "I'm just trying to help"
As is the case on most comedy sets, it takes a bit of discipline not to burst out into fits of laughter during a scene such as this one. We also see Alan running through the frame with a gigantic rooster on his back, and, over the course of an hour or so, we watched numerous different takes, with roosters being hurled towards the actors at different speeds and angles, all of which was rather hilarious.
"As an actor, I'm just very grateful to work at all, much less have a bigger part. So, for me it's an embarrassment of riches at this point because-- Yeah, in the first Hangover, I think I was only on set for maybe, like, four days. To say that it changed my life is an understatement. I think Keith Richards said the turning point for him in his life came when his life changed from black and white to Technicolor, and that's what the first Hangover did for me. It just changed my whole career. I'm here a lot. So, yeah, it's quite a big amount. And it's just been great, man. I just can't say enough great things about being on this project. And when you're with people like Bradley, Ed and Zach, and Todd, you raise your game as an actor. So I'm constantly being stimulated just to improve and to really do the best I can every single frame, every single take. And that's all you can ask for as an actor, is just people who you trust and who you love, and they're pushing you to be the best you can be. That is all I want in this career."
Chow has most definitely evolved throughout the films, from being the crazy naked guy who Lops out of the trunk in The Hangover, to being Alan's plus-one at the wedding in The Hangover Part II. The actor revealed that Chow is fully fleshed-out in this finale.
"I think Chow's evolution has become from kind of an antagonist or villain in the first one into maybe a friend in the second one. In this movie you're going to see different layers of Chow. And it's become a fully realized and layered character. And Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin, the writers of the movie, have just taken great lengths to give it a lot of depth, and it's really been wonderful. I just can't even believe they're giving Chow so much depth, and I love it. Honestly, this is everything I ever wanted. Everything I ever wanted is in this movie. That's about as blunt as I can put it. This is just one of the happiest moments of my career."
"I think that's the beauty of working with Todd, is that he's such a great purveyor of tone in all of the movies that we all defer to him in terms of the specificity of tone that he has. And then, having said that, he's been very open to collaboration and open to ideas, but he always has been in the first two movies as well. The jumping out naked in the trunk was my idea, that was him green-lighting that, which he happily did. For me, just as a fan of Todd and also the main actors, watching them collaborate and shape a scene is a thing of beauty. And there's a lot of dialogue that goes back and forth in some of these scenes, in terms of trying to shape it. And everyone has a say. But also, we all know none of this would be possible if it wasn't for Todd Phillips. Everyone knows their role in this, but everyone's also allowed to speak."
"They just do a lot of Chow quotes from the first two movies. I think my favorite ever was I was at an ATM and there was a middle-aged man in a convertible staring at me for the longest time. And as he drives away, he says, (imitating Chow) 'Toodle-oo, motherfucker!' Like that. That is probably the best. Nothing has topped that. That was a year ago, I think. Like this is nothing. He just stood there deadpan throughout, like, 'Toodle-oo, motherf---er.'"
After lunch, we got to sit down with writer-director Todd Phillips, who has directed all three movies and co-wrote the last two with Craig Mazin. If you couldn't tell from Ken Jeong's interview, Todd Phillips is truly the godfather of this franchise. When asked about the story, the filmmaker shot down a story from June 2011 that this finale revolved around The Wolf Pack breaking Alan out of a mental institution.
"This is Alan's story, in a way. And it's funny, because I've read on the Internet how people say it's about breaking Alan out of a mental institution, which I can honestly tell you it is not about. I don't know how that got started. I actually do know how it got started. Zach said that as a joke. And then people knew it was a joke, but then sometimes it gets re-translated and then it becomes the truth. It's not about that, but it is, in a weird way, Alan's story, and it is also a fitting finale to the story of all four guys, five guys counting Chow. It is a fitting end to the trilogy. Like, plot-wise, what it's about? It's not a hangover, it's not a missing night. There's no drinking in the movie, or excessive drinking, I should say. It just takes a totally different turn, and it catches the guys two years after the last movie and where they are in their lives. And it's kind of a movie about a crisis. Alan, his own personal crisis, is probably the best way to describe it. Best way of saying something without saying anything."
He also teased an epic opening.
"I think we have a pretty epic opening to this movie. There's a little bit of a preamble opening and then we have a pretty epic open. But there's nothing I've been nervous about shooting for ratings reasons or pushing the boundaries. There's just, I think, some pretty epic things in this movie that we were really excited to shoot, some of which we've shot already and one thing that we haven't shot yet."
The filmmaker spoke about some familiar characters coming back, and how it provides a better understanding for the whole trilogy.
"Yeah, there's some call-backs. It's not a secret Heather Graham makes an appearance in the movie. Yeah, there are some people that reappear. What's fun about the movie is that it all kind of makes sense. None of the movies take place without the knowledge of the others. In other words, they all-- The second one took place having gone through the experience of the first one. They referenced it, they talk about it. This is the same thing. And it kind of completes a circle, where people appear that you go, 'Oh, that's who that was. Oh, I see.' It's that kind of thing. Which is a fun thing for us to write and it was a fun thing to figure out."
Todd Phillips talked about how being around these characters for so long has helped the writing process, and how this is most definitely the last movie.
"I think it makes it easier in some respects, because you just know what Alan would say at this moment. We'd just look at each other and we'd go, 'Clearly, it's that.' And it's harder also, because you go, 'Oh, is this the same sort of vibe?' Or. 'Is this the thing--' You know? I think it's how television works. People say, 'Oh, you're doing a third Hangover. How can you do a third Hangover?' It's like, people do twelve years of television shows and nobody says, 'How do you do that?' Because they love the characters and you're involved in it. I don't feel like we've spent too much time with them. I love being able to explore Alan, Chow and Bradley deeper in these things. It's what they get away with in television."
The filmmaker spoke also used his analogy to long-running television shows to describe how Ken Jeong's Mr. Chow has evolved so much.
"Well, it's the same thing I was talking about with television. It's like, these writers in TV, they fall in love with certain characters. If you watch a show like Homeland, and it's like, 'Oh, that character didn't seem like a big deal in the beginning, but clearly they fell in love with this character. I think Chow's a perfect example. Chow was never meant to be more than a four-day part in a movie. The movie was huge, people loved it, people got a kick out of Chow, we make it a little bigger. It's sort of like writers falling in love with their characters, and the same thing, I think, happens in television all the time."
"Well, I think in all the movies, the character Alan is the catalyst for things to go wrong. And this movie is Alan coping with the things that he's done wrong and coming to grips with that. So there's the other side of it, not just the mishaps of the character, it's also him trying to improve himself, which is kind of fun to do."
"There is a family dynamic here, to be sure. There's more of that in this one for sure. You go a little deeper with that stuff in this one, I think. As deep as we can get. I mean, I don't want to oversell it that we're doing a Merchant Ivory film here. More like Merchant Ivory Wayans. Happy? Old soundbite for ya!"
The actor also teased some of the crazy outfits he has to wear as Alan, although one political shirt was vetoed.
"What I have on now is probably the tamest of the outfits. But I know why I'm wearing horizontal stripes. Because it makes you look fatter. And I know Todd was disappointed because I'd lost some weight. And I haven't talked to him about this, but I know that's why he put horizontal stripes on me. I'm not an idiot. The wardrobe is consistent with the other wacky stuff that he puts on. I really wanted him to wear a "Trump for President" shirt, but we thought that might be a little dated. He's a rich kid and he doesn't have a lot of thoughts so it just seemed right."
With all the trouble that Alan has caused for The Wolf Pack, many may wonder why Phil and Stu still hang out with this guy. Zach Galifianakis offered an intriguing response to why The Wolf Pack is still together.
"Yeah, the tricky thing is, 'Why are these guys still hanging out with this guy?' But having said that, I think that this guy, meaning Alan, provides a certain excitement that they might not get in their regular nine-to-five lives. So I think that's the attraction. He's a loose cannon, but he does provide some excitement for them. But at this point, you would think they, especially Stu, would not have anything to do with him. But Stu's a dentist who doesn't have a lot going on, so he goes on these wild rides with him."
"You know, they have a complicated friendship that I think is characterized by tolerance for one another and some mutual lack of understanding for the other's thought process, mindset, intelligence, world view. Whereas Phil and Alan have this kind of overt bromance, particularly coming from Alan towards Phil, I think that Stu and Alan have more of an Odd Couple sort of thing going on, where if you really put a gun to their head, they'd kind of love each other and would go to the mat for each other. But you'd never know it if you spent five minutes with them. And that is just an important part of their history in the first two. Their relationship gets challenged in some new, exciting ways in Hangover Three."
He also spoke about Zach's response that Stu and Phil are "attracted" to Alan because he provides a level of excitement they don't get in their everyday lives.
"I don't know that Stu needs any of it. He would be so happy to have a boring life. If Alan would just let him have a boring life. But I always see Stu as the reluctant guy that just gets sucked in. He's sort of like Pacino in The Godfather: Part III. He's just trying to get out, but gets sucked back in. And it makes him a richer, more complex person, because he probably would be pretty boring otherwise. That said, I think Stu would be perfectly happy to be boring. But it wouldn't make a very good movie."
"This iteration, I think, heightens some of the things in all of us as characters. Stu has moments of calm, reflective acceptance, and then he has moments that I think he doesn't control very well, of just sheer, abject panic and terror. He just sort of rides that sine curve more. I feel like Alan and Phil might be a little more consistent and Stu is a little bit more of a roller coaster. So you get both sides. The nice thing, what you just referenced in Two. He clearly marries up. She's a beautiful, intelligent woman and, as a result, in Three, we pick Stu up into that marriage and having clearly absorbed a little bit more responsibility for. He's a little bit cooler of a guy. He was happier in the first two, I think, to just be a nerdy dentist. Now I think his wife has dressed him a little bit cooler, has-- Where are my glasses? I took them off. But he has different glasses this time, they're a little bit cooler. And he wears these cool socks. Like, he never would've done that in the first two. But the wife has sort of, hopefully, made him look cool at the beginning, but then, of course, good old Stu comes out. Huge, huge nerd."
"That is a really cool thing about this movie, is that there are ways that both of the first two movies weave into a narrative that you didn't see coming. And I don't think-- I loved the show Lost, in part because the writers were so nimble in how they would take things from previous episodes, that probably weren't created with any intent towards a larger narrative, and they would get woven into narratives in a really elegant and exciting way. And that's what this story is, Hangover Three. It pulls things from One and Two that you didn't know may have been part of a larger narrative, but actually, in Three, it is, and it's really cool and surprising."
We wrapped up our day of interviews a few trailers down with Bradley Cooper. While this finale was shot in numerous locales, he revealed how excited he was to go back to Las Vegas, and how he thought he would be bombarded by fans this time around.
"I was so excited to go back and go to Rao's and stay at Caesars, and all the things we did the first time. And we all felt like, 'Oh, my God, it's going to be different. We're going to get bombarded.' Nothing. Literally. It's like Vegas is completely indifferent to anything that happens there. It's wonderful."
He also spoke about how the events of the first two movies have not only created a bond between the characters, but also a bit of anger.
"All the guys have been through so much in the last two movies, and I think that has bonded them and it also has instilled animosity as well. In the relationship between Phil and Alan, yeah, I'd say they're probably closer, but, yeah, it has its peaks and valleys in this movie. Well, that's one of the things we loved that happened in the first movie. Zach and I sort of created this thing and then it's kind of worked its way through the three movies, which is fun."
The actor talked about ditching the "lost night" format this time around.
"It feels like these characters are indelible to the story. And I kind of like that we veer from the structure of the first two. It was a conscious choice. And I think it's also what the audience wants as well. Yeah. But hopefully-- It's about the characters and their relationship, which carries through more than the hook of a lost night."
He shared how each of the actors had their own kind of bonding experiences throughout the entire franchise, starting with how he and Zach Galifianakis drove to Las Vegas together before shooting The Hangover.
"Zach and I lived in Venice, and I got his number and I said, 'Hey, man, I'm going to drive to Vegas. You want to drive?' And he said, 'Sure.' So that was actually kind of great. We got to know each other on that ride up, which was perfect. The ride out. And then Ed was doing The Office, so he was only here for two days and then he was gone. It was crazy, that first movie. And then we just sort of made it work on set. But then, having gone through Thailand together, and then we actually all wound up spending New Year's together that year after we shot the movie, and then having to go through the promotion of it and having it be as successful as it has been, you sort of cling together, the three guys, against the storm of the success. And that's a bonding experience in and of itself. The ride of the movie itself has bonded us."
That about wraps up my day on the set of The Hangover Part III, which hits theaters May 24. Some set visits I go on, I get a very clear idea of what the movie is going to be, and yet others are much more secretive. After having been on big budget superhero movie sets, action movie sets, and everything in between, The Hangover Part III set might have been the most secretive of all. That being said, the cast and crew gave us enough intriguing information about the characters and the story, and I can't wait to see how this franchise comes to an end next month.