Hangover Part III Set Visit : Todd Phillips

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In our continuing coverage of “The Hangover Part 3″, now just a couple of weeks shy of it’s end-of-month release, we talk to Todd Phillips – the creator of the drunken-buffoons-on-the-loose trilogy!

Okay, so tell us, how is working again with these guys after all these years, and coming back to it again?
Yeah, it’s true, it’s been like six years. I lost my voice a little, so… But you know, it’s great. The four of us have become such good friends– More than four, Chow’s five, and Doug is six. But we’ve become such good friends, and I think it’s half the reason we like doing these. We just have a great time on these movies. Today you’re witnessing a random day of little pieces and little things, you’re not really seeing a scene. So it’s not so indicative of the movie, but whatever, it is what it is.

How was the challenge for you to come up with the idea or story of this part three? ‘Cause now it’s big, people expect big time…
Yeah, it’s always hard. With the first one, we were trying to top the biggest comedy of all time. And then we did the second one, and that became the biggest comedy of all time, so there’s definitely pressure. But me and Craig tossed around a lot of ideas, and it’s hard, but it’s always hard. As hard as it is during a movie to think of what is the reason they’re back together, what is the purpose… But it’s also fun, I mean, it’s such a big part of the process.

How has the dynamic of the Wolf Pack changed in your mind over all these movies to where they are now for the third one?
Well, you know, Zach has become so much more obnoxious, now that he’s had some fame. No, I’m not– The funny thing is there isn’t– They may have changed in their lives, and they may have changed in the way they approach other movies, but I think when we do these movies, it’s like the first one. You know? It doesn’t feel like anybody– This one became a big star, or this guy’s this… Everybody’s just back to the same rhythm.

But I mean the characters as well.
The characters, how have they changed? Well, the interesting thing about this movie is that it’s very much about Alan’s story, whereas the first one may have been Stu’s story, where Stu is becoming a man and standing up to that girl Melissa. Excuse me. And this movie’s definitely more Alan’s story, Zach’s character , which is why it sort of is the final one. It feels like that’s the last stone we haven’t really turned over, is what’s his problem and where is he at, and what’s the final word on him. So Hangover Three is really Alan’s story, in a weird way.

So speaking of the plot, the first two movies were very much alike: Blackout, weddings. In this one, there would be no weddings, no blackouts?
No, there’s no hangover in this movie. They’re not trying to remember anything. What?

That’s why it’s “H-Three”, not “Hangover”.
No, it’s still Hangover Three, but no, there is no hangover in the movie. There’s no forgotten night in this movie, it’s a different sort of structure, if you will. The thing that sets everything into motion is different, yeah, than the first two.

And have you ever thought about changing the title, instead of this?
Do you mean from “Hangover”? Well, because I don’t think “Hangover” means hangover in that way with our movies, you know? It’s The Hangover, just, in other words– Beverly Hills Cop Three? It really wasn’t a cop in Beverly Hills anymore, but it was sort of what it is. It’s the identity of the thing, you know what I mean?

Which is your favorite character?
Well, I like Alan because he is so innocently inappropriate, which I think is the best characteristics for comedy. You know, it’s just– The thing about Zach, what makes Zach so special is he has such an innocence to his look, so when he says the inappropriate things that he says, you realize he doesn’t mean it the way you think he means it, he just doesn’t know any better. And I think that kind of character has just endless potential for comedy.

You had babies, a tiger, a monkey… What is more difficult for you, working with the babies or the animals?
I think Zach is more difficult than any of those. No, the most difficult, I guess the monkey. They all have their own challenges. The babies are easy, ’cause there’s all different babies, and when one’s bad, they just bring another one in, and then that one, you know…

Any animals? Any animals this time?
There is. There is a huge sequence with an animal that we don’t wanna reveal, but there is a big sequence with it.

Is that why we saw all the blood today, on the actors, was that from the animal scene?
Their blood? Yeah, well, that’s not even from the thing I’m talking about. There’s another run-in, they have a small thing, but yeah, there is blood on them from an animal.

How do you find it– ‘Cause there’s a humor and a rawness to everything you do, and you’re pushing the boundary. How far can you guys push it? How far do you like to push it on set when you’re doing it?
Yeah, we just like to push it as far as we can kind of feel it out. But it’s never a conscious thing, where you think, “Oh, this is the line, and let’s not cross it.” We sometimes cross the line, and then we show it to an audience, and then you realize, “Oh, this is too much”, and then you cut it back. So we don’t really pre-edit ourselves when we’re filming, you know what I mean? When we’re filming, we do anything, and then in the editing room you can find out where the line is.

Do you have any examples of when you’ve crossed the line from the past two movies?
Yeah, but they’re not in the movies, you know what I mean? So…

But can you tell me?
Well, I don’t wanna get anybody in trouble. We crossed the line legally, too.

What brought all this R-rated trend? I mean, you pretty much invented the idea that everybody is now into R-rated comedies.
Well, no, I don’t think we invented it. I think there was a resurgence with my movie– Old School, I think, really started, and then Wedding Crashers came and really said, “Okay…” But I think it’s kind of in waves, you know? In the eighties, there was Stripes, and there’s a ton of R-rated comedies. I think it just goes in cycles. But for me, I think such a big part of comedy is irreverence, so it’s hard to be irreverent and PG-thirteen. So I think it’s not so much that we wanna shock people, I just think so much about comedy is irreverence. Whether it’s Richard Pryor on stage, or The Hangover, it’s about being irreverent.

There were rumors that it’s gonna be The Hangover in Tijuana… I’m from Mexico, so everybody was excited. Now we know that just one part of the movie is there.
Yeah, a very small part. There was also a rumor that it was about breaking Alan out of a mental institution, which is not what it’s about. I don’t know where these rumors start. I mean, the Tijuana one, maybe, ’cause we were scouting some places, and people thought, “Oh, that’s where it’s taking place.” But no, the movie doesn’t take place in Tijuana, the movie doesn’t really take place in any one place the same way Part One was in Vegas, Part Two was Bangkok… This movie takes place a little bit in L.A., a little bit in Vegas, obviously, a little bit in Tijuana, a little bit in between. It’s not so much a destination movie.

So it’s more character driven in plot?
It’s plot-driven, but the plot isn’t driven by location, you know what I mean?

They say that it’s a kind of road movie, like Due Date, for example.
Well, there’s a little element of a road movie in that they are moving from place to place. Sure, yeah, I guess so.

Can you talk about whether you wanted to change the approach and come up with a completely new story, in part because there was a critical backlash to the second film?
That’s not what we did, but you guys can take credit for it if you like.

But did you keep that in mind when you came into the third movie?
No, I mean, I think it was clear that even for us and for the actors, we wanted to change, because more so, believe it or not, because we found it hard to believe that these– It’s hard to believe you’d have a night like that, let alone, two. It’s impossible to believe three. So that was more our thing than necessarily bloggers.

Do women have more participation in this movie?
Who?

The wives…
(overlaps) That was a joke. No, I mean, the movie’s about these guys, it just is. And that’s just the way it is, that’s just what the movie’s about.

Is there any new character in the movie?
John Goodman plays a huge part in the movie. We have a couple fun cameos that we don’t want to necessarily put out there, but there’s a couple fun cameos, little parts and things like that. But essentially the movie’s about our three guys, it’s about Mr. Chow, it’s about Doug, and it’s about John Goodman.

The guys told us before that thanks to Hangover, their professional lives have changed a lot. And for you, what meant to do The Hangover?
Well, for me, just having grown up watching R-rated comedies, and always wanting to make movies like that, to have made the biggest two of all time, for me, that is just such a huge thing. But professionally, what does it enable me to do in the future? I don’t really know, because I’ve been doing these movies, and I’ve sort of been in this world. I did Due Date in between, but that’s sort of the same vibe. These are the kind of movies I like, you know?

What do you think after seeing One, Two, and now you’re going to the third, the characteristics that people, the fans, really relate to on a base level?
I think that the key thing to The Hangover is not so much, quite honestly, the plot of the forgotten night, I think it’s the chemistry between these three guys, the believability that they’re really friends. Because sometimes you see a movie about actors cast together and it’s like, “Okay, they work for that movie.” But these guys, to me at least, feel like really friends. And I think the third thing is again the irreverence of the comedy, I think that tonally, the unapologetic nature of the movies is what people respond to.

You were more or less able to shoot the first one under the radar, now you are the talk of the town. How does this change the day-to-day work on the film.
It doesn’t really for me or the actors, it does for the people that work for the movie, keeping people away. But that happens sort of– we don’t really see that as much, but it does change things for sure. There’s something– You can’t replicate that feeling of ‘under-the-radar’, when you’re doing a sequel or a third movie.

Are you still able to keep spontaneous? Because I love the stuff that we just saw downstairs, like Zach laughing and everything, you can still see that energy. Can you talk about finding that energy and finding that–
Well, that’s the whole thing– And yeah, of course we keep it spontaneous because these are the guys that– They’re the same guys, and they have the same freedom to try things. So yeah, that’s always a part of it. But I think that’s a part of any comedy, really.

The guys all talked about there being more gravity, and the characters being a little bit deeper. Does that make it harder to keep it really snappy and funny?
A little bit. The stakes on this movie are bigger, and the movie is definitely a little bit darker, which is where I always tend to go. I think Hangover Two was Darker than Hangover One, and Hangover Three, there’s a little bit more dark. There’s comedy, of course, but there’s still a little bit more darkness to it. So, I don’t know that it’s harder to then be funny with it, I actually think the comedy becomes even more irreverent given the dark circumstances.

Does Doug have a more substantial part in this film?
I think probably he has a bigger part than he had in One and Two, but he doesn’t have a huge part, honestly.

So it’s not a four guys movie?
No. If anything, I would say the fourth guy would be Chow. I mean of this movie, you know.

In the first movie, there was a surprise, now you have a fanbase. How would you expect they would receive this third part?
The way trilogies are, even trilogies that aren’t comedy, but I think of great comedy trilogies whether it’s Beverly Hills Cop, or Austin Powers were three of them, or Rush Hour. The movies that have the engine enough to go three movies, they get– I expect, or hope that the audience is gonna be there for it, and that’s the goal.

Did you plan for a trilogy, or was it just–?
No, after the first one became such a big hit, we did think, “Okay, let’s make another one. It’d be fun to do.” And then the second one was a big hit, and we were like, we started pretending it was a trilogy.

Is there a hope that we maybe have a fourth movie ten years?
A fourth movie in ten years? Oh, I don’t know about that. I don’t think so. I think that we wrote this movie and we are making this movie as literally the end of this movie. And that’s not to say they’ll die at the end, they don’t. But this is very much an ending to this chapter of their lives, for sure.

Are you sad?
No, not yet, because we’re still making it. Maybe when we’re done and we’re at the press junket, the real press junket, then maybe it’ll be like, a little bit bittersweet. But right now, we’re just having fun making this one.

Do you seen any spin-offs in the future? Maybe Alan going a separate way?
I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about that.

The monkey.
The monkey’s not in this one. I know, it’s a bummer.

When you compare with the first ones, how long is this movie taking to shoot, the whole process?
Oh, it’s the same, really. We basically shoot them– I think the first one was fifty-two days, and this– Excuse me, this one is fifty-eight or sixty days. It’s essentially the same. The second one was fifty-six days. It’s all about the same.

Bradley was talking about the circle of life, ’cause you guys were back here on Election Day, shooting all those years ago. Can you talk about that?
Isn’t that weird? We were shooting this night when Obama got elected. We were shooting, if you remember in the first movie, we were in the hospital scene where they went to the doctor, and that old man was naked– We were talking about that today, ’cause that’s where we were four years ago.

I mean, is it– Can you talk about the writing process within that? Because so much stuff has happened in this country since then.
Yeah, yeah, these movies don’t really reflect that, do they?

No, I know. But just in general, just the writing process.
Well, the writing process is always, for me, the hardest part. And for all of them. And this one was great, I got to work– Craig Mazin wasn’t even involved in the first one, he became involved in the second one, and then I did this with him straight through. The process on this was really smooth and easy, but it’s always difficult.

Even with the ducktails of all the stories, it sounds like.
Yeah, and the hardest thing is we’re kind of logic– We try to make it, believe it or not, as logical as possible, as believable as possible, even though the situations are insane. So that’s always a tough thing.

Do you think you redefined a bachelor’s party?
I think if you ask the people in Las Vegas- This movie has done a lot for Vegas in that respect. If you go downstairs and ask the people who work at the front desk, they get it twenty times a day where people go, “Did the real Caesar live here?” You know, which is from the first movie. It has had an impact, certainly in this building.

Do you get royalty through the tourists?
We get treated very well here, yeah, we do. Caesars was very excited to have us back. And even the other hotels on this movie really cooperated in a way they didn’t on The Hangover One. The Bellagio, on this movie, let us control their fountains on a sequence we shot last week. They never would have done that on The Hangover One.