If there”s one key thing I learned on my recent visit to the set of “The Hangover Part III,” it”s the following: this sucker gets dark.
“Death is in the air,” says screenwriter Craig Mazin. “There is death in this movie. I will tell you, people die. I will say that. Not everybody lives. This is– We don’t mess around.”
Ok, so we’ve got many. Nevertheless, specifics are hard to come by. Take Bradley Cooper, for example. Gorgeous guy, but he”s not saying much. Is it the oh-so-very-apparent information clamp-down by the hovering publicists, or is he just reluctant to speak to reporters in general? Or both?
Question: So we know this is two years later. What’s changed for you as a character?
Bradley Cooper: Personally? Oh. As a character, not much. Phil’s the immovable object, in a way. You know? He’s got it all figured out.
Question: We’ve been hearing all day that this movie is kind of centered on Alan [Zach Galifianakis] and Alan’s problem– And he’s always had a weird, interesting relationship with Phil because he kind of looks up to him, in a way. I’m kind of curious about that relationship in this movie.
Bradley Cooper: 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.
Question: We’ve heard the tone of this installment is a lot darker, too, kind of going in the direction that the last one went. Or at least darker than the last one has been. …So I’m just wondering if that tone– How does that affect the group dynamic? Does it create tension between them, or does it press them closer together?
Bradley Cooper: I’d say, in each– There’s going to be obstacles, that’s why there’s a story. So, for sure, the plot creates some obstacles for them to have to overcome in order to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. And so, yeah, that definitely creates a situation that calls for emotional highs and lows between the three guys. Yeah.
Oh, screw it.
Question: You’ve spent literally all day today wrestling on the ground with a robot chicken and yet your hair is still really good. What’s your secret?
Bradley Cooper: I just had it done right before I saw you guys. Obviously, I don’t think you’ve been watching it, because my hair’s been all over the place. But thank you.
Hey, he does have pretty awesome hair.
So, about those robot chickens. The scene being filmed takes place in a seedy Tijuana flophouse, and the situation is this: Alan [Galifianakis], Phil [Cooper], Stu [Ed Helms] and Chow [Ken Jeong] are being viciously attacked by a swarm of bloodthirsty cocks.
“Oh, fuck! Motherfucking roosters!” Chow screams on the monitor.
It”s chaos. Only moments before, Alan had unwittingly set free a horde of fowl after perching himself on a covered cage that just so happened to be housing a horde of savage cock-fighters. Now the birds are on the offensive, pecking and clawing any piece of man-flesh they can get their beaks on.
An (animatronic) rooster flies directly at Phil, fluttering its wings with a terrifying intensity. Phil flies backward onto the bed, and then over it, as the bird latches on. A second later, Chow leaps up onto the bed, pistol in hand.
“That”s my rooster, bitch!” he wails. And then — BLAM! — the sound of the pistol cuts like a knife through the bedlam. It”s pointed at Phil’s cock. Or rather, the cock on top of Phil. You get the gist.
“What the fuck!” Phil screams.
“I”m trying to help!” Chow yells back.
And so on.
“There was one, that third take, I think, where there were four chickens descending on me,” says Ed Helms of shooting the scene. “And I watched playback and I definitely had a little Hitchcock recollection there.”
Helms speaks to us in his trailer during a break from filming. While he”s just as non-specific as Cooper (a clear directive from the film”s PR reps), he at least adds a little more color to his non-answers.
“[Stu] does marry this woman who is– he clearly marries up,” says Helms – whose character tied the knot with Lauren [Jamie Chung] at the end of the second film – of where we find Stu in the threequel. “She’s a beautiful, intelligent woman and, as a result, in ‘[Hangover] 3,” 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. Do you know what I mean? He was more– 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…he has different glasses this time, they’re a little bit cooler. And he wears these cool socks.”
Oh yeah, the socks. They”re very colorful, and also not really that cool, except perhaps for a person who”s trying very, very hard to be cool.
“The wife has sort of, hopefully, made him look cool at the beginning, but then, of course, good old Stu comes out,” he continues. “Huge, huge nerd.”
So, what else? Ah, here”s something.
“Todd’s direction is informed by more Martin Scorsese than Mel Brooks,” say Helms, diverting from a question about the dark turns we might be able to expect from Stu in the threequel. “And so I feel like a lot of that stuff, a lot of it, is really coming to bear in this movie. And as I watched playback, as I watched little pieces that we’ve shot– Sometimes we’ll watch a scene from a few days ago just to make sure we’re doing today’s work right, and it’s just like, ‘Holy shit, this looks incre-‘ It just looks like a fuckin’ movie, you know? It doesn’t feel like– It’s not like– It’s just not another comedy off the shelf. It feels like a real cinematic experience.”
“”The Hangover Part III”: A Real Cinematic Experience…With Cockfighting.” Hey, I like it.
“You guys want anything to drink?” asks Zach Galifianakis as we filter into his trailer. “Water, teas, Diet Coke and bourbon. Anybody want a drink?”
One journalist requests a Diet Coke and makes himself right at home, which is an easy thing to do with Zach Galifianakis. Me, I”m tempted to bring up how he gave me $20 at Comic-Con last year, but I decide not to go there. We only have 15 minutes, after all, and there are a whole lot of questions to be vaguely answered.
“I think in all the movies, the character Alan is the catalyst for things to go wrong,” says Galifianakis. “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.”
“Like a coming-of-age –-” begins one reporter.
“Well, it’s hard to come of age when you’re forty-three,” Galifianakis cuts in. “The character’s forty-three. I’m obviously twenty-two years old.”
“We saw there were some photos from one of the sets on the highway that seemed like Alan had crashed a car on the freeway,” another journalist asks. “Is there anything you can say about that scene at all?”
“No, because I think it’s probably better to leave it be,” Galifianakis answers. “Just like any kind of comedy stuff, there needs to be an element of surprise. Alan messes up again. But it’s a lot more detailed than that. I’ll let you– I’ll give you a little bit of a taste. It’s a lot more extravagant than just a car mishap. There’s something else.”
Ok, we’ll take it. So will we be seeing more of Alan’s family in this installment, as Mazin had hinted at earlier?
“Yeah, there’s more of that in this one for sure” says Galifinakais. “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!…I”m sure I”ve used it before for other things.”
(Note: A quick Google search reveals that “Merchant Ivory Wayans” is indeed a tried-and-true Galifianakis catchphrase.)
One theme running through the course of our visit was the idea that “The Hangover Part III” uses Alan’s inner demons as fuel for the film’s wacky plot mechanics – and that the emotionally-stunted loose cannon will be forced to reckon with those demons by movie’s end.
“We let character really drive it, and Alan’s character, in particular,” Mazin had told us earlier. “I mean, if you think about it, he’s a deeply disturbed person and he needs help, and this movie is going to attempt to help him, I think.”
Echoes Galifianakis: “The surprise, I think, as far as the storytelling goes, is probably the coping with Alan’s past tragedies. …He’s being reminded that he’s this person and he’s kind of forced to seek help.”
Oh, dear. Are we heading into tearjerker territory here?
“You know, I hope so,” says Galifianakis. “It depends on the edit. You never know which strings– It’s a comedy. I think making someone emotional and crying in one scene and then funny the next is really fun to watch. And not a lot of comedies show that emotional side. But for me, I like to show that kind of thing because it humanizes this idiot, Alan. So hopefully that will be part of it. You never know. I know we shot some stuff that could be a little touching.”
“‘The Hangover Part III: Alan’s Existential Crisis.” I don’t know about you, but I’m getting emotional already.
“Oh, fuck! Motherfucking roosters!”
When the first “Hangover” hit theaters in 2009, Ken Jeong was – to the general public anyway – that funny doctor guy from “Knocked Up.” Four years later, he”s Mr. Chow.
“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,” says Jeong. “And as he drives away, he says, [imitating Chow] ‘Toodle-oo, motherfucker!””
It”s been a wild few years for the doctor-turned-stand-up-turned-actor, whose other big claim to fame comes via his series-regular role on the cult NBC sitcom “Community,” where he plays unhinged former Spanish professor “Señor” Ben Chang.
“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,” says Jeong, clad in a costume that might best be described as “Mexican drug terrorist.” “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.”
Despite the over-the-top characters that have become Jeong’s on-screen signature, in person the actor is an extremely low-key, humble presence who himself seems very nearly in shock at the meteoric trajectory of his recent career – not to mention the surprising evolution of what was originally written as a throwaway character.
“In this movie you’re going to see different layers of Chow,” he tells us. “It’s become a fully realized and layered character. 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.”
Of course, the filmmakers wouldn’t have bothered to keep Chow around at all had Jeong not so fully nailed the role in the first place. In fact, the character”s most famous scene in the original resulted from the actor’s own suggestion.
“The jumping out naked in the trunk was my idea,” Jeong tells us. “That was [Todd Phillips] green-lighting that, which he happily did.”
So what kinds of antics can we expect from the diminutive gang leader this time around?
“There is a lot of action for Chow in this movie and things that I have never done before,” says Jeong. “Working with Jack Gill, the stunt coordinator, has been absolutely amazing. He’s done ‘Mission: Impossible,” the last one…I’ve learned so much just in terms of the whole process and art of what he does. …[And] I’ve definitely got to give a shout-out to my stuntman, Phil Tan. He’s my main stunt double. He’s been with me ever since the first movie. He jumped out of the trunk, he jumped out of the ice machine. In fact, it’s his body, you see him jump out of the trunk, the very initial body. So his butt is first, I believe, in…’Hangover One.'”
So will Chow be stripping down again in the new movie? “You’ll have to wait and see,” teased Jeong.
“‘The Hangover Part III’: Chow Takes It Off Again, Maybe.” I’m sold.
“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,” says director Todd Phillips as he chews on a toothpick in front of a Tijuana street backdrop. “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.”
So what is it about?
“It’s not a hangover, it’s not a missing night,” he continues. “There’s no drinking in the movie, or excessive drinking, I should say. It just takes a totally different turn.”
As mentioned earlier, the turn in question has something to do with Alan, and facing up to his past tragedies, or something. And also, the movie is dark. Very, very dark.
“All my movies, as I get the ability to do it, they tend to go a little darker, a little darker,” says Phillips. “And this movie– Funnily enough, there’s a line in this scene that we shot yesterday, which I turned to Dan Goldberg, my producing partner, and I said, ‘That’s the tagline for the movie.” Which is when Chow turns and he goes, [imitating Chow] ‘And then, everything went black.” ‘Everything Went Black” is also the title of a Black Flag album, but it’s also a great tagline for this movie in a weird way. Because ‘everything went black” makes you think, ‘Oh, is it another blackout?” No, no, no. It just got very dark.”
Darker even than the second installment, it would seem, which itself strayed into some remarkably gloomy corners for a mainstream comedy. Helping to push this one over the top is “big, great American actor” (Galifianakis”s words) John Goodman, cast as an intimidating somebody-or-other who has, by Mazin”s contention, been a part of the franchise all along – we just didn’t know it.
“I can tell you that John Goodman’s a dangerous man, and that John Goodman, in a way, has always been in the movies,” Mazin tells us. “When you see the movie, you’ll see what I mean.”
So, Todd Phillips, is this really, truly the last “Hangover” movie? For once, we get a definitive answer (or at least as definitive as things get in Hollywood short of someone actually dying).
“It does feel like the story that we’re telling ends here,” the director contends. “Because it feels like the one thing that was unanswered in those movies was, how is this guy going to turn out? Meaning Alan. How is he going to be okay? It doesn’t make sense. So I feel like, through this, once that’s complete there isn’t really much else to do with it. We wouldn’t do it. Yeah, we would never do another one.”
“‘The Hangover Part III’: This Is the Last One, Really (We Mean It).” Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
“The Hangover Part III” hits theaters on May 24.