Hangover II: Interview with Todd Phillips

In the summer of 2009, Todd Phillips’ “The Hangover” became a record-breaking hit, surpassing all expectations, including those of the filmmakers. “We set out to make a funny movie, but you never know until you start showing it to people. Once we began screening it, we realized it was something special. But we were really surprised when it just took off,” acknowledges Phillips, who directed and co-wrote “The Hangover Part II.”

Dan Goldberg, who served as a producer on “The Hangover,” returns as a producer on the sequel, marking his sixth collaboration with Phillips. He recalls, “We knew we had a movie that made people laugh, but no one could have predicted ‘The Hangover’ would become this incredible phenomenon, least of all us. And then it kept building, which was amazing and so gratifying.”

“There was some kind of lightning in a bottle that the first film captured,” observes Ed Helms, returning in the role of Stu, who is—this time officially—the groom. “We found it to be hilarious, but you can’t be sure until a movie is out there if it’s going to resonate with anybody else. Thankfully, it did.”

Phillips adds, “I know my movies primarily attract a certain audience because of the outrageousness of the comedy, but ‘The Hangover’ connected across the board. I think that’s largely because of the love between the four guys. Their friendship feels authentic; it’s just this magic combination.”

That on-screen friendship is a reflection of the off-screen camaraderie of the cast, filmmakers and crew, which only added to the appeal of continuing the story for all involved. However, they knew that if the characters went down the rabbit hole of bad decisions once more, it would have to be an adventure worthy—in both scope and absurdity—of the first film.

The director offers, “We believed audiences would want to spend more time with these characters, but we had to run them through a new set of paces. We wrote the movie to be in the spirit of the first ‘Hangover,’ so, structurally, there are similarities, but we attacked it as if it was an original movie.”

“There was some caution because, after the success of ‘The Hangover,’ you might think if the guys just walked off into the sunset, that would be fine,” says Zach Galifianakis, who again plays Alan, the instigator. “For me, the bottom line is we all enjoy working together and, on a movie like this, it’s especially good to team up with people that you both like and trust.”

Phillips reveals, “This is the first time I’ve worked with the same actors playing the same roles. It added to the comfort level and gave us a natural shorthand.”

For the further adventures of Phil, Stu, Doug and Alan, the starting point from Phillips’ perspective was finding a city that would be a catastrophically bad idea for the guys. There was one place that really fit the bill: Bangkok.

“I think comedy is always best when it feels a little bit dangerous, like it can go into unexpected places,” says Phillips. “Once we decided on Bangkok, that pretty much defined the movie. It just sounds like trouble, especially for our guys.”

“We knew we had to adhere to certain tenets of the movie,” says Bradley Cooper, reprising the role of Phil, the de facto leader of the group. “We wanted aspects we loved from the first film to be in this one, but in a fresh, totally new context. Todd’s idea to set it in Bangkok upped the ante completely. We had a huge car chase, motorcycles, riots, shootings… There’s a lot of action in this movie.”

Being in a vibrant, vital foreign city with an infamous wild side also raises the comic stakes for three American men untethered from everything they know. “When you go to battle with Vegas, everyone speaks English, you can get where you need to go, you can use a phone and call someone,” screenwriter Scot Armstrong says. “But in Bangkok, you’re navigating a place that’s totally unfamiliar. You have no straws to grab on to.”

“Thailand itself was a huge canvas,” adds screenwriter Craig Mazin. “Bangkok opened up so many possibilities for us to have these characters get totally out of control and then deal with the next day regret.”

Though Armstrong and Mazin hadn’t worked on “The Hangover,” they felt they already knew the characters, having been huge fans of the movie. “I don’t think I’ve laughed harder than brainstorming in Alan’s voice or Stu’s voice or Phil’s voice,” says Armstrong. “I felt like I could put those three in any situation in the world—even shopping at the grocery store or waiting for food at the drive-through—and I knew what they would say.”

Their first true litmus test of the script was the response of the actors themselves. “To crack them up with new ideas or lines of dialogue is a big deal,” Mazin remarks. “And Todd’s attitude is that that the writing never stops, whether it’s by us or them, because any one of these guys can ad-lib a line that just destroys.”

“The first movie has become such a part of popular culture, but I think if anyone can top it, it’s Todd Phillips, and he has,” says Justin Bartha, returning as Doug. “Even just reading the script made us laugh so hard, because it just takes these guys so much farther over the edge.”

“What makes ‘The Hangover’ films is how far we go after the fact,” Phillips says. “The punch line isn’t ‘The Hangover’; it’s the distance we travel after the punch line that makes these movies what they are.”