Hangover, The (2009): Casting the Leads

Bradley Cooper stars as Phil, “the guy with the plan, the fast-talker,” says Goldberg. The only one of the group who has experienced marriage and fatherhood, Phil feels a bit restricted by his life as a family man and high school English teacher and was looking forward to this trip as a rare opportunity to cut loose with his old college gang. He’s not about to let this little setback ruin his weekend.

“Phil thinks, ‘Let’s just get some aspirin and take this one step at a time. No need to panic,'” says Cooper. “No matter how uncontrollable the situation becomes, he keeps thinking he can manage it. And he keeps trying, right up to the point where it absolutely gets away from him.”

“Bradley is very funny, both on and off the screen, but I think of him more as a leading man, and in this story he takes on the role of the de facto leader. He’s the one who emerges from this morning-after mess and tries to get the other two to focus so they can figure out what happened,” says Phillips.

Meanwhile, Stu, the sweet but tightly wound dentist with the crushing sense of responsibility and a girlfriend back home who keeps him on a short leash, is far from calm. The only thing that finally takes his mind off the fear of his precious Melissa finding the credit card receipts for this catastrophe is his discovery that, somehow, he has managed to lose a tooth. A first bicuspid, to be exact–right up front, where there is now a gaping bloody space that he cannot begin to explain.

“I was flattered the filmmakers liked me for the part, but at the same time slightly offended, because Stu is kind of a dork, an anal-retentive nervous Nellie character,” jokes Ed Helms, who stars as Stu, and who commuted to the Las Vegas set from L.A. to accommodate his shooting schedule for “The Office.” “If you break them down to archetypes, Phil would be the cool guy, Alan would be the weirdo and Stu would be the nerd. I have to wonder what it is about me that made them think of me for that particular role…”

Perhaps it’s because, Phillips attests, “Ed kills as a hen-pecked, pent-up guy who is long overdue for a complete meltdown.”

Of the three, Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis, is the one whose temperament is probably best suited to their current situation, but that’s not to say he has any answers either. As Stu carries on about his lost tooth and presumably ruined life, and Phil tries to channel their attention with talk of breakfast and a game plan, Alan, draped in a sheet-sarong, casually picks through the trash with childlike curiosity and a certain amount of pride, between bites of a pizza he peeled off a sofa cushion.

As if things could get any worse, Alan’s ambling recon soon uncovers an apparently happy, healthy and completely unidentifiable baby, stashed in a corner.

A fan of Galifianakis’ inventive stand-up comedy, Phillips knew he would shine in a part crafted to his unique style and creativity, and so cast him as Alan, “a guy with two left feet who always makes the wrong decision.”

“Alan is a little bit off. He has no friends and no idea that people think he’s weird, because he believes everything he does and says is completely cool and appropriate,” explains Galifianakis, who goes on to describe his character as “someone who probably took too many barbiturates at too many raves. The good thing about this role is that it doesn’t have to make a lot of sense. Generally, an actor is aware of things like motive and consistency for his character, but Alan functions on his own perverse logic.”

“Stuff will come out of his mouth and you don’t know where it’s coming from,” Goldberg affirms. “It can be completely non-referential, but hilarious. Alan is a true outsider but he clearly wants to be friends with these guys, and he does manage to endear himself in his own strange way through this disaster they all go through together.”

What these three really need, in more ways than one, is Doug.

Starring as the mysteriously missing husband-to-be, Justin Bartha says, “Doug is the voice of reason in the group. I wanted to make him the guy who tied the other personalities together. He’s the common denominator and when he’s lost, all hell breaks loose.”

Though necessarily absent from a portion of the proceedings, “Doug is vital to the story. He’s the glue that holds these guys together and when he goes missing they suddenly seem less like friends and more like a three-way odd couple,” observes Jon Lucas, who, with partner Scott Moore, wrote “The Hangover” screenplay. “He becomes the Holy Grail–that one thing the heroes desperately need to find and that we desperately want them to find.”

“Luckily,” says Moore, “they care enough about him that they’re willing to endure everything that comes next, and they stick together to find him no matter how much they might piss each other off.”

Phillips concurs. “The best humor comes from the heart. You need to believe that these guys are really concerned about each other and have a genuine connection, and that elevates things beyond just the telling of jokes. It’s about exploring the natural humor and awkwardness of male friendships and the kind of things that bond them.

“Comedy is 70% casting,” he continues. “Certainly, you need a great story, but beyond that it’s about pacing, putting great comic actors into a situation and letting them respond to it and to each other. The script was a blueprint for Bradley, Ed and Zach, and they took it and ran with it. The same was true for each of the actors we cast in supporting roles. When you populate a film with genuinely funny people it helps to keep that momentum going.”