The Uncensored Oral History of 'The Hangover'
With the third installment out May 24, director Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and the execs behind the biggest R-rated comedy franchise in history tell all about Lindsay Lohan's meeting, Mel Gibson's ill-fated cameo and how they tricked the baby's mom. Plus: Who made $70 million?
Months before the film was released in June 2009, Warners execs knew they had a potential hit on their hands. The studio was so confident that it hired writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong to begin work on a sequel. Test audiences loved the movie, but there were concerns about taste boundaries in certain scenes.
PHILLIPS: Things were polarizing, like when you hit the baby in the face -- even though it's a doll. We hit the baby with the car door, and that bothers a lot of people. Then you have to decide: "Are we going to leave that in?" Because it also makes The Hangover audacious. We leave the baby in the car, it's 100 degrees, and he goes: "F-- it, it's fine. Crack the window."
HELMS: That was a big debate on set.
PHILLIPS: Not with me. I thought it was funny. But I understand people thinking that's f--ed up: "You don't have a kid, Todd. You don't understand."
HELMS: I was always the nervous Nelly about those jokes. Zach was going to get arrested for the baby thing.
PHILLIPS: Jerking the baby off at Caesars.
GALIFIANAKIS: I did it first with the doll that was just sitting there while we were setting up the shot. I showed Todd, and he goes, "Let's go ask the parents if we can do that." (Laughter.) I'm like, "No."
PHILLIPS: I waited for the [baby's] mom to go upstairs because the mom was a little bit more not into stuff like that. I go to the dad: "It would be funny if Zach pretends to do this. Would you have a problem with that?" And he literally goes: "[My wife is] going to be gone for a half-hour. Can you do it in the next half-hour?"
COOPER: "Can you jerk my kid off in a half-hour?" (Laughter.)
Early tracking suggested Hangover would open to about $20 million, great for a low-budget comedy. When the movie grossed $45 million during its first weekend, the stars' lives changed instantly. Neither Phillips nor any of the actors was signed for a sequel. That gave CAA, which represented all four of them, enormous leverage. Sources say the stars got raises to about $10 million each to return, and Phillips received about $10 million against 10 percent of profits. The trio got bumps to about $15 million each for the third film.
PHILLIPS: Warners knew [we weren't going to do a sequel without everyone]. They wouldn't have done it without me, quite frankly.
GALIFIANAKIS: Well … (Laughter.)
PHILLIPS: Zach would've done it. Zach [who plays Alan] wants to do an Alan movie, and he's been around town pitching it. "Todd, great news! Favreau's gonna direct the Alan biopic!"
ROBINOV: The guys have done well if you average the three movies. But they're great guys, and they've been amazing.
PHILLIPS: We talked about [the idea for a second movie while shooting the first]. How could that ever happen twice? Las Vegas was a huge character in the first Hangover. For the second, there are a few locations that just scream bad decisions, and to me it was between Rio and Bangkok. I flew to Bangkok and checked it out.
With a budget of about $80 million, The Hangover Part II shot for three months in fall 2010 in Los Angeles and Thailand.
JEONG: It was great to see the relationship between Todd and the three guys because they all had just become hugely famous overnight, and their relationship stayed exactly the same.
COOPER: [President Clinton] was in Thailand giving a speech, and we all went to hear him speak.
HELMS: I didn't. I was vomiting.
PHILLIPS: Ed had food poisoning the whole time we were in Bangkok. The rest of us ended up going, and we got to go to dinner with President Clinton. We were like, "Hey, why don't you come by the set?" So he came by. He loved [the first movie]. He loves comedies. At dinner, he goes to his assistant, "What's that movie we watched over and over on the plane?" And the guy goes, "The president loves [2007's Lil Wayne-Big Boi starrer] Who's Your Caddy?" (Laughter.)
PHILLIPS: I thought it would be funny [to cast Mel Gibson as a tattoo artist]. A lot of my stories start with that: "I thought it would be funny …"
HELMS: A lot of your courtroom testimonies. (Laughs.)
PHILLIPS: There's an irreverent tone to The Hangover movies. We're not apologizing for the bad behavior. I'm a huge fan of Mel Gibson as a filmmaker and as an actor, and he was going through a weird thing at that time, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if we had him come in and do this role?" So I went over to his office and met with him. In fairness, I hadn't consulted with the crew and the cast, which is a family. I hadn't even cleared it with Warner Bros. I was just like, "I'm just going to show up, and we're going to do this thing, and it'll be great." Not everybody felt the same way about him. [Several members of the cast and crew complained.]
ROBINOV: Todd called me, and we just sort of talked through it. Mel was actually great about the whole thing.
PHILLIPS: So Liam Neeson filled in, but we ended up taking the scene after it out. We had to reshoot [Liam's] scene, but he was already in London shooting [Wrath of the Titans]. So I got Nick Cassavetes to do it.
CRAIG MAZIN: Frankly, every scene probably had an idea or moment in its inception that was too much. But you pull it back. We try and err on the side of audacity as much as we can. It's not so much about being dark; it's about being honest.
Although a huge hit, the second movie was knocked by critics for being very similar in structure to the first, albeit raunchier, with transsexual prostitutes and a drug-dealing monkey. The film earned a disappointing 44 score from Metacritic -- compared with a 73 for the first installment.
PHILLIPS: I agree that [Hangover II was] similar in structure, but I don't agree it's a knock. It was intentional. It's not like we were unaware going into it. Some people had a problem with [the idea of], how could this happen to the same guys? But to me, that was part of the ridiculousness of it. And you say Bangkok, and [a transsexual prostitute] is one thing you do think about. But that's what I mean about audacious. Her name is Yasmin.