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The Hangover Part II – How Director Todd Phillips and screenwriters Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong tackled a sequel that is same, but different

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The Hangover Part II - Director Todd Phillips
Todd Phillips on location © 2011 Warner Bros and and Legendary Pictures

In 2009, director/writer/producer Todd Phillips helmed the most successful R-rated movie in history, The Hangover. It told the story of four men, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) who party so hard they wake up the next morning in a hotel room in Las Vegas with a baby and a tiger, with Doug missing and no idea how they got there.

In The Hangover Part II, the four guys are now headed for Thailand for Stu’s wedding, and even though they attempt to stay out of trouble, familiar circumstances transpire and they end up in a cheap Bangkok hotel with a monkey and no idea how they got there.

Todd Phillips and screenwriters Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong spoke with us about the new movie at the film’s press day.

Did you ever think of totally changing the concept of the sequel or did you always know you were going to repeat the idea of the first movie?

The Hangover Part II - Director Todd Phillips with stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis
Director Todd Phillips with stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis on location during the production © 2011 Warner Bros and and Legendary Pictures

Craig Mazin: We thought about that all the time. That was essentially the first month of sitting in a room together was the debate over how different it should be.

We kept saying, ‘Same, but different,’ In the end people are going to come to a sequel, they want a sequel because of what the enjoyed about the first one, and I think where we landed was right, you stay within the template of what the first one is, but you make the stakes higher, you make it a lot darker.

The other thing that we did I think that was right was to acknowledge that the characters had already been through the experience the first time. In the first movie they wake up and there’s a tiger and a baby in the room, and then they go and have breakfast. They can’t do that this time. They know how bad it can get.

So I think we landed on the right blend.

Todd Phillips: Just to add to that, I think we were aware that the fun part of the first Hangover for me is obviously the guys are really funny in it and the chemistry and all that, but it’s also a mystery and we didn’t want to lose that investigative element that is present in the first one, because I think that keeps people leaning forward on their seats and involved in the story.

So we made a conscious decision that we were going to stick with that template, we kind of ‘owned’ the template and we were going to embrace it.

Scot Armstrong: It was really fun for us to sit down in a room and figure out what these guys are doing now. We haven’t seen them in years, what are they up to now? 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. But in Bangkok, you’re navigating a place that’s totally unfamiliar. You have no straws to grab on to.

What was the most challenging thing about shooting in Thailand?

The Hangover Part II - Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Director Todd Phillips and Zach Galifianakis
Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Director Todd Phillips and Zach Galifianakis on location © 2011 Warner Bros and and Legendary Pictures

Todd: I think in a nutshell, Bangkok is a very crowded, very chaotic and very hot city, so I think we all had challenges dealing with the crowds and the chaos, but ultimately the movie is about mayhem and to make a movie about mayhem sometimes you have to do go to mayhem, so I think it all found its way into the movie and it helped.

How much improv is in this?

Todd: Certainly there are a lot of improvised lines in the movie. We don’t do improvisation in general on set, we do it off to the side in the morning where the four of us will get together and we’ll not rewrite the scene, but make some notes and Zach will say, ‘How about this line?’

Then, of course, while we’re shooting, the guys are always free to add stuff. But a lot of people think it’s just a made up movie, with a lot of improv and a lot of freeform, but I’d be a bad director if I was like, ‘No, just read this line and say it like that.’

Bradley has a great improv in that scene at the IHOP [restaurant] when he goes, ‘Drink up, we’re at a bachelor party. Oh, I forgot, we’re at an IHOP.’ That was something Bradley just threw in. It’s one of my favorite improvs in the movie.

Where would you go if you did another sequel?

The Hangover Part II - Director Todd Phillips with stars Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Ken Jeong
Director Todd Phillips with stars Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Ken Jeong on location © 2011 Warner Bros and and Legendary Pictures

Todd: If we were to do a third one? We really haven’t talked about it. We just finished the movie two weeks ago. If we were to do a third one, if the desire was there from the audience, I think we have a very clear idea where that would head, and it’s certainly not in the same template that you’ve seen these movies.

We always envisioned it as a trilogy, as you can imagine, but the third would be very much a finale and an ending.

As far as where it takes place, I’m very open like the Olympic committee being pitched and presented cities, flown around with wine and women and bribed, and then I will make my decision!

The first film became such a phenomenon, did you have any sense when you were making it that it would take off the way it did and why do you think it became so iconic?

Todd: I think quite honestly it’s a bunch of things that all planets aligned. I think it’s a lot to do with the unapologetic nature of the comedy.

I think a lot of American comedies tend to apologize for their bad behavior in the last ten minutes of the movie, and The Hangover just doesn’t do that, it’s like, ‘Fu-k it, whatever, it’s over, leave.’

It just has an unapologetic tone that I actually think people responded to, because we’re used to a certain way of these stories being told.