How do you brainstorm doing a sequel to a script that was about shock and surprise? Did you ever kick around the idea of these guys not being hungover—of putting them in a totally different situation?
From the beginning we knew that there was something special about The Hangover's premise and structure. We never wanted to lose what was special about that. It's such a fun game to play and I do think that both of these movies are true mystery movies and the fun of seeing these guys discover and be truly horrified by what they did—the dark side that they have—is just part of what The Hangover and The Hangover Part II are.
What was it like getting that call to work on the sequel to the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time?
That's what they keep reminding me! [Laughs] Obviously, Todd [Philips, the director] and I go way back and we've been writing partners for a long time. [On Old School, Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch.] It was a huge opportunity and I was thrilled to take a shot at it. And it was great to be in a three-person writing team with Craig Mazon. We would sit in a room and talk about everything and crack the story together, invent what the whole sequel was going to be, starting from a blank page. I think any time you're doing screenwriting, you're always jumping off a cliff—but this cliff happened to be the biggest cliff ever. I have to say, Todd and I have a shorthand and write really well together, but bringing in Craig really changed things in such a great way, really pushed us as far as making sure we map out the mystery of the thing and making sure all of the antagonists came into the story at the right time-it made the story bigger and bolder and more fun. He was able to challenge us as screenwriters to embrace the mystery and the action of the movie, and in addition Craig wrote so much of the comedy. You don't realize it watching it, but there's so much story to crack and invent: everything from inventing everything that happened on the night that we don't see in the film, every place they're going to visit to get a clue, where they wake up, who they wake up with. I think we worked the most on that wake up scene because it's literally all the clues that launch the whole fun of the movie and give them the tools they need to save themselves. That, I thought, made this movie a little darker.
It actually felt darker—especially at the beginning with the music and the tone and the cinematography. It felt like the film was saying, "Getting drunk is a very bad thing."
These guys are definitely paying for bad behaviors in this movie. But I also think that Bangkok bringing out the dark side of these guys is funny. That was always part of the movie, but I think the chemistry between these three guys is so fun and they are so endearing and they can get away with so much—it's one thing to write these things on the page, but it's another thing to see these guys bring it to life and invent their own versions of things and improvise.
Since this was your first time working with Craig, did you two have to sit down and pound a couple scotches together to build the bond to do a friendship comedy?
We just jumped right in and drank coffee.
Exactly. We gave ourselves a little bit of time to panic and be freaked out that we had to solve this equation and make it be as funny as the first. But once we got into it and things started clicking, we had a great time writing together. There was a moment when we got to around page 70 and we thought we had to get some feedback, so we sent it to the original writers to see what they thought and we got a huge reaction. They really, really were happy with it and really excited about the movie. That was a big moment in the screenwriting process and I really feel like we needed that endorsement that they trusted us and they were happy with what we were doing to take it to the end.
Your background is in improv at Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade. How does that influence your writing style and are you more relaxed on a film like this if people improv and ignore your script?
I'm definitely relaxed on set when people improvise because I come from that place. And I like everything to sound natural, so it's definitely better when people say things in their own words. It's crazy to have someone as talented as Zach Galifianakis and say, "Just read this." I'm never precious about anything and always excited when someone has a new good take on something. Obviously, this is a tight script, but you can always add stuff, surprises. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis know their characters so well that I think they're not just improvising for the sake of improvising, saying the weirdest turn of phrase they can think of to get a cheap laugh. They're working from a place that's real and true to the character itself. You don't have to worry about them going on a tangent that isn't driving the story.
If you had to say—had to say—that you, Todd and Craig were Alan, Stu and Phil, who would be who?
This doesn't work because no one is Alan. Even Zach isn't Alan. Alan is basically insane. So maybe I'm Alan ... I think Alan stopped evolving at age 12 and there's an innocence about him that makes him hilarious. He's definitely been the one guy that is the toughest to write for. He has the funniest lines I think, but he also is tricky to pinpoint exactly where he's coming from. Todd and Zach hold the key to his brain.
And it's a weird key. Watching the film, I could imagine an alternate version of the sequel where Alan emerges as this sadistic Jigsaw figure from Saw, an evil mastermind, because he really is devoted to making sure they have the same crazy experience as they did in Vegas.
Yeah, but we took care to make sure it comes from a place of innocence. He really does want to protect the Wolf Pack. Whatever the logic is of that, he means well—he loves these guys.
You also decided to show more of his rich upbringing so we understand more of this weird mental place that he comes from.
Just how spoiled he is and how he could never be satisfied. What's so fun about doing the sequel to The Hangover is you're just learning who these characters are. In the first act, you're seeing little snippets of their lives. But now we're visiting them two years later an seeing who they really are. You get to go in Stu's dentist office, you get to go into Alan's bedroom, you get to see that these guys don't always hang out together, even though they all live in the same town. When they get back together again and then this happens to them, it's fun to see.
How come Justin Bartha never gets any funny lines? Poor guy is the only one who doesn't have a 7-11 cup—the monkey has a 7-11 cup.
In the first film, we never had someone who was like their guardian angel outside of their lost world. His role in this is he's able to call them and give them a clue about how to find Teddy, he's able to calm people down at the wedding. I think it's cool that he plays that role for them like looking out from afar. He's that guy who's in on what's going on and backing them up.
If this wasn't shot in Bangkok, where was your runner-up?
We weren't going to make it. [Laughs] Bangkok is the only place we really felt like this could happen. It was Todd's idea to shoot in Bangkok—there's just something amazing about that city. It's just insane nightlife. It's an amazing city, but it's also a place where you can get into serious trouble. Obviously what you see in the film is the day after, the serious roughness of the dark side of that town. But having worked there, it's a cosmopolitan, beautiful city with great restaurants and tons of culture and art and temples and a history that goes back forever. It's really a cool place.
Do you want to go to the Thai premiere to see how the Thai people react to it?
I know for a fact they were really thrilled that we were shooting there. The interesting thing is we shot a lot in Chinatown, which is one step more crazy than Bangkok. I love that it's a Chinatown in Bangkok.
I don't think I picked up on that—
I have this great photograph I took of us blocking traffic. I stood on the bumper of a car and you can see way down as far as the eye can see, it's just blocks of traffic so we could do this one motorcycle shot. I was thinking, "They must hate us right now." There was another moment in Thailand where I took a walk just to take a break and I took a couple turns in Chinatown and realized that I was completely lost. I went from guy working on a big budget movie to guy who's just lost in Bangkok. I really did have a moment of terror: "Am I dehydrated? What's in my pockets? How can I find this place again?" I was trying to ask people and no one spoke English. It really was a perfect microcosm of the film itself.
I could see you guys shooting a third one in Moscow—are you thinking about it?
We haven't really talked about how we'd do a third one? We just finished this movie three weeks ago—I'd love to see how everyone reacts and then we'll get into if this is a trilogy or how we'd do it?
If you did a third one, I think this time they'd have to get purposefully drunk. Like they're all in agreement that they have to go back to Narnia.
What jokes couldn't you keep that were just too much?
There really was no limit to what we could put in the movie. We had an R-rating, so we were good. When we were brainstorming, we'd try to push it as far as possible. We'd go super dark and violent, just stuff that was as crazy as your brain could think of, and then you'd dial it back until it was as funny as possible. So the combination of surprising and funny—you just try and find that balance of what's going to make a great set piece.
Congrats on your pilot BFF getting picked up by NBC—great news.
Yeah, we just got back from the upfronts and it was an amazing time. I love Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Partham. I've been a big fan of their work and it's a big shot for them-they deserve it.
Were you keeping an eye on Bridesmaids as a bellweather for the female comedy?
Well obviously we developed it months ago because it takes a while to get things going. But we did hope that people would see it and notice that there's been a big gap for female comedy for a while Jessica St. Clair has a great scene in Bridesmaids—she's a scene stealer in that movie-and now we have her in the show. But I've wanted to work with these guys for a long time and I've wanted to work on a female-driven comedy.
Christopher Hitchens said that women aren't funny. What was your response?
I was against that comment. [Laughs] I mean, Jerry Lewis said that, too—I was in the audience in Aspen and I couldn't believe my ears. I just flat out disagree. I think comedy goes through fashion cycles and for some reason, movies with three guys became all the rage and everyone started imitating each other and forgot that Laverne and Shirley was genius—why isn't there something like that on television?!