Exploring The Darkness With Todd Phillips On The Set Of The Hangover Part III
The first Hangover was pretty dark as it was, complete with drugs, kidnappings and violent gangsters, but director Todd Phillips took things even further with The Hangover Part II. Moving the setting from Las Vegas to Bangkok, while taking similar plot elements from the first movie and putting a new twist on them, the sequel amped up the shadier and more messed up aspects of the story, and there was a significant tonal change as a result. So, naturally, what was his plan while making Part III? Go even darker.
As first revealed earlier today, late last year myself and a group of other journalists were invited to the set of the anticipated sequel and conclusion to the Hangover franchise, and during our stay the filmmaker was kind enough to take time from his schedule to talk with us about what we can expect from the new movie. Check out our interview below, in which Phillips talks about making The Hangover Part III an even darker story, concluding the story of Zach Galifianakis’ Alan, and really falling in love with your characters.
People don’t want to say too much or give too much away, but what’s the story this time around?
This story is basically… this is Alan's story, in a way. And it's funny, because I've read on the internet how people say it's about breaking Alan out of a mental institution, which I can honestly tell you it is not about. I don't know how that got started. I actually do know how it got started. Zach said that as a joke. And then people knew it was a joke, but then sometimes it gets re-translated and then it becomes the truth. It's not about that, but it is, in a weird way, Alan's story, and it is also a fitting finale to the story of all four guys - five guys counting Chow. It is a fitting end to the trilogy. Like, plot-wise, what it's about? It's not a hangover, it's not a missing night. There's no drinking in the movie, or excessive drinking, I should say. It just takes a totally different turn, and it catches the guys two years after the last movie and where they are in their lives. And it's kind of a movie about a crisis. Alan, his own personal crisis, is probably the best way to describe it. Best way of saying something without saying anything.
You announced this was going to be the last one just before the second one came out. Is there any apprehension about wrapping things up?
Well, outside of the fact that I love working with these guys and I think they like working with me, and we have a great crew that I've done… some of these guys I've worked with on eight movies. This is just a good unit we have going. That's the only apprehension. But I don't feel… I think maybe at the premiere or at the real press junket I'll feel a little sadness or apprehension, but right now I'm excited about it.
There is an interesting tonal shift between the first movie and the second. Where does that go with this film?
Well, much to the chagrin of some people, it goes darker, I think. Which I like. And that's always… all my movies, as I get the ability to do it, they tend to go a little darker, a little darker. Funnily enough, there's a line in this scene that we shot yesterday, which I turned to Dan Goldberg, my producing partner, and I said, "That's the tagline for the movie." Which is when Chow turns and he goes, [imitating Chow] "And then, everything went black." Everything Went Black is also the title of a Black Flag album, but it's also a great tagline for this movie in a weird way. Because "everything went black" makes you think, "Oh, is it another blackout?" No, no, no. It just got very dark.
You seem to go all over the place with this. You're in the desert, you're in L.A., you're in Vegas. Were you guys on location for a lot of this stuff, too, or were you guys…
A lot, yeah. Yeah, we were mostly on location. The movie's kind of winding down, so we always end up on stages to shoot interiors and things like that. We were in L.A., we were in Ti…well, not Tijuana, but something substituting for Tijuana. We're in Vegas, we're out in the middle of nowhere. It has a certain southwestern vibe to it. I mean, it's not a travel movie like the other two. They're moving because they're on the move, you know what I mean? It's not like a destination movie, so to speak.
You don't need to go into any specifics, but in the past you've pushed boundaries in terms of rating and things we see. Is there anything you've been apprehensive about shooting or are anxious to shoot?
I think we have a pretty epic opening to this movie. There's a little bit of a preamble opening and then we have a pretty epic open. But there's nothing I've been nervous about shooting for ratings reasons or pushing the boundaries. There's just, I think, some pretty epic things in this movie that we were really excited to shoot, some of which we've shot already and one thing that we haven't shot yet.
You mentioned that with more freedom you've been able to go dark. Do you feel that with this trilogy, because it's been as successful as it is, that you've really been able to maximize on whatever you wanted to do?
I feel like people stick with it, and I think it's a testament to the three actors more than anything. They're just such a believable group of friends that we can put them through whatever paces we want and people will go along for the ride. I do think that number two got a little bit darker than the first one and I think it was appropriate where we wanted to take it, and I think people went along for the ride. So with this one, it's not so much darkness for darkness' sake, it's like the stakes get amped up a little bit. So when the stakes get amped up, things tend to go a little darker. It gets a little more real in a way. Like "Oh, shit just got real" sort of thing. People die in this movie!
We are hearing there's a lot of call-backs to the first one, some characters coming back.
Yeah. Yeah, there's some call-backs. It's not a secret Heather Graham makes an appearance in the movie. Yeah, there are some people that reappear. What's fun about the movie is that it all kind of makes sense. None of the movies take place without the knowledge of the others. In other words, they all… the second one took place having gone through the experience of the first one. They referenced it, they talk about it. This is the same thing. And it kind of completes a circle, where people appear that you go, "Oh, that's who that was. Oh, I see." It's that kind of thing. Which is a fun thing for us to write and it was a fun thing to figure out.
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