Zach Galifianakis Dives Into The Mind Of Alan On The Set Of The Hangover Part III

The Hangover movies are filled to the brim bizarre, weird, and crazy characters, but there’s no denying that Zach Galifianakis’ Alan is king among them. Not only does he regularly pull off crazy stunts – like, for example, drugging his closest friends – even in general conversation it’s clear that something is clearly off-base. So how does one even begin to enter the mind of a character like that?

While on the set of The Hangover Part III late last year myself and a small group of other film journalists got to talk to Galifianakis about just that. Speaking with the actor in between scenes we had the chance to talk about not only accessing the mind of such an incredible weirdo, but also how he’s grown as an actor over the last four years, what’s been going on with Alan in the two years since the events of the last movie, and how the wardrobe plays an integral part of the character – and you can read our entire conversation below.

So when we got to talk to Todd Phillips earlier, he mentioned that this is kind of Alan's movie. And I'm kind of curious how that's changed the experience of making the film for you.

This is the first I've heard of it. Well, I think in all the movies, the character Alan is the catalyst for things to go wrong. And this movie is Alan coping with the things that he's done wrong and coming to grips with that. So there's the other side of it, not just the mishaps of the character, it's also him trying to improve himself, which is kind of fun to do.

Like a coming-of-age story…

Well, it's hard to come of age when you're forty-three. The character's forty-three. I'm obviously twenty-two years old. Yeah, in a way it is Alan's awakening, a little bit. Sure.

Knowing him so well now, did anything surprise you when you read the script?

No. I mean, the thing about this character is that he can do anything he wants and nothing really has to make sense. And you can kind of get away with anything with this character, which means that there really isn't that much of a surprise. The surprise, I think, as far as the storytelling goes, is probably the coping with Alan's past tragedies.

Do we see a lot more of his past, or do you mean in the other films?

No, it's not so much seeing it. He's being reminded that he's this person and he's kind of forced to seek help.

In the second one, I loved the relationship with Alan and his family. How did you guys build on that for this one?

Yeah, it's a bit… answering these questions is a little bit of a minefield because you don't want to give away anything. But there is a family dynamic here, to be sure.

Just as far as how your interaction with your family…

Yeah, there's more of that in this one for sure. You go a little deeper with that stuff in this one, I think. As deep as we can get. I mean, I don't want to oversell it that we're doing a Merchant Ivory film here. More like Merchant Ivory Wayans. Happy? Old soundbite for ya!

That's good!

It's a good one. I'm sure I've used it before for other things.

Can you comment on your wardrobe for this one, because Alan's had some pretty spectacular costumes in the past.

You know, the wardrobe – not to sound too actor-y, but the wardrobe in these movies, especially with Alan's character, is something we do give some thought to here and there. What I have on now is probably the tamest of the outfits. But I know why I'm wearing horizontal stripes. Because it makes you look fatter. And I know Todd was disappointed because I'd lost some weight. And I haven't talked to him about this, but I know that's why he put horizontal stripes on me. I'm not an idiot. The wardrobe is consistent with the other wacky stuff that he puts on. I really wanted him to wear a "Trump for President" shirt, but we thought that might be a little dated. He's a rich kid and he doesn't have a lot of thoughts so it just seemed right.

It was kind of touched on a little bit in the second film, but after your experiences with Phil and Stu, they can't exactly have a lot of trust in their relationship with you. Is that something that is explored further in this movie as well?

Yeah, the tricky thing is, "Why are these guys still hanging out with this guy?" But having said that, I think that this guy, meaning Alan, provides a certain excitement that they might not get in their regular nine-to-five lives. So I think that's the attraction. He's a loose cannon, but he does provide some excitement for them. But at this point, you would think they, especially Stu, would not have anything to do with him. But Stu's a dentist who doesn't have a lot going on, so he goes on these wild rides with him.

Todd was saying how there's a two-year gap between all of these movies. There's a two-year gap between One and Two, a two-year gap between Two and Three. Do you fill in the gaps for yourself for what happened with Alan in those two years?

Yeah. I think with any kind of job that you get in the entertainment business, as far as acting goes, you do, or at least I do, I try to create things that he's done in the part you have not seen in a movie. From my point of view, Alan always… I think [people] think he was screw-up all the time, born that way. In my mind, he was a disc jockey, he was a DJ at raves, and he took a lot of ecstasy in his twenties and he just made his mind blank. And so the two years since the last one, there's really nothing much going on except more stupidity. He's not the deepest person in the world. But yeah, that's a good question. What does the audience expect the evolution to be of the characters? Have we been hanging out since this whole time? You find out that we really don't hang out that much, at least me and the other guys. Maybe they send a text here and there, that kind of thing. But he's happy to see them again. I wish the third movie was just the three of us sitting around and playing Monopoly and nothing really happens. That would be amazing. A two-hour long movie. We're discussing Sartres. That would be amazing! That's what I would like to do. But yeah, it is something you do consider since there is a gap. But in the end, it's just a movie-going audience. They just want to be entertained for a couple of hours, especially with a big comedy like this. We don't take ourselves too seriously and dig too deep here.

Alan Chow Hangover III

Sounds like this is a definite end to the franchise. Is it satisfying, how it all completes?

Yeah, it is an end to it, and it's kind of a sweet ending. And I mean that overall. The whole thing, it's been fun to work on, and the ending, I think, will be satisfying to those that really like these movies because there's just a lot of good jokes. And we're kind of straying away from the formula of the first two a bit more than we were in the second one. Did I answer your question?

Yeah. Are you satisfied by it?

Kind of. Yes! Yeah. That'll be it.

But sad as well, to leave Alan?

You know, I probably will get a little… it's one of these things. It's like, "Well, I can't play that character anymore. I won't do that again in a thing." Obviously I'll probably play a variation of a weirdo, because you get painted into a corner in this business. But yeah, I think I'll be very sentimental about it. These movies have been very good to the actors in this, and we want to return it by being good to the audience as much as we can, for those paying their… how much are movies? Ten bucks?

It's thirteen, maybe.

It's thirteen?


I haven't paid for a movie since Yentl.

The first Hangover film was your big breakout. That was where you became a star. I'm curious, how has your approach to acting and character and projects changed since then?

It hasn't changed, really, much at all, I don't think. The characters that you play, if they're specific enough and in your mind you make them specific enough, just like we were touching on earlier about… things that necessarily are not on the page, you try to think about when you're dreaming up the characters. It can be as trivial as the kind of car I think that they may drive or the kind of music that they may listen to. And then you get more specific from there: what the relationship with their family may be, even if you don't see their family. It's this thing that I try to put in my head that I don't even really share with anybody, just for my own… it's my way of acting like I'm doing my research. But part of it for me is just being as loose as I can be and not overthink things. Because I think if you tend to overthink things, it shows up in the work you do. So I'm pretty loose and I zen out a little bit. I think I'm a little bit like the character. Once I get to work, I'm a little bit like the character. Even during lunch, a little bit. Not that I'm a method guy whatsoever. I'm Crystal Method. But you live with it a little bit because, twelve, fourteen hour days, you're living in this, and then you go home and you don't want to annoy people you live with. So I leave it. But there's really no different approach. I mean, I come from a world of standup, so I'm not a trained actor. I'm a guy that got lucky. It's not lost on me.

Can you talk about working with John Goodman and the dynamic that he brought to the project?

When you do work with an actor that's been in a lot of stuff, I think sometimes people get intimidated. To me it's just kind of exciting to be able to work with these experienced people. And Todd is very good at casting. But there is a moment when you're standing next to this big, great American actor and you think, "God, I used to watch this person in The Big Lebowski, and all this stuff, and now I'm in the same state with him." You know? That intimidation goes away and you get to work. But John is a big laugher and he's a big man, and he fit in quite nicely with all of us. I think for someone coming into a situation where it's kind of cliquish, meaning we've all worked together for three movies, it's hard for an outside actor to come in. But he coped very, very well, obviously.

We know that there's a death and we know that we can't know who today, but I'm wondering, will the audience cry?

You know, I hope so. It depends on the edit. You never know which strings… it's a comedy. I think making someone emotional and crying in one scene and then funny the next is really fun to watch. And not a lot of comedies show that emotional side. But for me, I like to show that kind of thing because it humanizes this idiot, Alan. So hopefully that will be part of it. You never know. I know we shot some stuff that could be a little touching. [Looking at the on-set publicist] That's a good answer, right? I keep looking at her like she's my mom or something. "Did you watch me dive off the dive board?" You know how kids always look at their parents?

How has your shorthand developed since the first Hangover to now, with the clique, with the Wolf Pack?

We gel pretty well, and it's not anything that we really talk about, it's just kind of an unspoken thing. We give each other help. Bradley [Cooper] will pull me aside and I will pull him aside and go, "You know what? Why don't you… what about this idea?" It could be something very specific. And it's either rejected or, "Thank you, that's very nice, for the input." If you've worked with people before, you start, no matter what you do for a living, if you work in a bakery or a HoneyBaked Ham store… sorry, I'm so hungry. HoneyBaked cupcakes would be a good idea. But you start, not all the time, but in this case, for sure, you start walking in tandem and things start clicking with the clique. But that was the case in the first one. We all gelled pretty well. And I think Todd, with the casting, that's one of the decisions that probably he would have made, is that, you want to get people that don't have this ego that they bring to a set. That's not helpful for, at least, me. I've worked with egos before and I tend to shut down, but here there's none of that stuff whatsoever. It's just actors acting, I guess. But I've known Ed and Bradley prior to these jobs, so it's nice that we knew each other also.

You and Todd have sort of a love-hate relationship, like you were talking about with the stripes on your shirt. But obviously you respect each other very much. Is that a type of fuel for a performance that you don't get from just any director?

Well, every director works differently, and some are-- Todd gets a pass from me because he's really funny in his insults. So as long as he stays funny with his insults, not just insults, then everything's fine. We do make each other laugh, we do have that thing that we… we do have a very similar sense of humor. And he's a very good director and he knows what he wants. A lot of directors don't know quite what they want. But you'll go give Todd a suggestion, he's like, "No." And he'll usually know right away. So that's a very good thing, a good quality in a director, as far as my little knowledge. Yeah, I don't know if we have a love-hate. I think we love each other, it's just his way of communicating and my way of communicating are two different schools of communication. That's as euphoric as I can make it. Euphemistic as I can make it, excuse me.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.