Q: Would you call this dark comedy?
Bradley Cooper: Yes. There is a lot of darkness in this thing. But we’ve had a blast. No one realizes that we work all the time. I mean, we haven’t had any real time off at all. We’ve been doing a couple of six-day weeks. The great thing about it is that I’ve seen quite a few areas of Vegas that I never would have gotten to see. We shot at the Riviera, and downtown. We shot in the old part of Vegas, which you don’t really see anymore. You are going to see Vegas in the daytime. As far as I know, you don’t really see Vegas in the movies during the daytime. Most of these movie takes place during the day. This takes place during the day after the night.
Q: Do you have any good hangover stories of your own?
Cooper: None that I can talk about. No. Unfortunately, I can’t remember any of them.
Q: What about bachelor party stories?
Cooper: I think I went to one bachelor party that was very tame. That was the only one. I missed out on the bachelor party aspect of life.
Q: Has this given you a lot of tips on what not to do?
Cooper: Well, it depends on what kind of night you are looking for. I would certainly challenge anyone to rival the night these guys have had. Even in your wildest imagination, you can’t top this. You really can’t. Todd Phillips and his writers have written a great script.
Q: Can you tell us how you got involved? And what appealed to you about the script?
Cooper: Sure. I got involved early on. I think it was back in November. Todd had the script, and it was sort of banging around. I liked Todd. I certainly was a fan of his. I thought the opportunity to play this guy was something I liked. He is an alpha male. It wasn’t that I necessarily liked the character. I liked the synergy between the three guys. I liked that each one was so specific. And together, if you cast it properly, I thought it could have a lot of energy. I also liked the script itself. I liked the way it moved. It is fast. It is no joke. It’s like getting on a jet plane that just takes off and goes, and it doesn’t slow down until it lands. It’s rare that you get a comedy that has that type of engine. Each scene propels you to the next one. It’s more like “Starsky & Hutch” than “Old School.” Even though it’s a comedy, there is a mystery to it. It’s not like “Old School,” where it was just about the comedy. Here, we have an engine. We have to get this guy back to the wedding. Or else we fail. That engine really drives it. It is so fast.
Q: Can you talk about the synergy you had with the other cast members?
Cooper: That’s just luck. I will tell you, it is everything. Those guys are hilarious. I am very lucky to have this job. I’ve always been a fan of Zach Galifianakis. I have known him for five or six years. I remember seeing his stand-up way back then, and I thought he was the greatest. Of course, I didn’t know him at that time. I didn’t realize how good of an actor he was until this. And Ed? He is phenomenal. He kills it. I am just trying to keep up and keep my head above water. It’s a challenge to run with these guys. I am running with a fast pack in this movie. I am constantly trying to keep up.
Q: Would you say you are the leader of the three?
Cooper: I wouldn’t say he is the leader. He really wants to come along to have his own bachelor night. I don’t know if he is more excited than the groom. Because he is married and he has a little kid. He teaches 9th grade in a private school. He is the wild one. He wants to plan everything. And he wants this to be a great night for his friend. He is certainly the engine. He is all about getting that night going. They are all sort of the leader, but he is the one pointing the way in terms of what he wants everybody to do. Maybe it’s the wrong way.
Q: Would you say that “Wedding Crashers” was the turning point in your career? That film seemed to turn you into the leading man you are today.
Cooper: I don’t know about that. Those questions are so odd. It certainly opened up a lot of opportunities. David Dobkin was really kind to me in the editing room. He opened up my performance, and let me go off. He allowed me to create this crazy character that was opposite from those two guys. In that sense, it allowed other people to see what I could do. That allowed me to have other opportunities.
Q: How much of that is in this movie, now?
Cooper: This guy is not evil. He enjoys life. Other than the fact that I’m playing him? Well, they are both aggressive males. They are very different. I hope. Some people expect me to be an *sshole. Especially when they meet me for the first time. Because that was such a strong character. I gained a lot of weight for “Wedding Crashers.” People always say, “Damn, I thought you were a lot bigger!” I gained two hundred and fifteen pounds for that movie. I am usually a buck eighty-five. But I had to go up against Vince Vaughn. I had to convince the audience that I could destroy this guy on the football field.
Q: What is Todd like to work with?
Cooper: He is amazing. Like I said, I was a fan of “Old School” and “Road Trip,” and “Starsky & Hutch.” I didn’t know him outside of that, though. I only knew the guys that had worked with him. And they always sung his praises. But he has been phenomenal. We are almost a month into shooting. I think he cast this very well. That is a huge part of it. We all get a long really well. And it really works. Todd knows what he wants, and you can tell. He is a veteran. This is his fifth film, and he is only thirty-eight. He is very quick, and well equipped to make this movie. He knows what is funny, and he will let you go. He knows when to rein you in. He is everything you could hope for in a comedy director.
Q: You did “Midnight Meat Train” recently. How was it working with Vinnie Jones?
Cooper: Well, it wasn’t that recently. But he is amazing. I loved him. I was a fan of his from “Lock, Stock.” When they said he was going to be the villain, I was very excited. I love physical stuff. I knew we had a huge fight scene at the end. It was going to last twenty minutes. I knew it would be with Vinnie Jones, so I knew it was going to be amazing. We fight the hell out of each other. We have the same birthday. We became very good friends.
Q: Has this been a fun film to shoot?
Cooper: Yes. It has been a very fun film to shot. We get to do crazy things. The dialogue is great, but we are also in these crazy situations where we find ourselves doing stuff you wouldn’t normally get to do. And we get to do them in Vegas. Which is great.
Q: What have you been up to in Vegas?
Cooper: Just work. We’ve been working this entire time.
Q: The other guys say they’ve been gambling.
Cooper: Oh, there has been a little bit of gambling. But like I said, I could get in trouble in this town. I try to stay away from those sorts of things.
Q: How did you do in the big poker game?
Cooper: I did better than I thought I would. I survived through the third table. I am not really a poker player.
Q: Have you been doing a lot of improvising on this?
Cooper: Yes. I think that is Todd’s way. Having worked with Owen Wilson in “Starsky & Hutch,” and Vince Vaughn in “Old School,” he knows to let the actors go. We use the script as a template. That’s the way it was on “Wedding Crashers,” too. If you cast it wellenough, the situation is going to give itself to improvisation. The action causes dialogue. That said, this script is strong enough on its own. But we have definitely come up with a lot of new stuff.
Q: Has Vegas been the strangest location so far in your career?
Cooper: Hmm? No. But only because I had the opportunity to host this trek show in college, and it allowed me to go to some pretty crazy places. Yeah. But that wasn’t acting. It was hosting, which I was pretty bad at. But I got to do some insane things.
Q: It must be interesting being in Vegas. It’s not a studio. When you are done, it doesn’t just close down.
Cooper: That is a great point. You finish work, and you go home. And it’s tranquil. Here, you finish work and you come back to this casino. And it’s as if nothing has changed. And no one cares, either. It becomes so inconsequential, the gambling and this town. That is the pulse of this city. Sometimes you go into a town to shoot, and it transforms. But here, they don’t even give a sh*t. We are the background. We shot in a casino the other night, and we definitely were the background.
The last of the quartet was the groom himself, Justin Bartha who, thanks to being missing for much of the film, was able to get a bit more sleep than the rest of the cast and crew.
Q: Did you not have the 7:30am call time today?
Bartha: I had it, but then they realized that I wasn’t in the scene. They don’t really care. But I’m staying in the hotel, so I just kind of go back upstairs.
Q: How is that, actually staying in Caesar’s Palace as you shoot here?
Bartha: You know how whenever you go to Vegas and you say to someone that you’re only there for two days and they say, “Two days?! One day is enough in Vegas.” We’ve been here for a month. So it’s a lot to be here for that long, but it’s, you know, it’s fun. It’s a good group of people.
Q: We’ve heard that a lot of your co-stars have been hitting the parties. Zach said that he went to the Mariah Carrey thing.
Bartha: Yeah, he just did that so that he’d have something to talk about. I’m not a big party-er. I went out one night and that was about it and then a picture ended up everywhere. It’s the same thing everywhere you go. I’ve been gambling. I like to gamble a lot. I spend all of my per diems and most of my paycheck.
Q: What do you play?
Bartha: I play poker. And blackjack. And craps. And slots. Pai Gow. Baccarat. Roulette. Kind of everything. I gamble in the street. I throw dice in the street. Kind of anything.
Q: Do you come up on top?
Bartha: I’m about even so far. Before we leave at the end of the week, I’m definitely going to have to make a few big bets so that I can say, “Aw, I lost big!” or “Ah! I won big!”. Because you can’t say you’re even.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your character?
Bartha: I play Doug. I’m the groom, basically, who gets lost. It’s my bachelor party and we come to Vegas for a good time. The guys wake up and I’m gone and they have to find me.
Q: So where were you?
Bartha: I can’t tell you that! I know I can’t tell you that. But it’s definitely fun and interesting. You should watch the whole movie.
Q: But there are scenes later on that show what happens to you?
Bartha: Oh yeah, but I’m not in the middle of the movie so people can just fast-forward, I guess.
Q: So do you end up getting a lot of interaction or are you sort of off on your own little mini-movie?
Bartha: No, I literally disappear. In the beginning you see kind of the setup of me getting married and my fiancée’s family you see a little bit. Then you go on the trip and I’m gone. But at the end you get to see me again and find out whether I get married or not.
Q: What do you wind up doing with all the days you’re not shooting?
Bartha: I go back to Los Angeles a good amount. I mean, we’re close to there and I have to go back for meetings and work stuff so it’s an advantage that we’re so close. It’s not like we’re in South Dakota and it’s hard to get places.
Q: You did mention that your character has a big influence on the others. Because you don’t spend a lot of time on-screen together, did you try to develop a certain kind of rapport beforehand?
Bartha: Well, one advantage is that–one of the reasons I wanted to do this movie–the guys are either people that I’m huge fans of or people that I’ve known for a really long time. I’ve known Todd for a long time. He was kind of my mentor back in the day. Bradley Cooper, I’ve done a couple of movies with. One where we did a lot of scenes together. So I knew them very well. And Zach Galifianakis, I’ve been a fan of. He’s been my favorite comedian for years since I first saw him on Conan seven or eight years ago. And then Ed is just brilliant. The stabilizing thing is this line in the very beginning of the film which I love that has the idea that you need four wheels to be balanced. What’s interesting to me is you have these four friends and together they’re balanced and it all works but once one disappears, it becomes the squeaky wheel and they all fall apart. So that’s kind of the basis for my character. I’m that grounder in a sense. I’m that bridge between these three people that are kind of opposites of each other. He’s a buffer. I always have a group of friends that are like that. There’s one guy who it’s awkward if you’re not hanging out with because he’s the common bond.
Q: So are you the straight guy?
Bartha: I kind of am, yeah. I’ve never really been a straight guy before.
Q: Is that a bummer? Having to be the straight guy and letting Zach do everything funny?
Bartha: You know, you’d think so, but since I’ve never done it before it’s kind of freeing. I just wanted to be some part. It’s a really cool movie. It’s fun. I guarantee it. You can come back to me and I’ll give you the money. It’s going to be the funniest movie when it comes out. I just wanted to be part of that. Todd makes really cool, funny movies. No doubt about it. The last few movies I’ve done, I have been kind of the funny quirky guy. So it was nice to play it straight and let these guys who are brilliant kind of take the brunt of the work.
Q: Do you get to do much improvising on-set?
Bartha: You know, for me, I kind of just try to set it up so that they can hit it out of the park in this thing. That’s another thing. Those characters are really kind of the improvising guys. Every project I do, I try to bring a little improvisation to it, but this character is not really the guy who does that. I’m letting everyone else do everything and I’m just kind of taking a backseat.
Q: Is that a relief?
Bartha: It is. It’s kind of a relief, yeah. It really is. Just sitting back and watching these guys work and being able to play off of Zach and Bradley and Ed, who are so brilliant at coming up with stuff. I usually feel like I’m the one in the stuff I do who has to do that kind of thing. So it’s nice to kind of take a back seat.
Q: We saw a scene outside where Zach and Bradley couldn’t stop laughing. Have you had any takes where you couldn’t hold it together?
Bartha: Pretty much every take. I mean, they are so funny. Everything Zach does makes me laugh. So it’s a lot of takes. Usually I kind of try to work in a laugh into the scene so it seems natural, but really it’s a real laugh.
Q: Todd has had a lot of high-profile cameos in his other films. Can we except some more in this one?
Bartha: There are some great comedy character actors who pop up throughout the movie, but no one like Jerry Lewis. It’s not going to be like that, I don’t think. This doesn’t have the kitschy thing that I think you’re talking about. This is just really a play for laughs, balls-out comedy. I wouldn’t say light. There’s a lot of dark elements to it, which I think you’ve come to love in Todd’s movies. There’s nothing shy and polite about it at all. There’s some really out there funny stuff that you’ve never seen before. I can’t even talk about it. There’s some X-rated stuff, but it’s not like “how can we one-up the comedies of Judd Apatow?” It comes from natural improvisation from these guys. Everything about it is genuine. I know it sounds like bullsh*t when I say that, but it is so funny.
Q: What’s it like working on a set with such a large civilian background interested in what you’re doing?
Bartha: I haven’t been here as long as the other guys, but it hasn’t been that big of an issue. I mean, we were out on the street in old Vegas and Zach was standing on a cop car shooting a shotgun in the air. There’s a few people. It’s Vegas! So much weird and crazy sh*t happens here, it’s not that weird for a movie to shoot. They’ve been very nice and gracious. From my perspective.
Rounding it all off is Todd Phillips who was so busy on-set that the interview ended up being conducted right from the Director’s chair.
Q: We’ve been seeing these humongous crowds of people stopping, gawking, taking pictures, taking video. It seems like filming in this kind of live environment must be kind of difficult. What’s your experience been like?
Todd Phillips: Yeah. Actually, people have been really good. It looks harder than it is. People stay back. People stay quiet in a weird way. They’re respectful when we say “roll camera,” as much as they should be. It actually hasn’t been that hard. And Caesar’s Palace has been so great to work with that it hasn’t been that bad. I mean it’s a little bit annoying I think for the actors but this kind of comes with the territory. We’re shutting down their only valet area so it’s a big deal.
Q: What was it that appealed to you about this story?
Phillips: I just love storiesyou might know from my other movies that are sort of centered around male friendships and going through something ridiculous and a bizarre situation and this seemed like a fun kind of way to test characters and put them through the paces. These movies are so much about casting. “Old School” is about casting, “Starsky” was about it, all the movies I’ve really done is about getting the right cast together. So for me I always loved Zack and Ed Helms. And I knew Bradley Cooper but I was a huge fan of Zack to begin with and I felt like he’d been in movies and hadn’t really been used correctly in movies and not really had a part where he could shine. So I had been looking for something in my head for Zack and Ed Helms the same way. So for me, I get really excited about the casting possibilities then, let’s just say, what the specifics or machinations of the story are. That said, I really like what we’re doing here.
Q: Both Zack and Ed talked about the amount of improvisation and you talking about how you like them, how much do you rein them in to make sure that they stay authentic to their character and how much freedom do you give them?
Phillips: You know, again, I did “Road Trip” and “Old School” and all those guys… and everybody I worked with likes to improv to some extent, so I think any comedy director that’s any good at it certainly allows for that. And I think it’s up to the director and the actors to figure out if the improving fits the character. And that happens even before we start rolling. We figure out who the character is, and then ideally you have smart guys like Zack and Ed and Bradley and Justin and the improv they’re doing 90% of the time fits the character. Will did it on “Old School.” What I generally like to do is: we shoot the scene as is, like you might’ve seen this morning and then we kind of just fuck around a little and do some free ones and try other stuff.
Q: Do you find it freeing to know in advance that you have an R rating?
Phillips: Yes! Yeah it really is. It just enables me to do the stuff that’s more in my line of taste, as far as comedy goes and certainly you get a guy like Zack Galifianakis and it’d be tough to do a PG-13 movie and still let him go. Part of what makes Zack great is his inhibition and his inability to edit himself, if that makes sense. (laughs) And a lot of times that veers into R-rated territory.
Q: We know you have a few stunts in this movie, so what’s the most complicated one you shot so far or what’s the one that’s coming up that is the most daunting?
Phillips: None of them are too daunting. Not to talk about my movies but it’s my only experience. Having done “Starsky & Hutch,” we did a fair amount of stunts. Nothing in this movie outweighs the stunts in that, so the stunts we have are all in the name of comedy. It’s not like there’s crazy stunts, huge car chases for no reason. If there’s a car moment it’s about comedy or certainly about story. So there’s nothing too daunting, we have one coming up this week where there’s a little bit of car stuff and driving through a bus stop and stuff like that. I like doing that stuff actually, it’s fun. We did a car crash the other night on Fremont street that I guess was daunting but we had a great time with it.
Q: What about the tiger? What’s it like working with the tiger?
Phillips: We haven’t worked with him yet. Yeah, I’m not looking forward to that. (laughs) That I’m not looking forward to.
Q: So there’s been a recent, bunch of Vegas movies where crazy things happen. How do you make sure that your movie has stuff that’s still fresh and different?
Phillips: Well, I’m familiar with movies that took place in Vegas but I think this one has some pretty crazy stuff that’s never happened. I don’t think it has much to do with Vegas as again it’s the situation of what we’re doing here. Vegas is the backdrop. It’s not so much about Vegas as it is about these three guys being put through the paces. It could’ve happened in New York. Love being here and all that. Hopefully, it’s not Vegas that’ll define the movie.
Q: Got any cameo surprises in store for us?
Phillips: Yeah, we got some surprises I’d like to keep as a surprise. (laughs) Yeah, we do, we have a couple good ones.
Q: We’ve been here a day and we’re pretty tired. How are you guys holding up after being here a month?
Phillips: It’s a dark place, we’ve already lost a few crew members to Vegas. (laughs) Not dead but…
Q: Lost to the dark side.
Phillips: Yeah, it’s a hard thing to balance that and shooting a movie. I’m not going to lie to you. It is exhausting. I’m excited to get back to L.A.
Q: You’re shooting this obviously on film, so as a filmmaker have you ever thought about going into the digital realm of HD?
Phillips: I’ve done some things on HD. I’ve done some commercial things. I’ve done some projects on HD. For this, there was no benefit to it. I mean, it’s still not financially, necessarily a benefit to shoot HD. It really is a filmmaker’s choice. We’re still doing our dailies on HD and all that stuff, so it’s not that big of a leap. I just love the look of film. But I have nothing against HD. This just wasn’t a movie that called for it. Generally, if it’s super, super low budget I guess it makes sense because you can shoot a ton and I guess effects movies it makes sense. For this kind of thing, it doesn’t make sense for us. I actually went and met with Steven Soderbergh on the set of “The Informant” because he was shooting the Red Cam. And it was really an amazing experience for me because he like to took an hour away from his day and showing it to me and showing me footage and walking me through stuff. He’s really been pushing that Red Cam. We were thinking about shooting that on this for a little bit. I would do it if I were as great a filmmaker as him in that, if I could operate and do everything he does–you know he does everything – to then get somebody to shoot that Red Cam that hasn’t done it before. He’s just more confident than anybody in his own knowledge. I don’t operate and that kind of stuff, so after I saw it I go, “let me wait a movie or two before I would try that.”
Q: Was the footage on the Red Cam as good as everyone talks about?
Phillips: Yeah. I mean, you know his movies are his movies. It’s hard to judge when you see a Steven Soderbergh thing because he knows exactly what he wants and he’ll make whatever camera he uses give him exactly that, so you know the footage looks exactly the way he wanted and it looked beautiful. I mean all his movies look beautiful. So it’s a hard thing – it confused me more actually after meeting with him. I asked him to shoot it. (laughs) I did! I said, “How about you shoot it then I’ll use the Red Cam.” He’s like, “You know if I didn’t have this, it would be fun to just go on a set and just be a DP and not have to talk and deal with the acting part of it. When actor comes to you and asks what their motivation is, I’ll just go, ‘I’ll be in craft service.'”
Q: You talk about this theme that runs current through your movies of this sort of fraternal bond between guys. Is that something that you consciously pursue?
Phillips: I think it’s a thing I’ll always gravitate towards, I was raised by three women. I never had a ton of male friends and it’s always been something that’s really interesting to me, what brings guys together? The bonding. “Old School” is a good example of that. And even “Starsky” and even “Road Trip.” Yeah, it’s always something I’ve been interested in. I think that’s what it is. I never had a father, there. I’m just kidding.
The Hangover hits theaters on June 5th.