Exclusive Interview: Craig Mazin on The Hangover Part II

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The Hangover, Part II is in theaters today and, all week, ComingSoon.net has been bringing you exclusive interviews with the cast and crew. If you missed them, please check out our first conversation with writer/director Todd Phillips by clicking here, our second with Zach Galifianakis by clicking here and our third with Ken Jeong by clicking here.

Working as a Hollywood comedy writer for more than a decade, Craig Mazin has turned in screenplays for films like Senseless, Superhero Movie and Scary Movie 3 and 4. He was also the director of the indie superhero parody The Specials, released in 2010 with a script from James Gunn. With The Hangover Part II, Mazin combined his writing talents with those of Scott Armstrong and Todd Phillips, relocating the Wolfpack to Bangkok, Thailand.

ComingSoon.net spoke with Mazin about the pressures involved in following up such a huge hit as the first The Hangover, blending comedy and mystery and his upcoming projects, which includes the animated children’s film, Turkeys.

Please be aware, the below interview does contain some minor spoilers:

ComingSoon.net: You weren’t involved with the first “Hangover.” What brought you onto this one?
Craig Mazin:
I’ve known Todd Phillips for many years now. We were sort of running in the same circles back in the old Miramax days and have been friends for a long time. He was kind of in a tough spot. He had done “The Hangover” and then he turned right around and immediately did “Due Date.” He was editing “Due Date” and, while he was editing, the studio had given him a pretty hard release date of Memorial Day 2011. So he had not a lot of time and a big task. Instead of co-writing with just one guy, he brought me and Scott Armstrong in. The three of us did a three-way team on it just to make sure we could get it done.

CS: There’s a big sense of a safety net being removed in this one.
Mazin:
Yeah, that was intentional. I think what lead to that was not so much a calculation that we wanted to be more dangerous than the first one but this statement: These three characters went through this before. They woke up. There was a tiger and a baby in the room. Their friend was missing. They went downstairs and they had breakfast and they figured he’d show up. He didn’t and it got worse and worse and worse until it was okay. When it happens the second time, there’s no going downstairs and having breakfast. It’s immediately bad. It has to be immediately bad. They’ve been through this war before. The fact that we had to put them through this ringer again is what necessitated removing that safety net. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be that worried.

CS: The film, like the first one, plays as a mystery and there’s both the question of “how did this happen again?” and “where is their friend?” Did one of those take on a bigger focus in the writing stage?
Mazin:
It’s definitely about “where’s our friend? Where’s the guy we have to find?” To get to solve that, they have to ask, “What was it that we did? When did he go missing? Where were we? What did we do? What happened?” Without a doubt, an enormous amount of time was put into a crafting a mystery that was actually satisfying and that you weren’t ahead of. You work backwards from the big mystery: Where is he? Then you work out a satisfying way of going about the investigation. It was strange to be working on a comedy where so much time was spent not on funny things at all but just on logic. The other tricky thing is that you can’t come up with something that’s only logically sound. It has to be at least potentially funny. It’s a very challenging assignment.

CS: Like in the first movie, a lot of the background is revealed in the still photos at the end. That means that there’s a bunch of story that, while it isn’t necessarily on the written page, needs to be thought through. What’s the process for figuring how and what to fill those gaps with?
Mazin:
Our goal is always to try and explain everything as the film unfolds, but I can think of one big thing in the photos that makes you go, “Oh! That’s how that happened!” Because it wasn’t important for the investigation. Like, in the first film when you find out how Stu lost his tooth. It’s not important to the story, really. It’s just kind of nice to know. There’s one thing in this one that’s a lot like that.

CS: There were consistent rumors of surprise cameos and there’s not really a lot of surprise appearances in the film. Was that ever something that did exist in the scripting stage? Did you ever think about bringing back any other characters from the first film?
Mazin:
No, we were pretty good about it. There’s a certain exhaustion that sets in when screenwriters are approaching sequels and they start to lean on crutches. Those same old wacky characters! You can suddenly find yourself writing “Police Academy 9” and shoot yourself in the head. In this, we knew that we wanted Mr. Chow because he’s kind of a force of nature, but there was no real demand to bring back other characters from the first one. There was no demand to shove the movie full of cameos. If anything, it was the opposite. I love how Nick Cassavetes played the guy in this. This is a big sequel to a big, huge studio movie. You could get a big, huge star and I like the idea of just getting a guy who is right for it. You don’t need a lot of fireworks. I think people enjoy the characters that we have.

CS: Todd’s very big on secrecy. Is there ever anything that’s planned as a decoy like alternate scripted scenes?
Mazin:
No, we don’t do that. But we never printed the script out. Ever. Everything was e-mailed between the three of us and the studio. We actually sent the first two acts to the cast just to say, “Are we on the right track?” Even those were FedExed and people were standing by, ready to shred. You can’t be too careful. I really hate people that spoil stuff by putting scripts online. I don’t mind so much people that do movie spoilers when the movie is out in the theater. If you haven’t gotten there the first weekend, it’s on you to not read reviews or anything. But to put up screenplay reviews just kills me. So we didn’t do any outright subterfuge or false flags. But I will say, looking back at old press from when this was first happening, Todd said the movie wouldn’t be in Bangkok at one point. You can’t always trust what that guy says. But we’re not really at Seal Team Six level deception.

CS: Is it tricky writing jokes for established characters? I would imagine that it’s one thing to be funny with your own sense of humor and another to have jokes in the voices of Alan, Stu and Phil.
Mazin:
That’s the difference between being a comedy screenwriter and being a comedian. Comedians who aren’t screenwriters are telling jokes that they themselves think are funny. They’re expressing their own view of what they think funny is. Being a screenwriter for a comedy, you’re writing for characters in them in their voice. I could write anyone. I could write a killer. I could write a woman. I could write Alan Garner. That’s the trick, embodying the other person’s voice. It’s really tricky for someone like Alan because his voice is so specific. Zach walks a tonal line that is really narrow. Man, you can really blow it one way or another so we were really, really careful with his stuff. But then I could write Mr. Chow all day long. I could write 20 pages of Mr. Chow stuff right now without breaking a sweat because I think I’m a lot like him in some sick way. (laughs).

CS: What’s coming up next for you?
Mazin:
I’m writing and producing an animated movie with Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Steve Martin, which has been amazing. It’s an animated film called “Turkeys” about a couple of turkeys that go back in time to get turkey off the Thanksgiving menu. I also just finished an original screenplay that we’re going to be going out with in a few days. It’s my first not-comedy screenplay that I’ve written. Michael Shamberg and and Carla Shamberg and Stacey Sher are producing. Stacey is producing “Django Unchained.” They’re great, great producers. Then we’ll see if there’s another one of these in the cards. You never know. The tale is not yet over.

The Hangover, Part II is in theaters now.