Interview: Todd Phillips

Wednesday, November 3 by

The first time I ever met Todd Phillips was for the movie Road Trip. That was 10 years ago and now he’s gone from a funny teen comedy to one of the most quoted college movies to the biggest R-rated comedy of all time. Due Date follows The Hangover and prefaces The Hangover 2. It’s in a Hangover sandwich. Robert Downey Jr. plays a traveling architect desperate to get back to his pregnant wife. Zach Galifianakis is the only ride available to him. In one of his last interviews at the L.A. press junket, Phillips spoke with us about orchestrating comedy. Then he invited me to a Hangover 3 orgy, so you’ll want to keep reading.

Screen Junkies: Was it important structurally that this movie build to the craziness as opposed to The Hangover which starts big and slowly reveals the details?

Todd Phillips: I think that’s always a choice that you make and I think so for sure.

SJ: Do you like to construct comedy as more of a build?

TP: Yeah, you want to just go on a ride and whether it’s big to small to big, whether it’s a roller coaster or whether it’s a straight line or going up, I don’t know. It’s something that just kind of happens organically while we’re making it. It’s not something you necessarily consciously think about but it always does seem to happen organically.

SJ: Do you like comedy with big stunts?

TP: I do, yeah. I like just kind of shocking the audience. Even in The Hangover when those guys got hit by Mr. Chow’s car, not a huge stunt but it really took you like whoa, I didn’t expect that in this movie. I like putting things in comedies and doing them well hopefully where it feels like wow, they really went for it in this movie.

SJ: Is there just something funny about big destruction?

TP: It’s just the fact that this little Ethan can cause so much of a wave to me is what’s funny. It’s not that the destruction’s funny. I don’t watch Transformers and think, “That’s funny.” But I do think that this little one man tsunami can cause such a wave is kind of funny.

SJ: Did you want to up the masturbation humor after The Hangover?

TP: I don’t know that you can ever beat a baby masturbating. Honestly I think it’s a toss up, no pun intended. It’s a toss up which is more epic but I do know it took a lot longer to train the dog to do that than to have Zach do it to a baby.

SJ: Were you ever worried about putting another masturbation joke in a movie?

TP: Worried?

SJ: Did you ever think, “Let’s not do another one?”

TP: No, are you crazy? No, why? That’s my favorite moment in The Hangover, bar none. “Not at the table, Carlos.” That’s probably my favorite line. There are kids walking around with T shirts that say, “Not at the table, Carlos.”

SJ: Was the line in Due Date about Ethan being 23 a reference to the false synopsis about Zach being a college stoner?

TP: Not at all, but that’s an interesting question. No, not at all. Maybe somebody put that synopsis out because they didn’t understand what we were doing. That’s a good point. That’s very funny. I never even thought about that. Zach being an actor is lying about his age but he’s lying so severely that it’s so dumb.

SJ: So we shouldn’t believe when he says he’s 23.

TP: Yeah, of course, yeah. Do you mean when he first says, “Of course I’m an adult. I’m 23 years old.” When you saw the movie, did you think, “Are they seriously trying to play that he’s 23?”

SJ: I thought maybe he could pass with the beard.

TP: No, we never meant to pass it. We meant it for it to pay off later but also Peter never believed it.

SJ: Tell us about the importance of Barry.

TP: Barry is a character who shows up every so often in some of my movies, only the R-rated movies. I’ve made four R-rated movies. Barry’s been in all of them. He won’t work in PG-13. He’ll only work with me. Barry’s been offered other roles. He just doesn’t do it. He’s the same character in all my movies as you know or might know. He goes by other names in the credits but it’s always Barry.

SJ: Would you notice a storyline if we followed all four cameos?

TP: If you did the math, you’d notice that Juliette Lewis in Old School plays a girl named Heidi. Barry shows up at the door, he’s here for the gang bang. Juliette Lewis in Due Date plays Heidi again and she’s now living with Barry. Now those are not Barry’s kids, but if you really did the math, you might think those are Will Ferrell’s kids because she does hook up with Will Ferrell at the end of Old School. So are those two kids Will Ferrell’s kids? And now Barry’s living with her raising those kids.

SJ: How many foreign countries were in the running for Hangover 2?

TP: Not many. It was really between Bangkok and Rio.

SJ: Did they court you?

TP: Like The Olympics? Yeah, I was flown to Bangkok three times, put up in the presidential suite at various hotels. No, they didn’t but you bring up a beautiful point. If we make Hangover 3, I’m going to put it out there. This is a great idea, Fred. Have your city court us and we’ll decide if The Hangover 3 will be shot there. Just like The Olympic committee is so crooked, they get flown all over the world, they get whores and all this stuff sent to them. I don’t know that that’s true. Allegedly. I’ve heard that. Wouldn’t that be a great thing? That’s very smart. You could be my ambassador, get the word out. You and I will just fly around the world and just be in Amsterdam and get all the f***in’ weed and girls. In Amsterdam the president will come or whatever they have there, he’ll be like, “We’d love you to shoot here in Holland. That’s a great idea.”

SJ: Does that mean Warner Brothers is thinking trilogy?

TP: No. By the way, this is the first time I’m talking about it but now there’s a reason to do it.

SJ: Can we assume the same format with waking up and filling in the night before?

TP: You should not assume anything about Hangover 2.

SJ: How have you managed these back to back productions?

TP: All I ever wanted to do since I was a child was honestly make movies. So the opportunity to make movies is there and I’m going to take it. It’s hard to say after Hangover, “maybe take a year off” when it’s like hey, you mean I can go make this with Robert and Zach right now? I know I haven’t slept in 8 months but f*** it, I want to make movies. Then oh really, you want to do Hangover 2? We’ve just finished Due Date, we’re just editing and sound mixing right now but all the guys are available in the fall? All right, let’s do it. It’s a little bit of a sickness in that I just love doing it so much, I feel so lucky that I get to do it it’s hard to walk away or even to take break. But I definitely need time to just recharge a little bit.

SJ: Are you in a great place where you can just put what you think is funny in a movie?

TP: Yes, I really am and I’m lucky and The Hangover was a big help but even before that, I had had some successes in comedy and I don’t have to have the battles that I had to have early on. No joke, I had a battle on Old School about the wedding band. They just thought it was excessive that he cursed at a wedding. That was a battle I had on Old School that I would never have nowadays. It’s like are you kidding me? Of course we’ll do what we want with that. Even the stuff like Peter punching the kid in the stomach. You still get people from the studio going, “I think this makes him unlikeable.” You’re like, “You know what? That’s why you’re not Robert Downey Jr. Robert Downey Jr. can pull this off. That’s why he’s Robert Downey Jr. Watch, people are going to love him anyway.”

SJ: Isn’t it also funny if he is unlikeable and lots of comedies are afraid to go there?

TP: By the way, that’s the other thing. You don’t have to be likeable. It’s a two hour movie. We’re not running for president. That character’s not running for president. He’s trying to get you to come see this movie. It’s okay that he’s a little bit unlikeable. A lot of people in this world, some are a little bit unlikeable. It’s all right, they exist.

SJ: But coming up with something and thinking, “Let’s put that in the movie!” And then you get to see it on screen.

TP: It’s great. Even Downey said today in the press conference, I thought, “You know what I’ve never seen? I’ve never seen a guy spit in a dog’s face. I just made that up on the spot.” Even Downey was like, “Really?” I was like, “Come on, let’s just do it. Let’s see what happens.”

Due Date hits theaters Friday.

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