Unlike most movie sequels that are patched together with reckless speed, The Hangover Part II (opening this Thursday, May 26) is the product of more than two years’ worth of preparation. In fact, the comedy follow-up received the green light from its backers, Warner Bros. Pictures, two months before its predecessor even hit theaters. A wise move on the studio’s part, since The Hangover went on to make $277 million domestically, turn the once-fringe comedian Zach Galifianakis into a full-fledged movie star, give unfunny people tons of quotables to reference amongst friends, and solidify itself as the biggest R-rated comedy of all time.
When Warner Bros. approved a Hangover sequel, the film’s director, Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch), called upon a pair of veteran comedy screenwriters for assistance: Scot Armstrong and Craig Mazin. For Phillips, working with Armstrong was a no-brainer; prior to The Hangover Part II, Armstrong co-wrote four of the director’s flicks along with Phillips himself, including the aforementioned Road Trip and Old School, and, on his own, the Chicago native penned the script for Will Ferrell’s 2008 basketball comedy Semi-Pro.
The Hangover Part II comes at the perfect pre-blow-up time for Armstrong; later this year, he’ll begin production on his first directorial effort, the Mexico-set comedy Road To Nardo, while NBC recently picked up the sitcom BFF, which will be produced under Armstrong’s American Work Inc. banner and begin airing this fall. As all of the Wolfpack’s ardent fans know, however, it’s all about The Hangover Part II these days. Complex recently caught up with Armstrong to talk about the pressures surrounding what’s quite possibly the most anticipated comedy sequel of all time, how the seedy locale of Bangkok dictated the movie’s beats, the scene-stealing monkey sidekick, and his and Phillips’ pivotal roles in the careers of Ferrell and Vince Vaughn.
Complex: Before The Hangover even came out, a sequel was already announced. Were you brought onto The Hangover Part II before you were able to see the first movie, or was the process slower than that?
Scot Armstrong: Well, this is my fifth movie with Todd, and, when he asked me to do it, it just seemed like a huge opportunity. I was a huge fan of the first movie. Also, it was an opportunity for me to work with Craig Mazin at the same time; I hadn’t really worked within a three-person writing team before, so I felt like it’d be really interesting to approach a movie in that way.
For us, the process was to sit in a room and really just invent the whole movie, while constantly trying to make each other laugh. Doing it together with Todd and Craig was probably my favorite part of the whole process; it was one of my favorite things that I’ve ever done in my career.
Did you guys know from jump that you wanted to set the movie in Thailand?
Scot Armstrong: Yeah, that was Todd Phillips’ idea from the beginning. For me, I just think there’s something special about Bangkok. It’s notorious for having one of the wildest nightlife scenes on Earth, and it’s a city that reminds you of nothing else. It’s just the most exotic location, and when these characters wake up there, it’s a huge mountain to climb to try and save themselves.
Were you able to spend time in Bangkok prior to writing, in order to better familiarize yourself with the culture and scene?
Scot Armstrong: I want to say that I went over there and did all of this amazing research that informed all of these great in-the-know jokes, but the reality is, we did a lot of research online. [Laughs.] I read a lot about Bangkok and Thailand; I read a bunch of novels that are set there. Screenwriting is always guess work, but I think we had a pretty good success rate. When we got there and saw all of our locations and started shooting, everything seemed to match up pretty well with what we had planned.
Going into the writing stage, did you guys make a conscious decision to make this one much darker than the first movie? Because The Hangover Part II goes to some pretty wild and rough places, both setting wise and thematically.
One of the ways to sort of up the stakes is to make a darker film. We always wanted to make a much darker film, a film that went further. No one wants to come to a movie that pulls back. You don’t want to see a great movie and then see a sequel that’s less challenging to you.
The movie’s dark tone caught me off guard, especially how some of the crazier moments are played, such as the scene in the strip club, where Stu (Ed Helms) finds out about a particularly disturbing sexual experience. I’ll leave it at that, to avoid spoiling anything. But, needless to say, you just feel bad for the guy.
Scot Armstrong: [Laughs.] A lot of that comes from Todd Phillips’ attitude. Going into a movie, he knows the tone he wants to create, and he knows the voices. He knows exactly how far he wants to push things; in this movie, our goal from the very beginning was to be unapologetic. I think a lot of comedies these days pull punches—they’ll be outrageous at the beginning, but in the end everyone learns a really sweet lesson and everything ties up well with a nice red bow. In this one, though, we go out even more outrageously than when we started.
Was there a concern, while writing the script, that you guys could go too far and too dark and lose the original movie’s fans in ways?
Scot Armstrong: Yeah, definitely, and hopefully we did maintain a good amount of what made people love the first one. The thing that’s true about the second one as much as the first one is that the chemistry between the actors is so great. The thing that changes up a little bit in this one is you get to see them a little bit more three-dimensionally.
In the first movie, you get little snippets of who these guys are, but then they’re launched into this adventure together and they don’t know each other quite that well. In this one, they know each other so well, and at the beginning you get to catch up with their lives. You get to see Ed Helms working as a dentist in his dentist’s office; you get to see where Zach’s character lives, in his bedroom. And it’s really fun to sort of blow out who these guys are, and see their worlds and catch up to where they are.
We definitely felt that everyone would be rooting for these guys to get back together. There’s something really special about these actors; they’re all so talented and so funny in their own ways, but, when they get together, I think they have a special chemistry that is sort of unmatched. Even though the movie is darker, I think there’s something about them together that enables them to get away with just about anything.