Justin Bartha and Heather Graham Talk THE HANGOVER PART III, Their Characters’ Evolution, THE NEW NORMAL’s Cancellation & Controversy, and More
With director Todd Phillips’ comedy sequel The Hangover Part III opening this week, I recently participated in a roundtable interview with Justin Bartha and Heather Graham. In the final installment to the popular franchise, we find Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Doug (Bartha) en route to taking Alan (Zach Galifianakis) to a psychiatric hospital when the gang is side-trekked by a mysterious man (John Goodman) who kidnaps Doug and forces the wolf pack to track down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who stole $21 million from Goodman’s character. As you might expect, chaos ensues. For more on the film, watch the red band trailer or check out over forty images.
During the interview, Bartha and Graham talked about making the film, working with the baby from the first film again, collaborating with Phillips, if Graham came up with a backstory for her character, what it’s like to be back at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and a lot more. Bartha also talked about The New Normal‘s cancellation and how proud he was to have been part of the series. Hit the jump for what they had to say.
Question: How does it feel to be the only character in this entire series to actually fully be grown-up?
HEATHER GRAHAM: [laughs] I never thought of it that way.
JUSTIN BARTHA: I thought you were going to say, “Have a vagina.”
GRAHAM: Thank you. Actually, you’re right. I do feel like my character evolves and that I’m in a better place and I’m really happy that Jade kind of, I got what I wanted and my dreams came true. I got that doctor.
Justin, we were talking about your role in these movies and the trope, I compared it to Kenny on South Park. There always seems to be…
BARTHA: My favorite character on South Park. I never thought of that
But they always seem to find a way to make you disappear for large stretches of the movie.
BARTHA: I know. I always wish I could do that during these interviews. [laughs]
When did, obviously, it was in the first script, but when you saw it in the second script, did you go to them and say, “What’s the deal here? Did I do something wrong?”
BARTHA: No, I’m just happy to be working, personally, and I make a lot of money on these for doing next to nothing.
GRAHAM: You’re like laughing in your trailer sleeping.
BARTHA: Well, no, I’m not like a villain. I’m not like, “Ha, ha, ha,” [maniacal villain laugh] counting my money. That’s what everyone thinks the Jews are doing, but we’re really not doing that. We’re doing your taxes, but no, I don’t ever ask that. I’ve known Todd for a while and I know how talented he is and honestly, like, you know, whatever he does, works. So, I’m just excited to be there. For this one, originally, he was supposed to be in it a little more, but I had some other obligations I had to do. So, thankfully, I could still be in the movie. I was just thankful to be there.
What other things were you doing? Another movie?
BARTHA: A television show.
Oh, The New Normal, right?
And did that get renewed?
BARTHA: No, it got cancelled a couple days ago. Thanks for bringing that up.
BARTHA: And it all went down from there. You want to talk about my childhood now?
What was the most traumatic event before this happened?
BARTHA: This guy’s the best.
Well, really interesting seeing that the baby Carlos was the same baby. Was there any sort of connection seeing that kid again older?
GRAHAM: Yeah, it was so cool that Todd… Todd was sweet that he cast the same actor that was the baby and the parents showed up and they brought me the photos from when we shot the first film and he was really good, you know. It was great to be reunited with my fake baby son. [laughs]
I was wondering if you guys can talk about working with Todd Phillips, because there’s an interesting evolution in this franchise, where, yes, the first film does have dark elements, but as the series has gone on, it’s gotten darker and darker and I’m just curious about working with Todd Phillips, and he mentioned that you guys even used to live together and just, working with him and seeing how this franchise has changed him and just working with him in general, I’m just wondering if you guys could talk about it.
BARTHA: I don’t know if the franchise has changed him. I think maybe the…
GRAHAM: All that money.
BARTHA: I think it’s more the money changing, but I do think the more… This is true with probably most people, that the more success you have, the more confident you are and I think Todd is a bit of an evil genius and he likes to celebrate the darkness of life and not apologize for it and I think that’s one of the reasons his fans go see his movies, because they know it’s not going to be watered down. They know it’s about the comedy and he’s not going to apologize for the characters, like a lot of comedies do. So, I think with the success, he further went, really didn’t apologize for anything, like, you know, you don’t see many movies where someone gets sexually abused by a tranny and then just gets made fun of for it. It’s usually like, “How do we resolve this issue?” He likes to push it even further and that’s… He’s a brave guy. He’s a very brave guy.
Do you think part of that is given more creative control just because of the success?
BARTHA: You know, that was one of the reasons why the first one was successful, was because he was able to do it his way. I think if he had to cast different actors…
Because he deferred his fee, right?
BARTHA: He’s a gambler. He’s a gambling addict and he gambled. You know, throughout, he would tell me he gambled it all on this one, because you know, within any industry you know, if you give up money, you’ll get more control and with more control, if you have a specific point of view, then it’s going to be interesting no matter what it is.
I asked the three guys if they’d been signed with the first one for II and III to do this and they laughed and said that was hysterical, that when you did the first one, you had no idea.
GRAHAM: They get to make a lot more money that way.
BARTHA: That’s why they were laughing. They aren’t Jewish. They can laugh at their riches.
So, when did you know that you were coming back for III, both of you?
GRAHAM: Well, Todd emailed me and he said, “I wrote you into III” and I was so excited. I was like, “Yay!” Then it took a little while. He sent me the pages and then the script was so top secret that I couldn’t get the script for another month and then I finally got to read it.
BARTHA: Well, for this one it was, I was, you know, you just get a call. It’s kind of like, you know they’re… It’s such a bizarre world we live in that you’re like…
Well, you’re good friends with Todd though?
BARTHA: Yeah, but also…
But he doesn’t say anything to you when he’s writing it?
BARTHA: Well, the scripts change and also they have to, for these movies, sequels and stuff, they set release dates before the script is written, stuff like that. You know, the first thing was they had to get the deal with the three guys done and I think everyone knows about this. It’s public information. It was in the Hollywood Reporter every day. You know, with that kind of stuff, if those deals don’t get done then the movie doesn’t get made. And then, they work everyone else’s deal out. So, it’s a lot about, when you’re dealing with sequels and stuff like that, it comes down to boring logistics and businesswise.
At the end of the first movie, we see that Ed Helms is going to come back and see Jade the next weekend and not surprisingly, it doesn’t work out.
GRAHAM: [laughs] I wanted it to work out. I’m so sad.
Do you sort of workshop the backstory of what happened after that?
GRAHAM: Yeah, I do. I make up a whole backstory, but I actually feel like that whole experience was positive for Jade, because I think I really fell in love with Stu and I decided to turn a corner. I have a whole story made up. You probably don’t want to hear the whole thing, but definitely that put me on the path to meeting this other guy and falling in love and marrying him and stuff.
Talk a little bit about being here at Caesar’s. I would imagine that literally they roll out the red carpet for the two of you at this hotel, for what the movies have done for Vegas.
BARTHA: They’re nice to us. Absolutely. I mean, you know, I was trying to think of a smart ass modest answer, which is my MO, I guess. They’re nice and they should be. Not to be cocky, but this movie…
GRAHAM: It’s like an advertisement. Go to Caesar’s Palace and go crazy.
BARTHA: …but it also revitalized Vegas in a very real way and that’s not an easy feat for a movie that was not very expensive as studio movies go, you know. It became such a huge success that it is now… Think about it, before we shot the first movie, The Hangover was synonymous with Vegas and now, a city, which is famous around the world, is synonymous with a movie. I mean, that is crazy and that is not a common thing.
Have you played that Hangover slot machine they have?
BARTHA: I haven’t played it, but I’ve seen it, yeah.
How about you, Heather?
GRAHAM: The Hangover slot machine? I’m pretty excited to be on a slot machine. I feel like my career goals have been achieved. [laughs]
From when you first got the script from what we saw on the scene, how much changed along the way, if anything?
BARTHA: Oh, I mean, it always changes.
GRAHAM: But I feel like a lot stays the same. Just they add a lot of great improv and stuff.
BARTHA: Yeah, it’s, the structure in the story stays the same, but within the confines of each scene, obviously, if you have Zach and Ken and Ed and Bradley, everyone… If you don’t let them collaborate then you’re wasting all of that money.
Well, you’re there with John Goodman. Did he do this before Argo?
BARTHA: No, no, no. This was after Argo. This was made, I mean, these movies get turned around pretty quick.
Did you think about how you wanted your character at all to change or evolve or…
BARTHA: To be honest, I did think about having the guy not change or evolve at all. I thought like, everyone does that in movies. It’s like the thing to talk about your character. I don’t know, the guy does, I don’t know. I still have to figure out the character, to be honest. It’s a little late after three movies. I should have done my work, but I was, I did, in my own mind, the guy doesn’t change. I mean, everyone else changes. He’s a guy who’s just a rock. He’s a normal guy and he’s in a drama. He thinks everything around him is real. It’s like he’s the only one who doesn’t understand he’s in a comedy, you know. I wasn’t given any funny lines and he’s not a funny character. So, I figured, why not go all the way and just make it as if he’s in a drama, which is one of the reasons I got cut out of most of the movie. [laughs]
But you do actually look terrified in your scenes with John Goodman.
BARTHA: Well, there you go. My acting worked.
What do you think about a sort of conclusiveness to the fact that they’re making three of these movies and there has to be, sort of, a button on these characters over the course of the three films?
BARTHA: I think that personally that is unrealistic and I don’t think that everything has to have a button. That’s not how life works, you know, you don’t have, on your death bed, your lost love doesn’t run into your room and you resolve everything. So, this is a, “You better make a call now. Live your life, buddy. “You know, I mean, the guy, he’s just a guy, man. It’s not some grand scheme. I mean, he is a story, he’s part of the story. He’s there for a reason and he’s gone for a reason.
Not to spoil whether he does or not, but when you heard that this was the last one, was there a thought of, “I don’t know if Doug is going to make it.”
BARTHA: Like going to die? No, I never thought he was going to die, because that takes it into where, you know, although Todd does find death funny, but I just, no, no, I never thought that.
When you go back and look at the finished product, what was your favorite part of the film?
BARTHA: Of the third film? I really loved the stuff with Heather, to be honest. I love when the guys go to re… That’s the one thing about this movie that I think is such a cool departure from the other movies, yet still having that energy of the first one where you don’t have to piece together what happened, but you piece together what happened in the franchise. So, Jade is one of the biggest things that happened in the franchise and Carlos in one of the most iconic figures of the franchise. So, it was a really cool wrap up to that whole story line.
And I enjoyed cameos in this one so much, but Mike Tyson was missing. Did anyone notice? Were you guys disappointed that he didn’t turn up?
BARTHA: Hasn’t he had enough? We love Mike. I mean, everyone involved in these movies, I think we all love, but sometimes, it is a story. Even though the movie seems like a loose fun thing, it is a story and it has to fit in the story. Everyone loves Heather Graham. There’s not one person that doesn’t, but it doesn’t make sense for her to be in Thailand, even though everyone wanted her there. So, it’s just part of the story.
Professionally, how do you follow up a movie like this, a TV series?
BARTHA: You quit. You leave the business.
Was this your first TV series?
BARTHA: I actually did one short-lived one many years ago that was not good and this was the first real thing, yeah.
And would you go back and try it again?
BARTHA: Ummm, I would. I think television is the best. I think it is the heyday of television. I think there are more interesting things on television than anywhere. Network television though, not right now. I think network television is broken.
It’s got too many voices?
BARTHA: No, no, no, no, no. Not necessarily, because Ryan Murphy is a great voice. It has great voices in it. I just think it is in a moment of its evolution that is awkward and I think it’s going to get better, but right now, you know, cable television is more accessible and network television is still there to sell soap.
I did a piece on your show recently and it seemed like the controversy around it seemed to precede the show itself, you know, to where it didn’t get a chance to grow organically. It had big ratings, but for the wrong reasons in the beginning, it seemed like.
BARTHA: Uh, yes, probably. I think the controversy itself, and excuse me for talking about this, but the controversy, I think that’s kind of bullshit.
What was the controversy?
BARTHA: Certain groups, like Million Moms, which is like a group of ten thousand bigoted women, I mean, they’re manipulating you guys.
What were they mad about?
BARTHA: Gays. We’re very proud of what we did in one season and I wouldn’t give that up for the world. It is, I feel so honored and proud to be a part of that show. I’m proud of my work in it and I think it has a great message and I hope to continue that message because there is still, although everyone doesn’t like to talk about it, and especially, you’re probably mostly liberal people, but there’s still a ton of hate and bigotry in the world and you can just go on a comment board on anything on the internet and you’ll see racism and people that hate women, gays, blacks, Mexicans, everything. It’s all out that. So, to roll your eyes at any of these issues, you are turning your shoulder on something that’s a real problem and I do think that our show had a drop in the bucket in the right direction and it was a great thing. That being said, network television is there to sell products and there is one successful comedy on television. Modern Family. It’s the only one and that’s an outlier. Every other single camera comedy show, I’m talking about. Multi-camera is a different business. Single camera, there is not one successful one. So, you cancel everything, which NBC did and I’m sure you’ll have a couple more successes, but it will not change in the next few years. They’ll all be failures because people tape television. They don’t watch it live and everyone knows it’s broken, but you’ve got to sell soap.
So, how much control can you exert over the quality, like you talk about this other show you did that was not very good…
BARTHA: That was years ago and it was even less developed medium. So, it wasn’t as powerful of a show-runner. You need strong show-runners and strong voices and those strong voices right now go to cable television, because they have more freedom. They can tell broader stories. They can have sex and violence. They can have real parts of life, whereas network television is still there to appease a certain demographic that watches live television and the people that watch live television are not necessarily the same people that are out buying things.
So, how much control can you exert of the quality?
BARTHA: As an actor? It’s very frustrating because I have a lot of opinions and you want to make something that is great and you do have to, you know, compromise, but on the flip side, the network executives at NBC were very brave to put this show on the air in the first place. You know, they’re dealing with the same industry. They can’t fix the industry. It’s an evolution, just like anything. Movies are in the same place by the way.
Well, I was going to say, for both of you, how much do you think about the importance on your sort of impact on… In this movie, you have a moment of true sentimentality to sort of the rest of the darkness. Your character has to be that sort of dramatic counterpoint to the comedic stuff. How deliberate or conscious do you guys think about like, I have to come in and provide exactly that tone or whatever it is that…?
GRAHAM: I actually did think about that, because in the first movie where I give him the ring back, I was kind of getting emotional and Todd is like, “Why are you doing that?” I’m like, “I just think it’s sweet, like she’s really in love.” So, I kind of fought with him a little bit about it, but he was totally open to it, because that’s the cool thing about Todd, because while he’s an evil genius, that’s kind of a good way to put it, he knows exactly what he wants, but if you kind of fight for a point of view, he’ll go, “Ok,” you know, but it’s kind of scary to stand up to him, because he’s so…but I was just like, “I really think this is sweet and they’re in love,” and Ed was like, “Yeah, I think this is cool.” So, he was like, “Ok.” So, I do kind of, but you know… He knows exactly what he wants, but if you say, “I want to do this,” he’s open to it.
BARTHA: I mean, I think, personally, I think the good actors are storytellers and I think everyone in the entertainment business, if they’re good at what they do, they have a point of view and they understand the story, not just their part in it. There are certain people that don’t like working with actors like that because you just want to say your lines, but the more people that are thinking about what the filmmakers goal is, it all ends with Todd and starts with Todd, and everyone knows that, but the more people, because he hires you for a reason, that understand what the story is, than the more people are thinking for a common goals and it’s all about collaboration and it should be and the people I have worked with over the course of my career, the successful ones, the ones that are truly admired and successful, they collaborate always, and I think it’s an actor’s job to think about the story and that’s all I thought about. And something like this, sure, a lot of actors, probably would complain, like people ask me, “Don’t you want to be in more of the movie,” and all that stuff and I’m like, “I don’t really care. I want it to be a good movie. I’d rather be part of a good movie than a good part of a bad movie, which I’ve been also and it feels better to be a smaller part in a good movie that people love and you have to think about the whole. You can’t just think about yourself, which I think is a lesson for everyone and everything.