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This summer’s raunchy comedy The Hangover stars Bradley Cooper as the main instigator of a bachelor party that turns disastrous for the groom and best men. Phil (Cooper) takes Doug (Justin Bartha), Doug’s soon to be brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and friend Stu (Ed Helms) to Las Vegas for one last night of debauchery. The wedding is only two days away.

 Bradley Cooper


The gang wakes up with a tiger, a wedding, a baby, a rooster and a missing groom, and spends the rest of the weekend retracing their steps, to find out just how much trouble they got into, desperately trying to find Doug. “I would definitely challenge anybody to rival the night that these guys had, even in your imagination,” Cooper told Dish. “When I read the script I thought, ‘You can’t top this! You really can’t. It’s pretty incredible.’” 


The film skips over the evening at first, revealing the all night adventure piecemeal as the boys uncover clue after clue. Each character plays a specific role within the group, with Stu fretting and worrying about everything, Alan innocently making things worse, and of course Phil.


“I play Phil who's an English school teacher for boys, and he's a father. He's kind of the guy whose bark is a lot bigger than his bite. He talks a big game, going to Vegas and that he's going to get crazy and he loves sort of reliving whatever it is that he doesn't live in his home life. It's like a lot of fathers who talk a big game, but really they love their family and they're actually good guys. He's sort of the problem solver. There's nothing that he can't solve and tries to hold it together even when there's nothing to hold together.”


Phil actually felt like a bit of a stretch for Cooper. Even though he’d played sort of alpha males in Wedding Crashers and He’s Just Not That Into You, he’d never carried the story before.


“When this script was being banged around, I really liked the character and I liked the opportunity to play this kind of guy. He’s an alpha male. It wasn’t so much the character but I liked the synergy between all four guys. I liked that each one was so specific and, just together, if you cast it correctly, I thought it could really have a lot of energy. And the story moves so fast. That is no joke. I mean, this movie starts and you’re like on a jet plane until it ends. It’s rare that you have a comedy that has that kind of engine. Each scene propels to the next one. There’s a mystery to it and even though it’s a comedy it’s not all about the comedy. There’s an engine and we’ve got to get our guy back to the wedding or else we fail. So that engine really drives it. It just read so fast.”

 The Hangover

It was director Todd Phillips who gave Cooper the confidence to play Phil. “I didn't actually [think I could play him.] I really didn't. I just sort of trusted Todd because I was like, 'I don't know if I can pull this off.' But then about two weeks into it I started to get comfortable and I realized that I was figuring it out. But I'm glad that he thought I should do it because I probably wouldn't have thought that I could do it.”


Before Wedding Crashers, Cooper was best known from the first two seasons of Alias, where he played Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner)’s reporter friend Will Tippin. As a sensitive caring friend, Will unintentionally uncovered Sydney’s connection to SD-6 and got thrust into the spy adventures. 


The hangover

That was one typecast to overcome. Then the $200 million hit of Wedding Crashers defined Cooper as the foil to lovable Owen Wilson. “It definitely opened up a lot of opportunities. [Crashers director] David Dobkin was very kind to me and really let me go off and create this crazy character to be the opposite of those two guys. In that sense it definitely allowed other people to see what I could do.”


As Cooper said, Phil works more as part of the group than as his own man. He built a relationship with his costars before filming began so that it would come across on screen. “Zach and I drove to Vegas together, and we were there for a month and a half. I was like, ‘Why don't we drive, because we both lived in Venice in California.’ And I have to say, that drive was kinda cool. Then just living in this casino for a month and a half shooting this movie and working 16 hour days, it sort of happened organically. Then we became really great friends. Ed and I went to Zach's farm for New Years. We just got lucky. It doesn't always happen like that.”


Phil may be the instigator of the plot but Alan has some of the film’s edgiest humor. He blames 9/11 for making it illegal to masturbate on an airplane, and when he finds out that Alan has his grandmother’s ring that survived the Holocaust with her, Alan says, “I didn’t know they gave rings out.”


“I have to say, that was all Zach. He made up all that stuff. We were in the car and he was like, ‘Thanks a lot, Bin Laden’ and when he made the joke about the Holocaust. I think it all depends where it's coming from. Wanda Sykes got a lot of heat for making that 9/11 joke at the White House dinner, because that was said with some sort of cynicism or attacking Rush Limbaugh. Alan is a child. You're hearing it from a guy who is comparing it to masturbating on an airplane. So it's so ridiculous and you're seeing this guy with a beard, who's plump, and who's completely harmless. So he could get away with that. If Phil said that, my character, I don't think it would have been as innocent, but Alan could really get away with anything. And he did.”



While Phil is the leader of his group, behind the scenes, Cooper admired his costars. “Ed and Zach are hilarious. I’m very lucky to have this job. I was always a fan of Zach. I’ve known him for about six years. I remember seeing him in stand-up years ago and I thought he was the best back then, but I didn’t know how good an actor he is. He’s actually a phenomenal actor. And Ed, who I didn’t know before this, he’s a killer, he just kills it. So I’m just trying to keep my head above water and run with these guys. I’m running with a fast pack in this movie and I’m just trying to keep up.”


In the film, the bachelor party stays at Caesar’s Palace, so the film crew stayed there for six weeks while shooting.. Cooper was nervous about resisting the town’s temptations, but persevered.


“I was a little worried about being out here for almost a month. This is the perfect town for a couple of days. Just worried that I’d never come back. There’s a lot of darkness in this town, but we’ve had a blast. We worked all the time.”


The end result is putting on film a Las Vegas that films like Swingers and 21 neglect. “The great thing about it is that I got to see a lot of Vegas that I wouldn’t have seen, like we shot at The Riviera and downtown and the old parts of Vegas. You’re going to see Vegas in the daytime which, as far as I know, you don’t really see. Most of this movie takes place during the next day after ‘the night.’ Most Vegas movies are about the night and this is about the day after the night.”


In order to avoid perpetuating his alpha male typecast, Cooper had hoped to perform theater in Williamstown. “I actually like to act a lot. True West is an amazing play by Sam Shepard. Rob Corddry unfortunately fell out and they asked if I could do it and I love Nate [Corddry], his younger brother. So I see that as a massive opportunity. It's a huge role. Williamstown is a great place. I did it last summer. I did a Theresa Rebeck play there called The Understudy. It's a great venue and so I see that as a huge opportunity.”


In the end, that did not work out after all. “You know the truth is that something happened in my family and I'm not going to be able to do it, unfortunately.”


So, as his film career continues to take off, Cooper hopes that viewers will see the differences between his performances, even though they may seem similar on the surface. “He's Just Not That Into You was a comedy, but my stuff was not comedic at all. It was actually kind of dramatic. But It seems that the comedies are the things that have gotten out there that I've done. But I see it as, sh*t man, if I'm able to work and work on good projects with great people. Things could be worse.”


The Hangover opens  Friday, June 5, 2009 / Issue 99 - September 2018
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