'It Was Our Favorite Day': Todd Phillips on Mike Tyson's Hangover Breakthrough
Candid as he was last week about everything from Las Vegas to the inappropriateness of supplying weed to teenagers, director Todd Phillips might have yielded his most revealing anecdotes while discussing The Hangover's unlikeliest star: Mike Tyson. You already knew he could sing, but no one likely expected him to pull off acting as well. Nobody, that is, except Phillips himself, who recounted to Movieline just how one directs the ex-champ -- especially with Zach Galafianakis's life on the line.
Mike Tyson has a pretty intriguing role here. Can you talk a little bit about the process of recruiting, casting and directing him?
Yeah, when you think of Mike Tyson, "approachable" is not the first word that comes to mind. We wrote that in later when we were rewriting the script. We kind of tweaked it and wrote in this Mike Tyson scene. I thought it'd be great if we could get Mike, and let's see what happens. I called his manager, he sent it to Mike, and Mike read it and called me up that weekend. And he loved it. He loved the opportunity, as he put it, to show his "giddy" side, which I thought was really cool. Because the truth is that he got that we weren't making fun of him, but we were making fun of people's perception of him -- and fucking with that perception. And he got that, and he really came to play and had a great time with it. You can ask any of the actors; it was our favorite day. That one day in particular when Mike was there.
So you're on the set with Mike Tyson. Everyone's set up. And you've got to direct him.
He was very directable. But one funny thing is that there's the scene where he punches Zach in the face. And when you throw a movie punch, there's a certain way to do it because your shoulder can't block the camera. Mike didn't know that. He's a boxer! He's just ready to throw a punch. And he kept doing it. And we didn't want to do it too many times because he came really close to Zach. And Zach was like, "Can we just get this? Because I'm going to die if he hits me." And so I said, "Mike, let me just show you real quick, because you keep blocking the main part of this." I'm literally showing him how to throw a punch. And Mike, on the drop of a hat, turns to Zach and goes, "Check this out! I'm getting boxing lessons from the captain of the Jewish debating team." It's like a fully formed, perfectly timed joke from Mike Tyson. We were all like, "OK, he wins."
Does Mike Tyson actually have a tiger?
Mike had seven tigers when he was at his peak. He did. He doesn't have them now. The city of Las Vegas in fact took them away from him because somebody broke into his house -- this is a true story -- and one of the tigers ripped the guy's arm off.
But why else would you have a tiger?
I know! It's not Mike's fault. The guy climbed over into the tiger cage. Mike told me that story when we were shooting, and it was kind of funny because we came up with that idea of breaking into his house and stealing his tiger. Mike's like [adopts Tyson's nasal lisp], "This really happened, in a way. That's why my tigers got taken away." Oh, I shouldn't do an impression, either. When I direct actors, I always do it in their voice, and Zach literally had to pull me aside and say, "You have to stop doing Mike Tyson to Mike Tyson. You're gonna get killed." I would give him line readings as Mike Tyson -- with the lisp. It was so offensive.
Where did the chicken in the film come from? Was that ever explained?
It's explained in my head. People ask about it, and there's a reason for everything, but sometimes it's just in my head. But this chicken is there because they stole it to feed to the tiger. You wouldn't know that from the movie, but I explain it with the guys on the DVD commentary.