Todd Phillips on Summer Movie Memories, Loving Michael Bay and the Darkness of Hangover II

hangover_poster_excerpt.jpgTwo years after The Hangover became one of the most unexpected summer blockbusters of the last decade, director Todd Phillips reunites with his original cast (and introduces a monkey that is not -- repeat, not -- addicted to cigarettes) in Bangkok for the hotly anticipated sequel The Hangover Part II. It was a long way to go for their art, but that's the price you pay when things need to go a little... well, darker.

As part of our week-long 2011 summer preview, Movieline caught up with Phillips to talk over the highs and lows of the build-up to Hangover Part II (opening May 26), his own summer movie memories, the real downside of 3-D and why Michael Bay may yet have the movie of the season.

So, another Hangover. How are you holding up?

This is the exciting part of making a movie. You put so much work into making a film, and when there's this much anticipation for a movie -- which I personally haven't experienced before -- it's just exciting. I mean, it's stressful, of course, and you're rushing to get things done. We had a pretty quick turnaround on this movie, relatively speaking, in movie terms. We were still shooting in Bangkok on New Year's. So to be coming out on Memorial Day all over the world has been stressful. But outside of the logistical stuff, it's been really exciting.

I could sense recently you might be a bit frazzled. How would you describe your relationship these days with the movie media as a whole -- how you and your films are perceived, discussed and disseminated?

"Discussed and disseminated" is hard to pay attention to because there's so much stuff nowadays. It used to be there were four big sources, and you'd read those and they'd either break your heart or not. And that would be it. Now there's such a plethora of criticism and critiquing and pulling apart every image that gets released from a movie. On one hand it's kind of thrilling and cool; it's amazing that it's a story when a still gets released from any old movie. Not even just The Hangover II, but any movie. That would never have had happened [before]. The landscape has changed so much that you kind of have to put on goggles and not pay attention to it, because as you know, on the Internet it can get pretty harsh.

I know. I've recently been fighting off one commenter repeatedly writing the word "c*nt" on one of our reviews.

It's pretty crazy. I guess it's the equivalent of the bathroom wall in high school -- at least at my high school. It's just anonymous postings from who knows. But I think it sometimes actually sparks good conversation and all that. But believe it or not, I really try not to pay attention to it, except when friends or family members will e-mail me links and say, "Hey, have you seen this?"

You mentioned the thrill of movie news a moment ago. How frustrating is it as well, sometimes, to have so many secrets or details about your film divulged before it's even finished shooting?

Well, yeah. That part is the heartbreaking part, and it's not because we think we're holding on to some national secrets when we're making The Hangover II. It's just because I know from experience that comedy works so well when there's a surprise element. So it's tough to have things dissected on the Internet or in newspapers or wherever six months before you release the film -- sometimes before you even shoot scenes, you know? Some people are making declarations before you've even shot it. It's hard because I think it's so nice for movies in general, when they're being made, to fly under the radar. Let the filmmakers and the actors and whomever make the film, and then we can come out and talk about it and judge it. It does get frustrating.

And again, I've never experienced it, and again, I'm not complaining. These are uptown problems to have. It's nice to have a film people are anticipating that much. That's the thrilling part: that's there's that many people interested and involved in movies now. That's what I mean by "uptown problems." It's a lot better than everybody just ignoring the movie. You make movies for audiences to see and hopefully enjoy -- as big an audience as possible. That's always the best part for me. It's fun that they're discussing it. It's always a good sign.

Do you ever feel like going into some kind of top-secret JJ Abrams-style lockdown with your projects? Would it help? Is it even possible?

It's possible. He certainly does it on some level. I think every filmmaker tries to do it. There's just so much you can keep secret. JJ's movie Super 8, which looks unbelievable, was not a movie that was on the radar while he was making it. You know what I'm saying? Hangover II is a tough thing to keep under the radar. I think he'd have a harder time keeping Star Trek II under the radar, even with his approach of top secrecy, which I totally respect and envy. I just think it's harder with a known title and a known entity. You'd see these guys when we were shooting in Bangkok. we were on the other side of the world, and there were photographers everywhere. I don't even mean paparazzi. I mean guys with cell-phone cameras sending [pictures] out to their Twitter as our guys are walking down the street. You can only keep something so top secret if you want to shoot it out in the real world. It's not like we're making it on a soundstage.

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