The Hangover / Interview with Ed Helms
Actor Ed Helms Talks Seriously About Comedy
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Actor Ed Helms speaks with KPBS film critic Beth Accomando about his new film The Hangover and about tackling different kinds of comedy.
Actor Ed Helms is probably best known for his work with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" and for his role as Andy in the American version of "The Office." But this week you can find him in the bro-comedy "The Hangover," directed by "Old School's" Todd Phillips. I spoke with the actor when he was in San Diego last month about his new film and tackling different kinds of comedy.
"The Hangover" is about three friends who hit the road with their soon to be married buddy Doug (Justin Bartha). Their destination: Las Vegas. They rent a villa suite for a few grand a night, and make a toast on the rooftop to an unforgettable night of partying. After all, everyone knows that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But what happens when you wake up the morning after and can't remember anything from the night before. And to make matters worse, the groom-to-be is M.I.A.?
"It's about a bachelor party but it's not about the bachelor party at all," says actor Ed Helms.
You could say his new film "The Hangover" is the "Reservoir Dogs" of party movies. "Reservoir Dogs" was a heist film that never shows you the heist, and "The Hangover" is about a wild night in Vegas that only shows the aftermath.
"It then becomes a mystery about what happened," says Helms, "and the audience along with the main characters is completely bewildered and lost and trying to figure out what happened and piecing together the clues with the main characters."
Helms says that's the cool narrative trick that hooked him. It hooks the audience too and breathes fresh life into this raunchy bro-comedy about four friends and a wild bachelor party. When the guys wake up they find a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, and the worst hangovers on record.In addition, they have to explain to the waiting bride that they have somehow misplaced her husband-to-be Doug.
Helm's character Stu wakes up to find he now has a wife and baby but he's lost his friend Doug and a lateral incisor.
"My character Stu is sort of a henpecked, nervous Nellie, a bit of rule follower," says Helms. "He's very uncomfortable when things stray from their intended course and over the course of the movie things get so wildly out of control that it sort of has this Zen-like effect on Stu and ultimately it grounds him a little bit more and he comes out the other end a little more confident."
For a raunchy comedy, Stu gets a surprisingly strong character arc as he goes through multiple changes. That's very different from the supporting roles he's had in "Walk Hard" or in "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," where he played an interpreter. In a supporting role like that, Helms says you don't have the burden of carrying the film so you make different choices about how to play the comedy.
"It's a matter of trying to do that one joke well," explains Helms, "and making one strong choice about what that joke is and how to play it. It's very different from a character who shows wide range of emotions."
Like Stu who gets to transform from someone who's afraid of life to someone who's willing to take risks. And taking risks is what doing comedy is all about. But Helms says those comic gambles are very different in a TV series like "The Office" versus a film like "The Hangover."
"On a movie you have to make very big choices about what kind of person your character is right away because there's no time for that character to change," Helms tells me. "Whereas on 'The Office,' my character Andy started out with major anger issues and over time he became something different. That was something you can only do in TV because it's protracted over a year and half. In a movie you have to make all your choices up front and stick with them."
The choices Helms makes in "The Hangover" pay off. His character, like the others in the film, begins as a comic type but gets to develop some appealing dimensions. "The Hangover" is not as deliciously dark as "Very Bad Things" in which another Vegas bachelor party goes horribly wrong. Instead, "The Hangover" goes for a likable, raunchy buddy flick with the narrative structure of a film noir lost weekend.
For anyone who wants to know what really happened at the bachelor party, just stay through the end credits and enjoy a montage of mostly improvised photos of the guys partying it up with – among others – Mike Tyson, Wayne Newton and a tiger.
Companion viewing: "Very Bad Things," "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," "Old School"