The Hot Seat: Todd Phillips

The Hangover director weighs in on Gibson, Sandler...and Mr. Kim.

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Illustration: Dan Park


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Mel Gibson was supposed to have a cameo in The Hangover Part II but didn't. What happened?
I thought it would be a very irreverent, fun idea, but there was push-back from some people [on the film] that didn't see it that way. It is such a family environment when we make a movie; everyone has to feel safe. On day three of shooting, I didn't want to rupture that, and honestly it was before anything had even come out [regarding Gibson's controversial voice mail]. But I am someone who has empathy for anybody who has ever struggled with addiction. When some agent in Hollywood makes a public declaration that one of the great directors and actors of our time will never work again in this town, I'm going, Who the fuck are you? You never wrote anything; you never directed anything. You're not gonna tell me who's a fucking actor and who's not.

What was it like shooting in Bangkok?
Difficult. They don't really understand what an orange cone is. So you would be shooting a scene with five cameras five feet from Bradley Cooper, and all of a sudden a guy on a moped just goes flying through. They don't give a fuck about orange cones and permits.

This is your third film in a row with Zach Galifianakis. Has your chemistry changed?
I think now we trust each other so much that sometimes I will have a scene that I feel is halfway there but I trust that Zach is going to fill in what he needs [in order] to make it work.

Can you give an example?
In Due Date, there is this whole scene that was just kind of made up on the spot, where Downey was yelling at Zach outside of the hospital. He goes, "Did you get that? That was Shakespeare. Surely you know him." And Zach says, "Yes, I know him. He is a famous pirate, and for your information it is Shakesbeard." It is the stupidest joke in the world, but I love it.

Is there someone else you've been dying to collaborate with the way you do with Zach?
There are a million people, but there is somebody right now that I have never worked with for some reason: Adam Sandler. People can say what they want about Sandler's movies, but Sandler as a comic actor is just one of the greatest. I have talked to him before, but we just haven't found the [project]. I like the guys that have their own very specific voice, and I think Adam Sandler has that. I would love to get in and fuck around with it.

After dropping out of NYU, you made your breakthrough doc, Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. Were you a fan of GG's?
It was more that I was a fan of the scene, of punk. I once went, when I was 17, to Lismore Lounge to see GG. He literally was shooting heroin at the bar upstairs. And he is at the top of the stairs and just tumbles down. And of course there is no show and he passes out. By the way, the audience is all kicking his body because they are pissed there is no show. Then he ended up getting arrested and I wrote him a letter in jail and asked him about doing this movie. It was a very bizarre beginning of a film career.

You worked at Kim's Video, right?
I did, on St. Marks, in 1988 or '89. I was actually fired by Mr. Kim himself.

Why?
I was working from 8am to 4pm, but no one would come in at eight in the morning except to return tapes. And he walked in and I was sleeping at the counter with my head down. He hit the glass case and he goes, [In a Korean accent] "You're fired!" And I said, "What?" because I didn't understand him. My favorite thing about Mr. Kim was he had an accountant called Dr. No, because anytime anyone asked him anything, his job was just to say no. Nobody knew his real name. I would go in and say, "I wasn't paid for two hours of overtime last week," and Kim would say, "Just speak to Dr. No."

The Hangover Part II opens Thu 26.

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