THE HANGOVER PART II directed by Todd Phillips, written by Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong and Phillips, with Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong. A Warner Bros release. 102 minutes. Opens today (Thursday, May 26). See listing.
Zach Galifianakis shouldn't be anyone's idea of a movie star. But The Hangover changed all that; suddenly, the cult comic and occasional actor was the MVP of the most successful R-rated comedy in recorded history. Last week he was on the cover of Entertainment freakin' Weekly, along with castmates Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms, as part of the publicity push for The Hangover Part II.
"I was so used to this underground happiness," he laughs, "and then you get above ground a little bit, and... yeah."
It's a little weird listening to Galifianakis think his way through his answers. He chooses his words carefully, speaking almost haltingly before fixing on a response and picking up speed. His rhythms are entirely unlike the snippy speech patterns of his Hangover character, the sociopathic Alan - and also very different from those of the Zach Galifianakis who resentfully interviews superstars on FunnyOrDie.com's Between Two Ferns.
I've been a fan of his for nearly a decade now, and when The Hangover broke, I was sort of amazed that a mass audience would embrace the eccentric, confrontational persona he'd spent years refining in his stand-up act. (If you've never seen him live, go watch Zach Galifianakis Berates An Audience Member on YouTube.)
But as surprised as I might have been, he was a lot more surprised to see himself blow up.
"I never was against it whatsoever," he says during a press day for The Hangover Part II. "I just was never expecting it."
But this is what happens when you become famous: everyone wants a piece of you. And if they have a piece of you, they exploit it to the fullest: Little Fish, Strange Pond, a 2009 movie in which Galifianakis plays a teeny, tiny role, can be released on DVD with a new name - Frenemy - and cover art that suggests he's the star.
"I know!" he says, giggling when I mention the title. "I'm in it for, like, nine minutes or something. It's dishonest, the packaging of that movie, and I just can't believe people do that. Don't you think you turn more people off by doing that than just releasing it as it was originally? But I guess that's the way it is - you know, you're looking for a job and you do it, and they do the old switcheroo on you."
Galifianakis is a little more selective about the jobs he takes these days. After The Hangover hit, he found a fine showcase for his awkward, quick-to-anger stage persona in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's psych-ward dramedy It's Kind Of A Funny Story, which played at last year's Toronto Film Festival. Next, he reunited with Hangover director Todd Phillips for Due Date, which stuffed him into a car with Robert Downey Jr.
"Todd is a real filmmaker," Galifianakis says. "I've stressed to him, ‘What are you doing? Why are you wasting your time with these Hangover movies?' I don't mean that, I'm saying that tongue-in-cheek. Comedy's hard to do. It's harder to do, I think, than musicals or straight dramatic things. [But] he doesn't think those sets would be fun - and what we do try to do on these movies is make each other laugh. Todd and I have kind of very similar senses of humour when it comes to saying the wrong things."
You can feel it in their collaborations - particularly the original Hangover, where Phillips used the actor's teddy-bear physicality as a contrast to his spiky, self-interested character. If you read him on the page, Alan comes off as a loathsome, destructive moron, but in the film he's somehow lovable.
"He doesn't have to make that much sense," Galifianakis admits, "and that is a very convenient thing. Now, having said that, you do see him in more dire straits in the second one - he notices the consequences of his actions."
I ask Galifianakis about getting into the head of a dull-witted, dangerous man-child with an unhealthy fixation on the Jonas Brothers and he sort of snuffles a laugh.
"Listen, I Zen out," he says. "I just try to be as loose as I can and think, ‘Well, if I' - meaning me as a person - ‘were in this situation and I was an idiot, more so than I am now, what would I do? What would this character do?' I mean, somebody's gonna cry eventually... and to see a grown man with a beard cry and get upset is inherently funny to me."
That said, Galifianakis - just like Bradley Cooper, in a separate interview - is quick to point to Ed Helms as the sequel's most valuable player.
"I saw the movie for the first time, like, 10 days ago," he says, "and when I saw Ed's stuff I was covering my eyes - and I was there when we were filming it, by the way," he laughs. "Ed just dug deep."
If The Hangover Part II does similar business to the original - and a lot of people seem to think it will - don't expect Galifianakis to make any drastic changes. He still spends as much time as he can on his farm in North Carolina to keep from being sucked into the whole movie star thing.
"As a comic, I think it could be poison to be so into it," he says. "but you're forced to get into it a little bit. I don't know. No one ever asked me a question in my life. Now all of a sudden people are asking me questions. It's bizarre. I'm not complaining, I'm just... I think I'm still shell-shocked."
As a fan, I have to tell him I'm kind of happy he's become so well-known - even if it's making his life a little harder in the short term.
"Well, thank you," he says. "I'll try to make some happiness out of it."