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The Untold Truth Of The Hangover Trilogy

The bachelor party comedy has been done. It's been done to death. Weeks before "The Hangover" hit theaters in 2009, director Todd Phillips confessed to The New York Times, "The worst thing about the movie is that it's about a bachelor party in Vegas," revealing the twist that made this movie so fresh, saying "we made a bachelor party movie where you never see the bachelor party." Instead, we watch Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) try to reconstruct their night, hoping to discover where and when they lost Doug (Justin Bartha), the soon-to-be groom.

We see a different Las Vegas in "The Hangover." We don't see neon, smart suits, and sequins; we see sweat and regret. As Galifianakis told The New York Times, "Todd wanted to show this gross, more real part of Vegas that you see during the day, with the stains on the sidewalk." We see the hungover and stinking morning after a wild night in the city of sin. The "Hangover" franchise puts consequences front and center and somehow finds humor in the realization that last night was a big mistake.

Raunchy, hilarious, and irreverent, "The Hangover" was a surprise hit that won over audiences with the comedic chemistry of its cast, becoming a hugely successful R-rated comedy franchise. "The Hangover Part II" took the Wolfpack to Bangkok, where they took another walk on the wild side. While "The Hangover Part III" wasn't as commercially successful as the first two films, it continued with the theme of consequences, showing how one choice can affect your life for years to come. Stick around as we discover the untold truth of "The Hangover" trilogy.

Film producer Tripp Vinson's bachelor party inspired The Hangover

Apparently, the idea for "The Hangover" was born when producer Chris Bender heard about how producer Tripp Vinson vanished from his own bachelor party in Las Vegas. Bender took the idea to the writing team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who started developing the idea for New Line Cinema. Although the finished script eventually landed with Warner Bros. Pictures, attached to Todd Phillips as director (per Deadline).

When Nikki Finke with Deadline checked out this origin story, Vinson told her, "I remember being a drunken fool, as you're supposed to do at your bachelor party, and having a really good time with all my friends. But then I remember being a mess ... I got separated from my friends, and I blacked out. And when I was revived, I was in a strip club being threatened with a very, very large bill I was supposed to pay. It was not a fun experience at the time, but it made for a funny story."

Vinson was right. It made for a funny story, although he wasn't involved in the film's development, telling Deadline, "I wasn't even aware of it. Once the spec went out, I became aware of it. I know they embellished the story." Bender is making a reputation for himself as a producer who keeps turning real-life stories into comedies, as he did with "American Pie" and "Just Friends."

The stars of The Hangover became real friends while filming

Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, and Zach Galifianakis have terrific screen chemistry and comedic timing. This alchemy created a successful comedy franchise, and the credit goes to director Todd Phillips, who selected his cast carefully. Phillips told USA Today, "I call it anti-chemistry," adding that the trick, "is finding guys who don't appear to be like each other. Too many comedies have actors whose comedy styles are similar, so it's one note. I like guys whose styles are polar opposites of each other."

When the first movie came out, Ed Helms told The A.V. Club the trio had known each other casually for years, but "once we all got together before the movie started, it just clicked. I tip my hat to Todd for that, bringing together three guys who are really different, but really appreciate each other's humor and sensibilities." This comedic chemistry transcended filming, turning into a genuine friendship for this trio. Helms said, "We went through the wringer together, and that shared experience really made us genuine buddies. And I think you see that onscreen somewhat."

In an interview with USA Today, Cooper said, "Great actors can fake chemistry. But audiences know when it's really there, and I think that's what people pick up on." Cooper added, Galifianakis was the first person he called when his father died in 2011, saying, "We went from co-workers to friends a long time ago." Phillips told USA Today his approach with all three films, saying, "You set up a camera and let them be the Wolfpack, because they're kind of a real one, with as much heart."

Ed Helms lost 8 lb. while filming The Hangover

While filming the first movie, Ed Helms, who plays Stu, the mild-mannered dentist with a wild man hidden deep inside, said he lost 8 lb. because of how physically strenuous filming was. Helms told The A.V. Club the roughest night of shooting was "Probably the night when Mr. Chow rams the car, and then they pull us out and rough us up. That whole night was really intense. We shot us getting hit by the car, and we did a lot of takes where the guys pull us out of the car—by the way, getting pulled out of a car hurts! Especially after the 10th time."

Helms may have also lost weight filming "The Hangover Part II," while on location in Thailand. He even missed seeing President Clinton speak because he was too busy vomiting. Todd Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter, "Ed had food poisoning the whole time we were in Bangkok."

Ed Helms was simultaneously filming The Office and The Hangover

Ed Helms was part of the ensemble cast of "The Office" when he was cast as Stu in "The Hangover." Helms told The Hollywood Reporter, "Just trying to close my deal was such a nightmare because NBC was in first position with my schedule." The showrunner was very helpful, consolidating all of Helms' scenes into two days of shooting. Helms chartered flights, saying, "I'd go from Vegas to Van Nuys Airport at 4 in the morning because we were doing shoots all night, then I'd land in Van Nuys, drive to the set and shoot all day on 'The Office,' completely Red Bull-ed out of my brain."

Helms continued with the craziness while filming "The Hangover Part II," but in the final season of "The Office," Helms was given a break from the series to film "The Hangover Part III." Andy's absence was written into the storyline of the NBC hit series. Andy is absent from multiple episodes of Season 9 when he sails away to the Caribbean on a family boat, abandoning his girlfriend for three months (per Mental Floss). The television series and film franchise that made Helms famous wrapped up around the same time. "It's a lot of feelings mixed up. There's a nostalgia, there's sadness, there's a tremendous feeling of gratitude to have just been on these two wonderful rides," Helms told Time.

Lindsay Lohan was in talks for the part of Jade before Heather Graham

Todd Phillips met with Lohan (they share an agent) to discuss the role of Jade, but ultimately Phillips cast Heather Graham, who loved the role. Graham told The Hollywood Reporter, "I found the character to be complex. Even though she's a stripper, I loved that she's also this genuine, emotional person. She met Stu and fell in love with him." Graham was thrilled to reprise the role in "The Hangover Part III," and she even shared the backstory she made to help flesh out the role, telling Independent, "She wanted to be a writer and was going to go to night school. That's not what happens to her but I'm so happy for her. I wanted her life to get better!"

Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter he decided Lohan was just too young for the role, while rumors swirled after "The Hangover," was successful, suggesting Lohan turned the job down thinking it "had no potential." Phillips addressed these rumors, saying, "Honestly, it felt like she ended up being too young for what we were talking about. People love to attack her for everything, like: 'Ha, she didn't see how great "The Hangover" was going to be. She turned it down.' She didn't turn it down. She loved the script, actually. It really was an age thing."

Stu's missing tooth was not a special effect or prosthetic 

If there is proof Ed Helms was born to play Stu in "The Hangover," we don't need to look any further than his right lateral incisor. When the production team was discussing what to do about Stu's missing tooth, Helms told them his tooth was an implant he'd had since he was 15. Helms told The Hollywood Reporter, "I talked to my dentist and he said, 'Yeah, we can take it out.' He was a champ. He's in the credits. So he took the tooth out, and he had to make a special piece to then screw into the hole so that the gum tissue stays healthy. He made me a flipper with the fake tooth on it that I could take in and out because I was still shooting on 'The Office.'"

Ken Jeong quit his day job as a doctor to become an actor

Ken Jeong, who played Mr. Chow in "The Hangover," is a Korean American actor and the son of immigrants. He was actually a medical doctor before becoming an actor. He worked at Kaiser in Southern California. Ken told NPR, "During the day, I was a doctor. At night, you know, I was a comic. And it was really just to let off some steam." Jeong credits his wife, who is also a doctor, for encouraging him to follow his dreams. After his role in "Knocked Up," she encouraged him to pursue acting full-time.

Todd Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter, "The Mr. Chow character that we wrote was always supposed to be a 60-year-old Asian guy, and I kind of resisted bringing in Ken for it," but after Jeong came in for a reading everything obviously changed. Mr. Chow was so popular with fans they expanded his part in the second and third movies, and Jeong credits his success with "The Hangover" franchise, telling Distractify, "I would not have a career if it wasn't for 'The Hangover.' All of the success I've enjoyed is because of that."

In an interview with Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jeong revealed how much he identifies with the character Teddy (Mason Lee) from "The Hangover II," saying, "When I met Mason at the rehearsal, I told him, 'Teddy is me as a kid.' ... I skipped a grade when I was a kid. My father wanted me to be a physician. I played the violin. I related to every aspect of Mason's character. Mason does such a good job in the role."

Ken Jeong's wife started cancer treatment when he was filming The Hangover

Ken Jeong's life and career were full of things to be grateful for. He was the new father of twin girls and he had landed what would become his breakout role in "The Hangover." A cloud descended over Jeong and his family when his wife Tran found a lump while breastfeeding their daughters. They diagnosed her with breast cancer in 2008 and she began treatment while Jeong was filming in Las Vegas (per Huffington Post). Jeong told The Hollywood Reporter, "It was a very magical shoot. My wife was going through breast cancer and chemotherapy at the time. [She recovered.] It was part of the reason I was so unhinged in the character; I think I was working out my own demons. Todd and Bradley were the only people who knew."

This experience was also something that cemented Bradley Cooper and Jeong's friendship. While filming in Las Vegas, Cooper drove Jeong back to Los Angeles to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family because Tran was too weak from chemo to travel to Las Vegas for the holiday. Jeong told Entertainment Tonight, "Bradley had us come over to his place and be with his family. It got me through the most difficult period of my life." Jeong also shared, "Tran is such, like, my role model and hero. Even if we weren't married. I mean, she is just the strongest person that I know."

Some of the nudity was in the script, and some was not

In "The Hangover," Mr. Chow was supposed to leap out of the trunk of the car in his underwear, but Jeong told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "It was my idea to do it naked. No one made me do it. I thought, if I do that, this movie will go like a bottle-rocket. Bradley and I are good friends. We did 'All About Steve' prior to 'The Hangover.' He and I had dinner the night before we shot that scene. I talked about my plan. Bradley loved it. As an actor, he was encouraging me to be fearless, too."

Although Jeong and Cooper weren't nervous about filming the scene, apparently the production got some flack from Las Vegas police. Director Todd Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter, "When Ken jumped out of the trunk, there was a policeman who said that people were complaining from Mandalay Bay, which was in no way true. He said, 'You keep doing it, and we're going to shut you down,'" leading to a wall of blackout cloth being constructed to obscure the view.

Zach Galifianakis is responsible for the jockstrap Alan is sporting in "The Hangover" while being fitted for his tux before Doug's wedding. Galifianakis told Hollywood, "I had said to Todd, 'I've seen tighty-whities in movies before. I've seen many guys do it. But I've never seen a jock strap.' A guy wearing a jock strap with a tuxedo is really funny to me." Galifianakis also admitted that Phillips talked him into not having pants on when Alan encountered the tiger in the bathroom.

Todd Phillips wanted to use a real taser

Todd Phillips certainly garnered a reputation as a trickster and eternal frat boy with his earlier movies, "Road Trip and "Old School," and he carried this theme into the "Hangover" franchise. Phillips told USA Today, "Basically, every 'Hangover' movie has been me and Zach, trying to make each other laugh when the cameras aren't rolling. Then we put that in the movie." One-upmanship is apparently an important part of Phillips' planning process too. Phillips wanted to use a real taser on the actors while filming "The Hangover," believing their genuine reactions would get laughs.

Unfortunately for us, the studio lawyers wouldn't allow it. Zach Galifianakis told The New York Times, "He goes, 'Look at these clips on YouTube. 'It doesn't hurt that much.' And then the Warner Bros. lawyers stepped in, thank God." While Galifianakis was relieved, he didn't get tased on set, rumor has it Bradley Cooper was game to shoot 50,000 volts through his system in the name of comedy! As hilarious as it is to see Steve-O get tased, Warner Bros. probably made the right call.

The Hangover movies are some of the highest-grossing R-rated comedies ever

"The Hangover" is still the top-grossing R-rated comedy ever. While a few PG-13 comedies have earned more at the box office, "The Hangover" has held onto this spot since 2009, when it hit theaters and broke records, unseating "Beverly Hills Cop" from the top-earning R-rated comedy spot (per Cinema Blend).

"The Hangover Part II" was also a huge earner, landing in fifth place just after its predecessor in terms of all-time domestic pull. "The Hangover Part III" is a departure from the first two films. The plot breaks away from the reconstruction of the blacked-out mayhem of the first two films, digging into the criminal underworld Leslie Chow is part of, when Doug, Stu, Phil, and Alan are pulled into danger when Mr. Chow escapes from prison in Thailand.

The third film in the franchise didn't do fantastic at the box office but still earned a profit after accounting for worldwide ticket sales. The trilogy has earned $1.4 billion worldwide at the box office (per The Numbers). In 2013, Forbes crowned "The Hangover" franchise the highest-earning R-rated domestic box office franchise to date.

The original script was wildly different from the film

Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote the original script for "The Hangover," but once director Todd Phillips got his hands on the script, new characters and subplots emerged. Ed Helms said, "The structure of the film was there before Todd came on, but it wasn't as imaginative" (per USA Today). Bradley Cooper, who plays Phil in "The Hangover" trilogy, agreed, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "The characters were different in the original script. I was a used-car salesman. There wasn't a Mr. Chow. I mean, Todd created everything." 

Phillips elaborated, explaining how Mike Tyson and his tiger found their way into the script during a writing session with Jeremy Garelick, saying, "Oh, you know what's funny? Mike Tyson. I once read he has tigers. They stole it from Mike Tyson." Phillips also revealed that there also wasn't a baby or a stolen cop car in the original script. These are arguably the funniest and most out-of-control parts of the film, proving that without Phillips at the helm, it would have been a vastly different film.

The staged photos running through the credits were Jeremy Garelick's idea

Script revisionist Jeremy Garelick suggested they stage photos for the Wolfpack to find on a digital camera after returning home (per The Hollywood Reporter). Phillips called the photos "one of the biggest ideas of 'The Hangover.' ... It explains so much. It explains his tooth." The photo of Alan in a compromising position in an elevator with an elderly woman is one of the biggest laughs and the most inappropriate images in the collection. They used a prosthetic for the photo, and the woman hired for the shoot was a retired adult film star. According to Bradley Cooper, "She was such a character." Galifianakis said, "I offered Todd's assistant $1,000 to talk Todd into taking that out of the movie" because he was so terribly embarrassed by the experience. Galifianakis told Hollywood, "I was much more embarrassed than she was. She didn't care. She didn't care at all."

President Bill Clinton visited the set in Thailand

Members of the cast saw President Bill Clinton speak while they were in Thailand. Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter, "Ed had food poisoning the whole time we were in Bangkok. The rest of us ended up going, and we got to go to dinner with President Clinton. We were like, 'Hey, why don't you come by the set?' So he came by. He loved [the first movie]. He loves comedies." This set visit launched a rumor Clinton would make a cameo in the film, a rumor that was quickly dispelled by Ed Helms when he told MTV, "He came and visited us. I'd be surprised if there's a scene in the movie."

It was also rumored Charlie Sheen would make a cameo in "The Hangover Part II," which was denied when Phillips told Entertainment Weekly, "Somebody on some tiny little site made something up that said Charlie Sheen was in talks for 'Hangover 2' and then it gets picked up on every other site as a fact. It's not true. It's so frustrating." Speaking of cameos, Phillips confirmed Mel Gibson and later Liam Neeson almost made an appearance as the tattoo artist before Nick Cassavetes played the character.

Director Todd Phillips waived his director fee to have the cast he wanted

The way director Todd Phillips tells it, Ed Helms was always Stu, but casting Bradley Cooper as Phil and Zach Galifianakis as Alan was a challenge. As Phillips revealed to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. really wanted a big star to headline "The Hangover." At one point in the writing process, Alan was a younger brother, and they considered actors like Jonah Hill and even Jake Gyllenhaal. They also considered both Paul Rudd and Jack Black for roles in the film, although both actors turned it down.

Cooper said, "I didn't hear from [Phillips]. I remember checking in, and they said, 'Yeah, budgetary problems; they're going to need a name.'" Still, Phillips believed in the chemistry of the original ensemble he wanted to cast and pushed for it with the studio. Warner Bros. wanted to cut his director fee, with a bonus if the film was successful. Phillips' managers came back with another offer. Ultimately, Phillips waived most of his director fee for a larger stake in the film's box office, and the rest, as they say, is history!