It may not have played a lot of film festivals, other than the Old Town Taito International Comedy Film Festival in Japan, but the rude, raucous and surprisingly very funny bro comedy The Hangover did make it onto at least one august film body's top-10 list of 2009: No less than the American Film Institute placed it on a rostrum that includes the likes of Up in the Air, Precious and The Messenger. This, for the cinema's second-highest-grossing R-rated comedy? Hang that on your critical clothesline!
Variety announced back in July that director Todd Phillips has the go-ahead to shoot a sequel, with production commenting October 6, 2010, for a Memorial Day 2011 release. With The Hangover now out on DVD, what better time than to revisit Ed Helms, who stars with Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis in this comic misadventure about the aftermath of four friends' inadvertent drug-blackout in Las Vegas.
Helms, who plays the obnoxious Andy Bernard on NBC's The Office, is in person actually a pretty nice guy. Born and raised in Atlanta, Ga., he first rose to fame as one of the satiric "correspondents" on comedian Jon Stewart's faux-news program The Daily Show.
In The Hangover, he plays a bland dentist bullied by his girlfriend (Rachael Harris) and who, with his buds, must deal with a lost night, a found tiger, a baby, marriage with a stripper (Heather Graham), and Mike Tyson lip-syncing Phil Collins.
FL: Your character through most of the movie has a missing tooth, which happened during their missing night. How'd they do the effect? CGI?
EH: No, it's not CGI. I'd gotten an implant when I was a teenager, and cut to 20 years later, this part and this movie called for a missing tooth. And I asked my dentist and he was able to take it out!
FL: Ah, c'mon. For real?
EH: I'm dead serious! And if you really look closely, it's pretty clear it's real. When (the idea) originally came up, we did camera tests with some alternative processes. We tried to black it out and then they made a prosthetic that sort of covered my teeth but had a gap in it, which it made me look like a donkey, so I vetoed that. We were sort of talking about losing the joke altogether and I said hold on a second, and that's when I called my dentist. And it worked! It would have been really expensive to digitally remove it.
FL: Speaking of that, were you ever physically on the set with the tiger, or digitally inserted later?
EH: It was an actual tiger and I was on the set with the tiger – actually three tigers. You can't work with a tiger for longer than a certain amount of time, so they had three of them there. We were on set with them together way more than we should have been!
FL: How close does one get to a tiger?
EH: Bradley fed the tiger a baby bottle full of chicken blood. I am not kiddin'! I was sitting next to Bradley when he did that. That's actually not in the movie, oddly enough. But it was ridiculous – it's a baby bottle full of blood, for God's sake! And the tiger is slurping on the bottle nipple, and it's chicken blood! Strange [laughs]. That was routine, to be, like, two or three feet away. Routine and crazy, let me put it that way.
FL: Routine and crazy – the actor's motto.
EH: That sort of typified the movie – the utterly insane became mundane [laughs]. At all times the tiger was on a leash and it was quote unquote restrained by a trainer. However the tiger weighed three times more than the trainer and the leash might -- might -- have been able to hold a border collie.
One of the first nights that we worked with the tigers ... all the trainers were way more nervous than usual. And of course it turns out tigers hunt at night. So at night they get basically, like, horny for murdering humans. It was really sketchy because they were in their trailer pacing and grunting and snorting and there was just something really foreboding about the whole night. We only lost about six crewmembers… [jokes]
FL: I assume the Humane Society was on set.
EH: Sure, yeah. Even for the chicken [the guys find in their room]. They're on the ball. There's a lot of supervision. But they looking out for the animals, not for the actors!
FL: What was scarier, the tiger or Mike Tyson?
EH: The tiger. Mike Tyson was just great.
FL: A pussycat, you might say.
EH: I'm not sure I'd go that far! [laughs]
FL: How do you channel your inner asshole to play Andy Bernard on The Office?
EH: That's exactly what I do – I just channel my inner asshole, I guess. That character is really just an amalgamation of every asshole I've ever known and everything that I find annoying in other people or that I'm insecure about in my own life or find annoying about myself. I just sort of heighten all that with Andy. The fun thing about him, too, is he's not self-aware at all and yet he's incredibly earnest. It's really fun.
FL: In the middle of The Hangover, your character sits at a piano and sings this song recapping the movie so far. How'd that come about?
EH: That was really cool, actually. That piano was just on the set, and I used to sit at it and just play around and make up stupid songs to try to make the crew laugh between takes or whatever. And Todd [Phillips, the director] was really tickled by that and said, "Hey, we should put that in the movie – there's a prefect place for it right after you guys roofie the tiger where the narratives kinda needs to take a breath. Why don't you write a song and we'll stick it in there?" So I went off and wrote the song in about an hour and we shot it right then.
FL: You were raised in Atlanta. Where you born there?
EH: I was born in Piedmont Hospital [a major hospital in northeast Atlanta] and grew up in the same house my whole childhood. My parents just moved out of the same house where I was raised.
FL: In suburban Atlanta or in the city?
EH: Very much Atlanta proper.
FL: What did your family do?
EH: My dad was an attorney and my mom worked at a school in Atlanta. She was a development coordinator – a fundraiser kind of person [at] a school for kids with learning disabilities in Atlanta.
FL: And you got your start as a comedian in New York after college?
EH: Yeah. I studied film at Oberlin [College, in Ohio] and then moved to New York City and started doing standup right away. Actually I started [while] in college – I lived in New York City (during) my summers.
FL: After college you worked at a film post-production facility, as your day-job?
EH: Actually, I stated out doing technical support for Avid [film-]editing systems, because I was way into editing and stuff from my studying film in college. So I was trained as an Avid support tech. Through the company I worked for I would service these post-production companies. And one of them hired me because I was always there and always fixing their machine. So they hired me as an assistant editor … at a sort of boutique little company called Crew Cuts that catered to high-end advertising. It was super fun – we worked on a lot of really cool commercials. A lot of the Super Bowl commercials came to our shop.
And I was way ahead of the curve since I knew all of the hardware and software. Then I just had to learn the drill of being an assistant editor and eventually I became what's called a cutting assistant, where I was actually editing some commercials.
FL: That's when you started doing voiceover work, which is how you then made a living.
EH: Yeah, I would put my voice down on all the commercials I worked on, as a placeholder while I worked on it, and I started to book a couple of accounts that way. And I actually got an income from that at a certain point, and realized this could enable me to quit working full-time so I could be in the comedy clubs all night.
FL: What was that like, starting out as a standup comic?
EH: When you start out, your first five, six years in New York City, you're doing just the shittiest shows. A lot of open mics, a lot of amateur nights. A lot of shows you do when you start out aren't even at comedy clubs – they're at bars where comedians made a deal with the owner to have an open-mic night, and so comedians produce these shows all over the city and you try and get into the loop and into the network, and everybody's kinda putting each other up in each other's show.
I ran a show at the Boston Comedy Club on Third Street in Greenwich Village, and there was also this crazy place called Surf Reality that was more of a performance-art place. They had this famous open-mic night run by this guy called Faceboy and you would go up and do eight minutes of standup and after you would be some weird guy chanting and piercing his nipples onstage or something.
And it was totally insane yet totally supportive. Like it was all there just for the artist, for the performers. We had a lot of comedians down there along with crazy performance artists. It was an inspiring, weird, distinctly New York joint.