The Massie Twins recently got a chance to sit down with Ed Helms, the star of the new comedy The Hangover, directed by Old School’s Todd Phillips. Ed Helms can also be seen on The Office as Andy Bernard, is memorable for his part as a Daily Show correspondent, and can be seen in this summer’s “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and the Will Ferrell comedy “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.”
The Massie Twins: You got here on a day when it isn’t too hot and crazy for Phoenix.
Ed Helms: Is that right? Because it’s pretty fucking hot!
MT: (laughs) This is mild.
EH: Oh boy. I’m glad I don’t live here.
MT: So the missing tooth bit looked so real. What’s the secret?
EH: The tooth is totally real. I actually have an implant that I got when I was about 15. It’s been there for twenty years, so I didn’t even think about it when we were discussing how to make the tooth look like it was gone. We tried to black it out, we did camera tests, they made a prosthetic for me; but it made me look like a donkey. So I said “no way.” I thought I might as well ask my dentist what the deal was with my implant and he said we could actually do that safely. So I took the tooth out for three months and I had a removable tooth. The movie wrapped and I got a new one – it’s permanent again.
MT: Was it written before knowing of that option?
EH: Totally. It was in the script.
MT: What are the odds.
EH: It was super lucky. Ironically I had a removable tooth when I was a teenager and I took it out for a high school play. I played a redneck.
MT: How close did you get to the tiger, and was it more or less ferocious than Mike Tyson?
EH: I got really, really close to the tiger on numerous occasions. In my head it was the most ferocious animal ever, but in reality it was pretty docile. Tyson was a delight. He was really cool and fun and disarming and eager to screw around and have a good time. The tiger was crazy. The whole time there was this little voice in the back of my head just saying, “This is so stupid. You should not be here.”
MT: Were there a bunch of guys with tranquilizer guns on the set?
EH: No. They had a few trainers and they had it on a leash at all times, but it wasn’t anchored to anything. The tiger weighs twice as much as the trainers. Is this sufficient? The trainers had this cavalier attitude. A couple takes in when I’m tossing a steak to the tiger, Todd Phillips says, “try to hit him in the head.” I said, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” So I asked the trainer what would happen if I hit it in the head. I knew I could hit him in the head. I asked, “Do you think it would flip out?” He said (in thick Australian accent) “I don’t know – let’s try it.” That was their attitude with everything. There was no scientific process. What the hell. Let’s just give it a try. Against all better judgment I tried to hit the tiger in the head. But it turns out you can’t do that. The tiger’s reflexes are so fast it will catch a steak anywhere near its head. I think the take we used was the very last one; it’s a composite shot, but we ran out of steaks and were using a plastic one.
MT: Ben Stiller has said that for comedy to really work, you can’t overthink it. How was it working with Todd and his philosophy for when he thinks he’s got “the funny” on film?
EH: I totally agree with that. Todd’s a master. He’s such a good director. He knows what he wants, but he’s collaborative and listens. He’s also incredibly manipulative in a good way. You’ll find yourself doing things that you were hesitant about. The baby jerking itself and the jockstrap – I know Zach [Galifianakis] pitched them as a joke. And Todd was like, “yeah, you’re actually going to do those now.” He got talked into it, and now of course those are some of the funniest bits. There’s a lot of trust that we all put into Todd and he used it wisely. As far as overthinking, I love to do lots of takes. I’ve actually worked with Ben and we’ve done lots of takes. You want to keep it fresh and you don’t want to talk about it too much. Just throw it out there. In the time it takes to discuss whether something is funny, you could’ve done four takes and tried it four different ways. Stopping and talking sort of puts the brakes on your process, on the momentum as you’re trying to stay in the moment.
After Mr. Chow [Ken Jeong] beats us up with a crowbar we get to the door of the hotel room. Bradley says, “I keep forgetting about the tiger. How did it get in there?” And I look at Zach and say, “I don’t know. I don’t remember.” And that’s when he improvises, “Yeah, that’s one of the side effects of roofies.” So I say, “You’re literally too stupid to insult” and he responds, “thank you.” It was all straight-faced. We must have done that 10-15 times. It was different and there were all kinds of little riffs and tangents thrown in. We wound up with a quick little exchange that had a couple of great beats in it.
MT: Who makes you laugh?
EH: So many people. If I go way back, to some of the initial reasons I decided I wanted to get into comedy, it was really those SNL [Saturday Night Live] shows back in the 80’s when I was a very little kid. I was so enamored with the energy of the shows. Eddie Murphy was hands down one of the biggest reasons I ever wanted to do comedy. Joe Piscopo, Martin Short, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, and Phil Hartman. He was one of my all time favorites. It breaks my heart that I’ll never get to meet him. You have the next chapter of Mike Myers, David Spade, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Will Ferrell, and Cheri Oteri. Saturday Night Live was really a big thing and everyone that came through I always loved.
Steve Martin’s the man. He’s an idle of mine on many fronts. He’s an insanely good banjo player and I learned a lot of the songs he’s written. In the standup area there’s a guy named Brian Regan. He’s one of my favorites ever. Jim Gaffigan, Patton Oswalt, Mitch Hedberg. And Zach’s standup. He’s this wickedly witty guy. It’s a long list. It’s a lot longer too. I could go on.
MT: In 100 words or less, describe Heather Graham’s kiss.
EH: In 100 words or less?
MT: You can use more.
EH: How about just this: silky smooth. Is that less than 100 words?
MT: Did you ask to reshoot that scene over and over again?
EH: (laughs) Yeah. I asked her to rehearse that scene but she felt like we didn’t need to do that. No – it’s a funny thing. The reality is in that scene I’m surprised by the kiss, so I don’t actually kiss her back. It’s not a mutual kiss. It’s her kissing me. So to be totally candid, it wasn’t that great for me because I didn’t get to engage the kiss in any way. But just to have Heather Graham kiss you on the cheek is so uplifting. She’s peculiar because she’s this sunshiny, bright, effervescent woman but she also has this Buddha-like serenity and comfort with herself. I feel like she could be a guru.
MT: Isn’t she in that movie?
EH: (laughs) Oh, she was?
MT: Are you anything like your character Stu in real life? If not, and you were in the situations in The Hangover for real, which character would you be most like?
EH: I am like Stu; it pains me to admit. I’m more like him than I’d like to acknowledge. I think I’m a little bit more worldly. I don’t think I’m in quite as much denial about issues in my life, particularly regarding relationships. When I was doing the movie, and thinking about how to respond to moments in the narrative, I really tapped into my own gut reaction to things. I think we all did, which is why the movie stays, somehow, plausible.
MT: Who’s the bigger diva: Stephen Colbert or John Stewart?
EH: Colbert is a huge diva, but a lot of it is ironic and adorable. I’m so lucky to have been around Colbert and Carell at that time. All I did was I copied them. I showed up at The Daily Show and thought these guys had cracked it. And they were very different and had different MO’s on that show. They’re doing it right and I’m going to just do what they do, and over the course of five years I found my voice a little bit; it started out with me just doing it the way they do it. They were so good.
MT: There are already rumors of The Hangover 2 in production. Any truth to that?
EH: Yeah, they’re certainly talking about it, but it’s dependent on how this movie does.
– The Massie Twins (www.GoneWithTheTwins.com)