Vegas turned into friendly hangout for ‘Hangover’ team

They came to Las Vegas as a minor character on “The Office,” the other guy from “Alias” and that off-the-wall bearded dude who interviewed celebrities seated between house plants.

Four years, two movies and more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office later, when “The Hangover” trio returned to the Strip to film scenes for the third and final installment, they more closely resembled rock stars.

Or, so you’d think.

“You know, we really aren’t” treated that way, Bradley Cooper says during a roundtable interview with his co-stars at Caesars Palace. “I have to say, there’s something wonderful about this city. It is indifferent to anything other than what is going on here. I mean, we were in the elevator in the first one with tiger scratches on our necks, and no one cared. And it’s not that different.”

“They’d be like, ‘Oh, Wolf Pack!’ They’d be yelling out,” director and co-writer Todd Phillips agrees during a separate interview. “But five minutes later, they’re off to gamble or do whatever they’re here to do. You know? It’s such an interesting town. They don’t really get swept up into it. It’s pretty amazing.”

That’s not to say that there weren’t exceptions.

“Sometimes you do stumble across a bachelorette party,” Zach Galifianakis admits. “Or frat boys, or six guys that have a ‘Who Farted?’ shirt on, and I will sprint away from them. I mean, I will. Ed (Helms) got caught up with eight strippers one night when we were filming. But Ed’s very, very nice about it.”

“I got mobbed by strippers,” Helms confirms, dryly. “Happens to me all the time. Beautiful women just hunt me down. No, Zach and I were walking through the lobby, and it was the Spearmint Rhino’s staff night out. There was just like a pack of beautiful ladies, and they spotted us. And I turned to Zach to be, like, ‘All right, how do we handle this?’ Gone. Zach would just disappear.”

However they were received, Phillips and the cast parlayed the success of the first movie into some rather amazing access while shooting “The Hangover Part III.”

“We shut down the Strip on Halloween night, which was not a popular decision,” Phillips reveals. “That was the one night we could do it for some reason. That was bad planning. And the FAA’s letting us fly helicopters over the casinos. It was an ordeal. It was a big, big shoot.”

There was plenty of Hollywood fakery involved. The production crew turned an Arts District furniture store into a pawnshop that was so convincing it fooled would-be customers. They created a scenic lookout 20 minutes west of the Strip for the film’s climax. And, for one of the movie’s biggest action pieces, they built a 60-foot re-creation of five stories of Caesars Palace’s Augustus Tower, complete with the signature 9-foot letters of its logo, so Cooper and Galifianakis could dangle from it on a Warner Bros. soundstage.

But the wildest scene, the one that most moviegoers will assume was computer-generated, really happened.

For the most part.

In a bid to elude capture from Phil and Alan (Cooper and Galifianakis), gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) parachutes from the balcony of his Caesars Palace penthouse.

As Stu (Helms) drives after him in a limousine through Strip traffic, Chow drifts past various landmarks before ultimately crashing in front of the Plaza.

The stunt required four parachutists, a 500-ton crane anchored in front of Bally’s and an aerial camera hung on a thousand feet of wire strung 350 feet up. It also involved handing control of the Fountains of Bellagio over to Phillips.

“It’s a real shame in movies in general nowadays that when you do stuff for real, people just think it’s fake just because everything (else) is fake. So it is a bummer,” the director says. “But we did really have guys jumping out of helicopters at 3,000 feet right above Caesars and sort of drifting over the Bellagio and the fountains going off.”

Phillips credits the police officers who closed the Strip during the stunt as being “unbelievable” and still sounds surprised Bellagio ceded control of its fountains. “That’s kind of a testament to the (first) movie and the good will that the movie’s brought.”

After “The Hangover Part II” took the characters to Bangkok, Phillips says there was never any doubt the final chapter would return them to Las Vegas.

“No, no. We had to. We had to bring it back to where it all began,” he says. “And we owed it to the movie. We owed it to Vegas. The movie is about coming to terms with their sins and their bad behavior in the first two movies and sort of facing the consequences of their past sins. And where else are you gonna do that but Sin City?”

Despite the cast’s higher profiles, the elaborate stunt work and the enormous expectations for “The Hangover Part III,” in some ways, this Las Vegas shoot was more pleasant than the original.

For one thing, Phillips wasn’t gambling at all hours in his pajamas.

“I think that’s why (Caesars Entertainment’s) Gary Selesner let us film here,” he jokes. “Because I lost $55,000 on night one.”

And the actors could relish their time together, knowing that the long, strange trip that turned them into household names was coming to an end.

“We did have those conversations with each other. ‘Yeah, you’re right. We’re really lucky,’ ” Cooper says. “That’s what’s great about all three of us doing this, as opposed to it just happening to one of us. We really did go through this whole thing as a group.”

And it really is coming to an end.

“You know, I’d love to work with them again,” Cooper says of his co-stars and director, “but the franchise is done.”

Phillips is even more definitive.

“This cast. Me. This ‘Hangover.’ This is the end. For sure.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.

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