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Stratosphere proves trickiest place for director in shooting ‘Last Vegas’

He captured Robert De Niro strolling alone on New York-New York’s Brooklyn Bridge.

He maneuvered De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, unmolested, up and down the Strip and through the McCarran baggage claim.

But while those scenes had their inherent difficulties — “The sound guy always has a challenge of people shouting out ‘Bob-baaayyy!’ to De Niro,” says “Last Vegas” director Jon Turteltaub — they were nothing compared to the hazards presented by another filming location.

“Certainly the trickiest place to shoot was the top of the Stratosphere,” he says of the scene in the bachelor-party bromance in which Douglas and Mary Steenburgen ride the tower’s X-Scream. “That was the opposite of fun.”

Calling the experience “so terrifying,” Turteltaub (“Cool Runnings,” the “National Treasure” movies) says the actors wouldn’t dangle 866 feet off the ground unless he did. “It’s one of those things that’s not fun to do but really fun to have done.”

That may have been the trickiest, but another scene was fraught with far more danger.

In town for Douglas’ character’s wedding, the four childhood best friends find themselves judging a RedFoo-hosted bikini contest at the Aria pool. During the festivities, the LMFAO star strips down to a tiny, shiny Speedo-looking thing before thrusting his crotch inches from De Niro’s face.

“That was the greatest conversation,” Turteltaub recalls, laughing heartily, “’cause I was fully aware that De Niro might have looked at me and said, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ But he just sort of smiled and said, ‘Yeah, yeah. That’s funny.’ He got it.”

“It was RedFoo’s idea,” Turteltaub continues, shifting either the praise or the blame. “He asked me, ‘Can I do stuff like that?’ I said, ‘You can do it if you do it to De Niro.’ Just because it’s the most absurd thing possible for a director to do. Scorsese never asked De Niro to do anything that horrible.”

The cast and crew also filmed at the Neon Museum, Binion’s and The Fremont Street Experience. Turteltaub says it was important to squeeze in as many locations as possible during the 10-day shoot just to prove they were really here.

“Vegas is such a well-known place, and the audiences can tell if you fake it,” he explains. “It never looks right if you’re sort of trying to trick them into thinking you’re in Vegas when you’re actually on some riverboat someplace. So you really gotta come here and do it right.”

There was still plenty of trickery involved, though.

Because Nevada didn’t have tax incentives at the time, it was far cheaper to film the majority of “Last Vegas” in Atlanta. Even if it meant re-creating Aria’s Haze nightclub 2,000 miles away for a five-minute scene.

Hotel officials shared blueprints for the club and shipped uniforms to Atlanta to make sure Aria East resembled the original.

“To me, and I’m on the property every day and in that club frequently, it didn’t feel like it wasn’t Haze,” says Carl Cohen, Aria’s vice president of marketing.

Production designers also created their own version of Aria’s wedding chapel for two brief scenes, as well as the suite where the movie’s bachelor party takes place.

Much like with “The Hangover” suite at Caesars Palace, though, you won’t find anything quite like that “Last Vegas” suite at Aria.

“We had them in touch with our design people very regularly to make sure that what they built for Haze and for the suite would be true to our brand,” says Jenn Michaels, senior vice president of public relations at MGM Resorts International, who worked closely with the production.

But while “Last Vegas” designers incorporated elements of existing Aria suites, they took some liberties as well.

For instance, you won’t find swimming pools built into the floors — at least “not at this time,” Cohen allows. And Michaels calls the rotating bed in one of the rooms “poetic license.”

But she stresses certain elements, such as the advanced technology in the rooms, were accurate. “We were involved in that process the entire way and had approval over everything that they did to make sure that they didn’t lose any of what Aria is as they built that.”

Somewhat less accurate were the scenes set at Binion’s, where Steenburgen’s character performs as a lounge singer.

The biggest fabrication? The casino doesn’t have a lounge and, to the best of Binion’s general manager Tim Lager’s knowledge, it never did. The Mint, which Binion’s purchased in 1988, had one, he says, in the space now occupied by the casino’s poker room.

But that didn’t stop the production crew from creating one. Albeit in Atlanta.

“That’ll be interesting,” Lager says, “to see how many people come looking for a lounge.”

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

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