You know the saying. What happens in Vegas blah blah blah. Almost anything can happen when the rules don't apply. There is no bedtime in Vegas. You can dress however you want and drink pretty much anytime and anywhere. Fools and their money are parted there, and movies about the town—like Todd Phillips' latest, The Hangover—work because it's tough to exaggerate just how out-of-control the city can feel.
Ed Helms, who plays Stu, had only been to Vegas to shoot segments for The Daily Show before the six-week shoot, he tells CityBeat. “Each time, it was 36 hours of run-and-gun, hardcore, guerilla ‘journalism.' I hadn't been to Vegas to hang out. It's not really my speed, not my style. It's a city designed to foster and encourage terrible decisions, and I would rather avoid those, I guess.”
Helms, who spent several years as a correspondent on Jon Stewart's show, is probably best known these days as Andy Bernard on The Office. In The Hangover, he's a dentist who, along with Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, is part of a trio of groomsmen who escort their buddy, Doug (Justin Bartha), to Sin City for his bachelor party. But when the three dudes wake up the next morning, their suite is trashed, there's a baby in the mini-bar and a tiger in the bathroom. Doug is MIA, and none of them can remember what happened. So they have to figure out what went down and find their buddy before he's due at the altar. Along the way, they discover that Stu got married, they stole Mike Tyson's pet and they're being pursued by a gangster (Ken Jeong) who thinks they owe him over a gambling beef.
The Hangover is exactly what it looks like—a bunch of funny bromancers stringing together raunchy Vegas jokes over a thin plot. It's a different setting than director Phillips' first big hit, Old School, but you get the idea. It's both stupidly funny and funnily stupid, and, by now, you already know whether or not you're the target demo.
But for Helms, it's a change in direction. He's always had comic roles, but, he says, “my film appearances to date have been a joke. I'm a guy who does a joke once, maybe twice in a movie, a little cameo or pop-on part, like in Harold and Kumar, Walk Hard or Semi-Pro.”
In The Hangover, Helms has his first fully fleshed-out film role, and while Cooper is the suave talker and Galifianakis the resident rain-man (obligatory card-counting scene—check), Helms is the movie's conscience—if it can be said to have one. And that, for him, is a different deal. “Stu goes through a huge spectrum of emotions,” he says. “And, yes, there's more process going on behind it. It's not like I went off and did some method study or interned in a dental office, but I did more mental homework.”
Now, what Helms does in The Hangover and on The Office is harder than it looks. He's smarter than the people he plays. But he imbues both characters with enough humanity that audiences care about them, even if they don't necessarily respect them. And Helms says he feels that way, too.
“Do I have a lot of affection for Stu? Yes,” he says. “Do I sympathize with his struggles? Absolutely. I guess part of that is some measure of respect for the character. Whether it's a relationship, as it is in Stu's case, or something else, I think most of us understand what it means to be in flagrant denial of some painful or difficult aspect of our lives. I like Stu. I feel that he's a good guy, which is something that is sort of parallel to Andy in a way. He's an earnest guy, and that's something that I try to be. A genuine, earnest person. I guess I'm drawn to characters who really try to do the right thing, even if they might have some barriers in their own mind, or in their circumstances. But the intention is there to do the right thing. But sometimes, we fuck it up.”Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.