If we learn anything from "The Hangover" -- and it's not really a movie about teaching any major life lessons -- it's that Ed Helms is a tremendously good sport.
In the raunchy comedy, hitting theaters Friday (June 5), Helms plays one of three groomsmen who lose the groom after one wild and entirely forgotten night in Las Vegas and have to retrace their steps through Sin City.
Not only did the "Daily Show" and "The Office" veteran get verbally and physically abused by Rachael Harris, share the screen with a tiger, do a classic spit-take on a baby and sing a duet with a chicken, but he went the duration of the shoot missing a tooth (it was an implanted tooth to begin with, removed and later replaced by a dentist), all for his art. Helms is a trooper.
Plus, Helms was admirably patient when my tape recorder -- Yes, tape recorder -- malfunctioned for the first few minutes of our already truncated interview at the film's recent junket.
Hence, this interview begins in media res, as the classic Romans would say, an appropriate linguistic choice given how much of the movie takes place in and around the authentically ancient Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, also the site of this interview.
[The interview's missing three minutes focused largely on the composition of the Helms-penned "Stu's Song," a piece of musical inspiration featured in both the trailer and on the movie's soundtrack. The chicken, it turned out, ruined several takes. Beyond that, trust me that my absent questions were probing and Helm's absent answers were hilarious. Sorry about that.]
HitFix: I understand the tiger came with a wrangler and with a lecture on tiger safety. What were you surprised to learn about tigers?
Ed Helms: I was surprised to learn that tigers, they moan a lot and it's very easy to confuse the moaning with a roar. It's like a [He lets out what I can only assume is an excellent approximation of a tiger roar] and it's scary sound, just because it's a tiger making a loud noise, but it took us a while to recognize. The trainer would be like, "Oh, she's just whining." And finally we were like, "Oh. OK." But I didn't know that they whined.
HitFix: There are three "Daily Show" alums in the movie, right?
EH: Let's see. There's me, Rob Riggle and Rachael Harris, right?
HitFix: Indeed. Had you had a chance to work with either of them previously?
EH: Rachael and I overlapped a pretty good amount. I knew Riggle pretty well from the New York comedy community. He had done some improv together. I'm just one of his biggest fans. He's so funny and he has such an awesome scene in this movie.
HitFix: Do you think there's a reason why that show has become such a breeding ground for talent?
EH: The show is just very sharp. Jon Stewart has created an incredible juggernaut with that show and it attracts great talent. But to Jon's credit and the producers of that show, they also pick really great people to be part of it. So that's a start. But it's incredibly hard work, so that fosters discipline, which is something you need to move on and keep having success, I guess.
HitFix: What were the biggest lessons you learned in your time on the show?
EH: I would say discipline and just showing up and bringing it, bring your full game to work every day. I had to shoot those field segments all the time and they were really taxing and really tough. You'd just fly off to Alaska and you've just gotta find funny stuff and if it's not there, you have to create it. It was like boot camp in a lot of ways. It helped me to find my own comedic sensibility, but also just the discipline of just cranking stuff out.
HitFix: You've expanded your career very gradually, with "The Office" and with some movie supporting roles. Why was this the right project for you to step up as a leading man?
EH: You don't often have control over the movies, over what parts you get or just what comes your way. This was something where I read the script and just immediately got. It was a part that I got and not too far off from who I am as a guy and so I really wanted it. I met with [director Todd Phillips] and really tried to sell myself and it just felt like the right move. A lot of things you do in your career, you're like, "Maybe this is the right thing? Maybe not? I'm not sure.' This is one of those things where I was like, "This is definitely awesome and I want to be part of it."
HitFix: Had you had projects that were close-to-right that just didn't happen previously?
EH: There were a lot of things that I fought for and really tried to be a part of and for whatever reason hadn't gotten, but that's just how show business works. You're always trying to stay busy. In many respects, I feel lucky to have the opportunities that I've had and to add this one on to the resume.
HitFix: Seeing Steve Carrel's career and how he's evolved from the "Daily Show" into a TV lead and a movie star, is that an inspiration for you?
EH: Oh yeah. Steve is more than an inspiration. He's a friend and role model in many respects. I also credit Steve with really breaking the mold for "Daily Show" correspondents. You asked earlier about "The Daily Show" being a proving ground and I think a big part of the reason why "Daily Show" correspondents are even given a chance to do other things is because Steve has proven that correspondents can actually do other things. It's a big reason of why I was given a chance to be part of "The Office" and I didn't even know Steve Carrel before I started working on "The Office," so I credit him with that, but also in terms of what I was talking about before in terms of discipline and staying true to the material that you like, not just taking everything that comes your way, but sticking with things you can be proud of. Steve's one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, but he's stayed with "The Office" because I think he truly loves it and also values it as part of his career. So that's absolutely an inspiration to me.
HitFix: And what are you doing with this hiatus?
EH: Right now I'm writing a movie that Steve's company's producing, about Civil War reenactors. It's a "Back to the Future"-style comedy about Civil War reenactors who go back to the Civil War. That's a big chunk of my hiatus and otherwise, I'm just trying to get the word out about "The Hangover" and I may just actually get a little downtime, a little vacation squeezed in there somewhere.
"The Hangover" opens everywhere on Friday, June 5.