The Successful Life of Ben Stiller

TSLOWM1(PCM) Ben Stiller says that he learned several vital life lessons from his famous parents – work extremely hard, stay fiercely loyal to family and close friends, and make time for a nap.

All of these have held him in good stead over the years, especially while directing and starring in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the tale of an office worker at Life magazine, who lives inside various fantasy worlds to fill his yet untapped adventurous side.

Opening on Christmas Day, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, from 20th Century Fox, is an ideal movie to enjoy this holiday season with family and friends because it is both funny and dramatic and also has a great deal of heart.

Stiller’s character of Walter Mitty joins a dating service to help romance his lovely co-worker Cheryl, played by Kristen Wiig, and shortly after finds himself on a global journey to fix things when their jobs are threatened by a high-tech takeover of the magazine.

His character goes to the far corners of the world of Greenland and Iceland, and he did a fair number of the stunts, finding himself in shark-infested waters.

The original movie starring Danny Kay debuted in 1947. They are both based on a short story of the same name that was written by James Thurber. The movie also stars Sean Penn, Shirley McLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn and Patton Oswalt.

Stiller, 48, has looked to his parents – dad Jerry Stiller and mom Anne Meara – for love and moral support as well as career advice. Ben Stiller grew up in the family business and the quirky comic actor has taken his family’s legendary showbiz legacy to new levels.

Today, Stiller is happily married to actress Christine Taylor, (Marcia in The Brady Bunch Movie and Zoolander), and they have two children: Ella, 11, and Quinn, 8.

“If my parents were plumbers, who knows what I would be doing now?” he says. “In some ways, it was a show-business upbringing—a lot of traveling, a lot of late nights—not what you’d call traditional.

Those life lessons that Ben learned at home of caring for his loved ones giving his work 110 percent and making a family-like atmosphere on the set of his movies were well learned. And, once in a while, he says that he even finds a little time for a nap.

TSLOWM2Q: What attracted you to this story?

BEN STILLER: I liked the idea that there are so many people with untapped potential – on the outside they seem so ordinary, but on the inside so much is going on. I wanted to show what can happen with you go inside there and the dreams get to flourish.

Q: Where did that all that great chemistry between you and Kristen [Wiig] come from in this movie?

BS: We had an affair! [He joked] It was good! It was good for awhile.

Q: Were you the one doing all those crazy physical stunts?

BS: I have an incredible stuntman! But I did a lot of that. Honestly, I did as much as I felt I could actually do. So, we got in the water for real, in Iceland. Um, but I didn’t jump out of the actual helicopter. But we did get in the real water in Iceland, with the boat there. And it definitely felt like I was doing…something! And then we did, we were actually up there doing a lot of those hiking shots. You know, all that stuff up on the glaciers, and stuff.

Q: What else did you do?

BS: Some of the skateboarding. I got on the skateboard. But then we had great skateboard doubles too! And who did like the big serious stuff. But it was incredibly exciting, to be a part of that. And to have an opportunity to do that stuff.

TSLOWM3Q: Tell me more

BS: At one point, I had to do a shot in the water, where the boat, the boat was coming at me in the water. So the camera was in the boat, and the boat had to go away, to shoot the shot. So they dropped me in the water, and the boat went away. And I was just in the water, in the North Sea. Like with nobody around me! And five foot swells. And I had that moment like, okay this is a movie. But it’s also real life. And there really could be a shark there!

Q: How did that feel?

BS: It was great. It was one of those moments where I realized that never in a million years, would have a chance to do something like this. You know; if I didn’t have an opportunity to make this movie. But there were a lot of rickety old door-less helicopter rides! Yeah the helicopter stuff was all real. They found this fifty year old helicopter. It was actually the original Hawaii Five-0 helicopter. Literally. And the helicopter pilot kept on saying, man. I wish this thing had more power! Which is not what you want to hear! But it all felt so very real. And I think that all helps the actors. It helped me as an actor. And it helped everybody feel like it was actually happening.

Q: What’s the different spin for you of being a director, and making things work as a director?

BS: It’s all about trust. I need to trust the actors. And they need to trust me. Because they know I’m acting with them in the scene. So they need to also trust me as a director. And you know; if I’m mostly watching them in the scene as a director that I’m not going to be a good actor. And that’s already challenging. So it’s one of those things where you get into a rhythm. And you figure it all out as you go along,

Q: How did this film shoot go?

BS: The actors were so great, in supporting that process. So you hire great, talented people. Because that is really a huge part of it. You know, if you hire great actors, they’re going to bring so much to it. And we all got into it; we watched a few movies together. And talked about what we called the tone of the movie, and what we wanted it to be. So that was important, too.

TSLOWM4Q: What movies did you watch together?

BS: We watched The Apartment. And the movie Being There. But, that bonding experience, of just watching something together and hanging out. And having a connection before you get on the set. You know, when there’s pressure on.  And then it doesn’t feel like just another job. You are like in it together. But we watched all those movies that were inspiring. And not necessarily in any specific way. But just watching something good.

Q: You give the impression of being a workaholic in a big way. Are you?

BS: If throw enough stuff up at the wall, something’s going to stick. It’s kind of been my theory on it, just keep going and try to choose stuff that interests you. I take full responsibility for choosing to do the movies.

Q: But the control is not yours – right?

BS: Right. In terms of what’s going to get released when and how things do, you try to just make judgments for yourself personally, what you think is right to do. And then you never know what is going to happen. My movies are all different, but it just kind of fell out that way. It wasn’t like a master plan. I think I just said, ‘all right, you know what? This seems to be happening right now, so I’ll just go with it.’

Q: I know that you and your dad, Jerry Stiller, are really close. He has told me how proud he is of you, so how is it being a dad to your daughter and son?

BS: It’s hard to explain. You want to love them and protect them and let them be who they are – all in one. Since I am still a big kid, we have great fun together. It is a wonderful adventure.

TSLOWM5Q: I know you grew up surrounded by talent so tell me you first became interested in acting?

BS: Well, when I was growing up, my parents were in show business. So my parents, they called up the head of show business and said, ‘Can you please get my son a job?’ And I was rocketed straight to the top of the line. [He joked].

Q: How big an influence on you was the show business success of your mom and dad?

BS: You know; it’s strange. It’s kind of like something that we didn’t even think about growing up, because we were so involved in that world. So, I don’t think I second-guessed it. I just kind of said, ‘okay, this is what I want to do.’

Q: How early did this happen for you?

BS: When I was 10 years old. I wanted to make movies. I saw Jaws, and was just kind of hooked. I made my own short films and Super 8 movies as a kid. I just really never even thought about doing anything else. The only question was did I want to act or direct. Or did I want to be serious, funny. For a while I wanted to be very serious, because my parents were funny. I wanted to rebel against that and go my own way. And then I realized I enjoyed the humorous aspect of it more. I was really like drawn to it, and I stopped kind of denying that after awhile.



The Successful Life of Ben Stiller also appeard on PCM Reviews.