Five questions with Ben Stiller

Posted 7:57am on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013

Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller’s commonality with the hero of his new film hasn’t gone unnoticed.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring and directed by Stiller, is adapted from James Thurber’s classic short story that first appeared in The New Yorker in 1939. Since then, Walter Mitty (a mild-mannered man who enlivens a mundane day with a series of fantasies) has been synonymous with daydreaming and flights of imagination.

Stiller, too, hopes for something a little different for his life: He wants to direct more movies and make films outside of the comedies for which he’s best known.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a kind of remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye version, is a big-budget, big-scale shift for the 48-year-old Stiller. It’s his fifth time directing a movie (from Reality Bites to Tropic Thunder), but his first time helming a film that, while funny, isn’t quite a comedy.

Having just wrapped shooting on another film with Greenberg director Noah Baumbach in Brooklyn, Stiller recently met with a reporter in New York to discuss his new trajectory.

1With The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opening on a crowded Christmas for moviegoing, do you feel particular pressure?

[Laughs.] Honestly, I think I feel the same thing that I feel every time a movie comes out — which is: It’s a lot of pressure and, at the same time, it’s really, totally out of my hands.

2Were you aiming to be a director as early as The Ben Stiller Show (1992-93)?

It was always what excited me the most. We’d have a sketch that was a parody of a Scorsese movie or something like that, or something that all of sudden became its own little movie. I remember one sketch we did that was a restaurant where they were serving human beings. It was this 11-page sketch that was a little sort of horror movie.

3Do you ever wish you limited yourself more to directing?

It’s not something I think about in terms of, “Oh, if I had just not been an actor, people would think of me as a director, or take me more seriously,” or something like that. I’ve always enjoyed directing, and that’s always been something that I’ve known in my head that that’s where I see myself ending up, anyway.

4Even when you haven’t directed, you’ve surrounded yourself with ensembles and been a strong voice in shaping the films.

What I learned early on when I started being the main character in movies, I realized that there’s a responsibility with that in terms of what the audience is going to see. An audience doesn’t delineate who produced that, or who directed that. They’re like, “Oh, I’m going to go see Ben in a movie.” There’s a responsibility that I felt I had, to varying levels of success [laughs] in that process — unless I was going into a world of a director, someone like Noah, where I felt this guy had such a specific sensibility.

5You’ve long aimed to make a movie of George Saunders’ CivilWarLand in Bad Decline . What are you interested in doing now?

Just different kinds of movies that I’m not necessarily in. I think that opens up the casting possibilities. I look forward to doing that, just something I feel passionate and connected to. I would love to do something that’s not necessarily comedic. But I also don’t want to go and do something that’s ultra-dark and serious just to do that.

— Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

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