Benjamin Edward "Ben" Stiller is an American actor, comedian, and filmmaker. He is the son of veteran comedians and actors Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. After beginning his acting career with a play, Stiller wrote several mockumentaries, and was offered his own show entitled The Ben Stiller Show, which he produced and hosted for its entire run: 13 episodes. Having previously acted in television, he began acting in films; he made his directorial debut with Reality Bites. Throughout his career he has written, starred in, directed, and/or produced more than 50 films, including The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Zoolander, There's Something About Mary, Meet the Parents, DodgeBall, Tropic Thunder, the Madagascar series, Night at the Museum, and the sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. In addition, he has had multiple cameos in music videos, television shows, and films. Stiller is a member of the comedic acting brotherhood colloquially known as the Frat Pack. His films have grossed more than $2.6 billion in Canada and the United States, with an average of $79 million per film.
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Hi folks. Ben Stiller. You probably know me from Next Of Kin with Patrick Swayze, or Hot Pursuit where I play the bad guy.
My latest project is today's reveal of the second season of Next Time on Lonny, a comedy series that parodies reality TV. It's executive produced by my very own Red Hour Digital and Maker Studios. New episodes are going to launch each Tuesday and Thursday on Maker.TV, and each Wednesday and Friday on Nacho Punch. Check out the insane Choose Your Own Adventure episode.
With that out of the way, I'm here with Victoria so - ask me anything!
UPDATE I really enjoyed this, and sorry I have to go. I'd be happy to do it again sometime. I wish the questions had been more deeply personal.
What is it like being really, really, ridiculously good looking?
EDIT: Thanks for the gold, beautiful people.
It's a burden that I have to live with every day.
What was your favorite movie to act in, and why was it Heavyweights?
Edit: thankssss for the gold, I'll use it to buy Heavyweights on VHS
That's another example of a movie where the studio had no idea what we were doing, Judd Apatow wrote it and we all didn't realize it was a Disney movie, we were making this sort of, I would say, the tone of it was like so dark and weird that when the Disney people saw it, they immediately freaked out and were like "what is this" - but that was kind of the fun thing about it, we had never done a "kids" movie, and sort of just approached it like we were just doing a movie. And I had a great time. I don't think Judd's done many family movies since then. I think that was the last family movie he's done.
But was it improvised?
Yes, it was still improvised.
Walter Mitty seriously made me want to go travelling...what was it like filming in such beautiful locations? Is there anywhere left in the world you'd like to visit?
It was really an incredible experience making the movie, because we got to sort of have the adventure as a crew that was going on in the story. For me, I love to travel, there's a lot of places that I haven't been. I'd like to go someday to the Himalayas and actually go up there, but I've never really been to that part of the world, and Asia. And traveling, I just enjoy it, but also the adventure side of it is interesting to me because some people have a crazy-adventurous spirit that you think are totally insane, and I'm not that level of adventurer, but I do like to go out there and experience different things. I've gone hiking with people on a "fun, easy hike" that you find yourself 8 inches away from an 800 foot cliff, so it's important to know who you're going to go adventuring with.
Sir, could I trouble you for a glass of warm milk? It helps put me to sleep.
I believe the proper response is "You can have a warm glass of shut the hell up."
Earlier today, Jack Black told me he hopes to have you half-naked strapped to a water buffalo some day. What do you have to say about that?
Heh. Yeah, that's true. Well Jack and I go way back, so I felt that we had a close enough relationship that strapping him to a water buffalo was within the bounds of our friendship, and he's a good sport, because it turns out the water buffalo was pregnant and I think he might have induced contractions in the water buffalo. That's a true story.
Also, it wasn't that bad, because we were shooting in Hawaii and Jack was ordering out from Bubba's Burgers all the time.
I don't think they could do that on Deerhunter.
Hey Ben! I'm a huge fan of yours and even get told that I look like you. In Zoolander, when you said "But why male models?" the second time, was that actually improvised? What happened? Thanks for doing an AMA, Magnum was a thing of beauty.
Thank you for that. Yeah, that's a true story. I literally was listening to what David Duchovny said, and I'm not really that much smarter than the character of Derek, and I honestly forgot, I hadn't followed what he was saying, I said it again and got my lines wrong, and David (who's a very funny guy) improvised the "are you serious? I just explained that." Which just goes to show you that Derek and I are actually closer than you might think.
How do I make all the artifacts come alive in the Museum of Natural History? Do you have to be there or can I do it alone?
Edit: Wow, thanks for the gold.
I actually have nothing to do with the magic. What you really need to do is find an ancient egyptian tablet that will, when the sun goes down, somehow glow and then animate all the objects around you. So that's really the key. Maybe try eBay? I don't know.
A few months ago, Hank Azaria mentioned that he didn't enjoy filming Mystery Men. I was wondering if your experience was similar? I only ask because it's one of my favorite movies of all time.
EDIT: Thanks for the gold, terribly mysterious benefactor!
I actually had a really good time doing Mystery Men. It was a little bit chaotic, to be honest - there were a lot of different actors in it, and the script was always changing as we were making the movie, but the group of people was an interesting bunch of people. And I think Hank might be referring to the fact that sometimes, there were little altercations, disagreements that happened onset. But sometimes that doesn't mean that affects the movie in a bad way, sometimes that discord can fuel the movie. But the experience of MAKING Mystery Men, I don't have bad memories of it, I have some good memories of it, and some funny things that happened on the set. Like sometimes we'd have a disagreement about what was funny in the scene, these serious back and forth discussions, but we were all dressed up in ridiculous outfits, but having very very serious discussions about what our characters would say or do. In retrospect, that's really funny. And I have good memories.
Hey Ben! Any plans to work with Wes Anderson again? The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my favorite movies.
Yeah! Wes and I are friends and I would love to work with him again. I think he's one of the most gifted, unique directors around and he's also just a great guy. So I definitely look forward to doing something else with him.
With Dodgeball and Zoolander getting sequels it would only make sense for Tropic Thunder to get a sequel, too, do you agree with me?
Yeah! I'd love to do a sequel to Tropic Thunder. I never thought about it seriously. I think ultimately it's one of those things where you have to have a really great idea, but if there was something that would support it, I'd do it. I feel like with sequels, it's figuring out a reason for the movie to exist. I feel like a lot of times, people want to see a sequel, for me Tropic Thunder was a movie that I worked on with my buddy Justin and we worked on over the course of 8-9 years - the idea itself was so self-contained that it was never something we thought about having to try to do again. So I would be open to do it, but I'm also kind of happy with it as a standalone film.
What does Robert De Niro smell like?
He smells very good. He's a very well-groomed gentleman. And over the years, I feel like he's just smelled better and better.
I have an important question.
If faced with the choice of being stuck for 10 years on a Island with Owen Wilson who lost his memory and actually thinks he's Hansel or Richard Ayoade who lost his memory and actually thinks he's an alien, which do you choose and why?
Hahah! Well, they would be two good guys to be on an island with, first of all, because they're both very smart and funny. But I don't know how they would be good at making fire or things like that. Sometimes I think Owen has lost his memory and think's he's Hansel.
Between the two of them, I would probably go with - you know, Richard has just such a lilting voice, that I would just have to go for the sound of his voice. No offense to Owen because he is one of my oldest friends and sometimes I feel like we have spent years on an island together.
Ben, tell us a story of a time when your dad embarrassed the hell out of you as a kid.
Oh gosh! Well, you know, like any kid, I think that now (being a parent too) you see how easy it is to embarrass your kids - it's almost the job of the parent to embarrass your kids. I remember very clearly my parents being on this game show when I was a kid, because they were a comedy team, and there was one game show called Tattletales where they would take the men, put them in a soundproof booth, and ask the women questions, and then they would ask the men the same questions, and they would have to match up their answers as a couple, sort of like the Newlywed Game. And each section of the audience would win money if a certain couple won -so the blue section, the banana yellow section, the red section. So my parents basically lost, and they were playing for the banana section, and I thought everybody in the banana section was going to hate my parents. Because they didn't win any money. I think Patty Duke and John Astin were another couple on the show? Like he was the dad on the Addams Family, and she was Patty Duke, and I remember them comforting me and saying people were going to still like my parents.
If you could have played any character in Game of Thrones, who would it be?
The one with the long beard and the big sword!
What was it like playing in Arrested Development? Did they use any of your ideas?
Working on that show is very exciting because it moves very fast and there's a lot of improvisation that happens, so you're definitely coming up with stuff in the moment, but the characters are so specific and well-defined that Mitch is such a great writer that he gives you the leeway to try things, but what's written there is so great too. And I'm a big Will Arnett fan, so I always enjoyed doing stuff with him.
What is something you are passionate about that might surprise most people?
Hmm. Let's see. Well, I really love, I'm like a huge basketball fan. I don't know if that's surprising or not. It would be more surprising if I said I was a great basketball player. I've been a Knicks fan since I was a kid. In fact, I love Star Trek. We named our production company after a Star Trek episode. For some people, that might be awesome, or super-nerdy.
-Was there ever a movie kiss that just repulsed you and you couldn't wait to get the scene over with?
-What is the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you on set?
-How do you handle it when you don't get along with the director?
Oh wow. Gosh. Maybe I just haven't had enough to have come up on a bad one yet?
Oh wow. Um. Well, it's, you know, sometimes you have to do things that are embarrassing, I've had to do things that are embarrassing, and you have - the actual experience of doing them is not necessarily embarrassing, it's more lonely. Like there's a scene in There's Something about Mary before I go on the date where I go in the bathroom and the stuff is on his ear, doing a scene like that is obviously very weird because everybody on the set kind of disappears. So in retrospect, doing that was probably one of the most embarrassing things. But you know that you're doing it for the necessary good of the movie. So you have to kind of deal with that.
Ah! I've found over the years that it's better to get along with the director. And at this point in my life, the experience of making the movie is as important as everything and you want that to be fun and enjoyable and hopefully you're on the same page, and it just makes it harder on yourself to make it harder for the people you're working with. So all of that comes with trial and error and experience.
How did you end up voicing Alex in Madagascar and what interested you about the character? Did they offer you Alex or did they just say: pick any animal you want, Ben.
No, it was interesting, they were putting the movie together and I'd never done an animated movie, and they came to me and said "this is the story they were working on" - I think it's because I'm an New Yorker, these animals were these New Yorkers who'd never left New York. And the process was really interesting, you don't really see anything, you just start recording scenes, and then the animators work on these scenes over the course of a few years - it just starts to develop but you don't see anything for the longest time. I've had children grow up, move away, go to college, I've had all sorts of things happen to me over the course of the Madagascar movies, Presidents change... it's an exercise in patience, and I think someone once said it's like sending a movie to the moon and then getting it back in a time capsule. But it's really fun when you see the final thing, you know?
Who is the person that made you who you are?
Hmm. Wow, that's a very all-encompassing question. I mean, I guess, if you want to get sort of serious about it, your experiences end up making you who you are, as you get to a certain point in your life you realize there are people who influence you - my parents are a huge part of that, because you, you know, live with them, and they have such an amazing - my folks had such a big influence in terms of seeing how they operated with people as a real family. My folks were very thoughtful and generous and care about that kind of thing. And growing up around that was something that my sister and I saw. And experience in life also really really influences you, so I don't necessarily think it's one person.
That might be too deep an answer.
I also had this incredible science teacher in school, when I was in high school, who still teaches at the high school I went to - John Roeder - and he was like, super-smart and I was horrible science student but he was a great teacher who was supportive of finding a way for kids to connect with the things they wanted to. So he knew I was really bad at math and science, and I had to do a report on the moon, and he let me write it as a song, it was called "man in the moon," and it wasn't a great song, but he was supporting our creative spirit. I never forgot that, a teacher like that makes a huge difference in your life. Yeah, he's great. So thank you John you're the best.
You have previously said you dislike fan-mail, what made you want to do an AMA?
Oh, have i said that? I said I dislike fan mail? crazy! I don't think I ever said that. I like fan mail, I don't know how much I get. No, I like it, I like it. And I wanted to do an AMA, because I thought it would be fun to do. And hopefully this will help dispel the notion that I don't like fantail. Worth doing the AMA just for that.
What was your favorite movie when you were a kid?
I had a lot of different favorite movies. For a while, The Poseidon Adventure was my favorite when it came out, probably 1974 I remember going to see that at the Lowes theater at 83rd Street and Broadway probably 10 times in the theater. And I did get a chance to tell Gene Hackman what a huge fan I was of it when I worked with him on the Royal Tenenbaums. I'm sure of all the Gene Hackman movies I could have pulled out, it was Poseidon Adventure, and he gave me a look like "that's your favorite" but he was awesome in that... I mean, I remember seeing Annie Hall when I was 10 or 11 years old, 1977 I was 12, and I remember really connecting with that movie although I had no idea why I connected with it as a 12 year old when it's about how complicated relationships are...
Would you consider directing a scary horror movie? What would it be about?
Yeah, you know, I would. I love horror movies. Probably some sort of witch-ghost-type-movie which I like. I'm not really into slasher movies as much. But I really like sort of supernatural witch-ghost themed films. Though I'm not sure I'll be doing one soon, but maybe. I'm open to it.
Happiest moment in your life?
Wow. Happiest moment. I'm not good at rating the ultimate experiences in that way in life, but gosh, I mean, I was very happy when both my kids were born healthy, that was a great feeling and very exciting. That's probably up there. But also any of those Yankees world series runs and when they were bringing home the championship, 77, 78, I was in the stands in the right field with my dad when Reggie Jackson hit the 3 home runs in a row.
Reggie Jackson is also somebody I've never worked with who I'd really like to work with.
Ben, I loved Heat Vision and Jack and ever since I wondered why there wasn't a TV series? It had a great potential.
Yeah! I wonder too. It had such an incredible cast. The main reason I remember is because that's how I met my wife, so it turned out pretty good on that end for me, but the actual show itself was this really, really funny concept of an astronaut who flies too close to the sun and when the sun's up his brain expands so he's the smartest man in the world. It was Jack Black as a mix of Steve Austin in the 6 Million Dollar Man and Knight Rider. And he had a talking motorcycle that was his sidekick that was the voice of Owen Wilson. So it would've been a fun series, but I think it was too insane at the time. It was 15 years ago. Nowadays it would have ended up as a web series for sure, but I'm really happy we got the chance to make it.
What’s up Ben!
Considering that you had recently ventured out into the wilderness with Bear Grylls, how was that experience and what is the one survival technique that you believe was the most important during your travels?
Well, first of all, it was a LOT harder than I thought it would be. I thinK I somehow, in my head, thought that Bear Grylls was sort of like this tough guy but then he sort would help out, and he is very positive, but when we were rappelling down a 120 foot cliff and then had to start climbing back up it, I realized that he wasn't stewing around. And there were many times during that ascent when I said, in all honesty, "Bear, turn off the cameras, please help me get up to the top" and he kept turning around and saying "Say it to the GO PRO! Vent all your frustration to the GO PRO!" But somehow we made it up the cliff, not to give anything away. And then also making fire, bringing that up again, because he showed me how to make fire in a cave. So that, and spooning in the cave with Bear to keep the body heat in would be my top survival tips.
Oh my god I'm here on time. Mr. Stiller, I have a couple of questions:
Would you consider doing another show like the one you had on Fox? That Die Hard parody left me in stitches.
Do you ever feel like you have to 'out-funny' your parents sometimes? And is Festivus a real thing?
1) You know, probably not at this point because i feel like sketch comedy is such a young man's game in that it's so much about being in the moment in terms of pop culture references and the energy that it takes to put in to the show. And that's why as a producer i enjoy producing shows like Next Time on Lonny that are doing their own thing and have their own tone, but for me, the actual commitment to doing a show like that is not where i'd put the energy these days. But it's always fun to go in and do something on a show like that.
2) I don't understand Festivus, so I can't speak to that. but I can't ever out-funny my parents. They are just so naturally funny both separate and together, that's something I could never attempt to do. It's something that flows so naturally out of him that it's something I naturally enjoy all of the time.
Hi Ben! Big fan from Reykjavík, I obsessed over Zoolander as a teenager. How did you like Iceland while filming Walter Mitty? Any good stories?
Iceland was incredible filming there. The whole experience was so much fun. I'd never been there, so I knew nothing about the country besides the fact that it's incredibly beautiful there, there's so much fun stuff to do. And first of all, Reykjavik is a crazy city where it's bright in the summer all day and night, and the sensory experience is really insane there. We had a great time, a lot of jumping in the water, it was very refreshing - I say refreshing /incredibly cold - the ocean there is really, really - the natural forces there are so strong, so we had a great time there. I enjoyed being in the different parts of the country too, like we went to place called Hofn (pronounced Hopffff - I might be getting the spelling wrong) - we had a windstorm there that shut down the production, an 80 mph windstorm that came in for 3 days and it was blowing over all of our trucks and campers, I remember going out and jumping in the wind and literally hovering in the wind. And there were no clouds in the sky, just 80 MPH winds and a clear sky. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
Also, the ratio of creative people in that country is just super-high. There's like maybe 500-600,000 people in the country but there are so many artists and painters and singers, and I think it's probably because in the winter there, it's dark for so long and people are holed up, it gives them a chance to get in touch with their creativity.
How was it working with Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm?
Really fun. It's the only show I've ever done where there is literally NO script. So you are improvising your entire part. So he would basically tell you what you're going to b edging, and then you come up with it, and as you come up with it, it's so in the moment it's hard to sometimes recreate it. It's an interesting process and he's also just a really funny guy. He has a lot of energy and I enjoyed it.
When will you stop making masterpieces?
Hahaha! That's very nice. Wow. You know, I think probably the time that I actually think that I've made one will be when I stop, I'll stop at least attempting trying to make the movie I want to make. And the creative process is one where it's sometimes hard to have perspective on it while you're doing it, you put everything you have into it. So that's a very nice question. But i look forward to just keeping on trying to make the best movie I can.
List these three movies from top to bottom as far as your personal favorite performances Zoolander, Tropic Thunder, and Dodgeball?
BTW Reality Bites was THE movie that defined my transition into young adulthood and whenever I want to remember that time, I play the Mini-Mart scene with My Sharona jamming. The Ethan Hawke look during the scene is priceless.
Wow. Um, okay, it's hard for me. I'm not really good at rating my own performances, and I am not a person to go back and look at stuff, because it's just sometimes too crazy and frightening. But I rate them on experiences, and for me the experience of first of all - they were all really fun to do. Dodgeball I didn't have to direct, so there was less responsibility, and sometimes that can be more fun since you don't have to worry about schedule sand budget and those things, and it was a great experience because the character was so silly - not that Derek was any less ridiculous. But I would say Dodgeball was the most fun because of that. But the memories I have from making Tropic were great because it was such a great bunch of guys with camaraderie and a chance to strap Jack Black half-naked on a water buffalo probably made it the most special. And Zoolander was one of those things when were making it, the whole time, the studio had no idea what we were doing and we had no idea what we were doing, and the studio was like "what is this" and then eventually over the last 13-14 years it found its audience, which has been a really fun thing, that it's sort of found its way out there. But making it, it's always fun to do something when it could possibly be the worst thing ever, you know?
Who do you want to work with that you haven't yet?
Gosh, I guess, I mean there are a lot of people. I was always a huge Al Pacino fan and I never really got a chance to work with him, I'd love to do that someday. I just had a chance to work with Sir Ben Kingsley, that was really fun and kind of intimidating. I asked him to call me "Sir Ben" on the set but he wouldn't do it.
What good experiences did you have as a cast while filming Dodgeball?
Dodgeball - well, there was definitely a camaraderie on the set, with the group of the Average Joes guys. Shooting the Dodgeball scenes themselves, there were sometimes accidents that happen, but with any sports film you're going to get a ball in the face every once in a while. So we tried to keep that to a minimum, but it did happen.
Hey Ben! Love your movies! Who are you rooting for this world cup?
Ah. Good question. I'm not a huge soccer fan, though I will watch it, although at this point I am hoping America has a better shot than their coach thinks. And I will be rooting for our team. But right now i am focused on the basketball playoffs, the finals.
How much do you like dodgeball?
The actual game? I actually don't love the game of Dodgeball, I find it very stressful and violent, especially as a kid I remember it being one of those things, you got up to the firing line, it just seems like one of the most politically incorrect things you can do to a kid. I still have the sense memory when you see those red rubber balls, you know, that feeling of running up to the line and the jockeying and the intimidation. It doesn't bring out the best in people I don't think. The movie was a good way of working out all those childhood issues.