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January 2004
ALONG CAME POLLY An Interview with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston

By Todd Gilchrist

An Interview with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston

Ever since "There's Something About Mary" came out a few years ago, the level of comedy has grown to new heights. You just don't know how far films would go to make you laugh. Ben Stiller is one funny guy. Having been in the film just mentioned and countless other comedy films, the guy is a natural. With this being the final season of Friends, Jennifer Aniston stands out amongst the group of having the potential to be a major film star. Having her own starring vehicles (Picture Perfect, The Good Girl) proves that she has the goods to carry the film. To put "Ben & Jen" in a film should be a treat for all. Coming out on Jan.16 is Along Came Polly, in which Ben stars as Ruben, an anal retentive risk analyst whose going through some romantic crisis until he meets Polly Prince, played by Jennifer. In an interview with blackfilm.com, both Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston speak about the physical challenges in this romantic comedy.

How do you go back and forth between dramatic roles and comedic roles? How do you prepare?

JA: I don't know. Life can be dramatic and funny all in the same day, so I kind of don't feel that there's a big... With The Good Girl I was also going back and forth from Friends to that in one day. So I don't know. I think you just step into the building and that other stuff kind of goes out the door..

So there is no difference in preparation?

JA: It is the material. If you work from right in here [stomach] which I know Ben does just because he's so natural and so good.
BS: I have been doing a lot of comedy lately, so I don't feel like I have been vollying back and forth for a while. But I think you kind of approach it the same way though. You have an awareness of what the tone of whatever it is you are doing is. But just coming from trying to be real in the moment. You're aware if you're in a comedy. I think choices can go a different way, which are more darker, but I think it's basically approaching it the same way.

Jennifer, I don't know if you are aware of this, but you are in Ferrets Magazine this month...

JA: I didn't even know there was a Ferret Magazine. That is very exciting. You know, I feel sad for the ferret because I wasn't a big fan of the ferret. It's not the warmest cuddliest- -

BS: I don't feel bad for the ferret

JA: It bit you. That's why. But yeah, of all the animals out there to work with, a ferret wouldn't be my first choice, so... But you know, I hope I pretended as though I really liked it.

You were bitten?

BS: I was bitten by the ferret, yeah. I didn't do anything, I swear. It was really weird. We were doing this final scene where I come running after you and I'm holding the ferret and I also had just gotten a root canal the day before, so maybe it sensed that... And I was holding it up... They are weird because... Do they have spines? Because he did this crazy turn around thing and he literally attached himself to my chin. And then he didn't let go. And he was holding on to my chin. It was this surreal thing, where it's like okay, the ferret's on my chin then I had to go and get a rabbies shot.

JA: Who wouldn't?

BS: But I didn't provoke it at all. Their teeth are sharp like razors. They are rat-like creatures, let's just face it.

JA: It's just a big rat at the end of the day.

BS: No? They're marsupials? Weasels. Excuse me, weasels..

Jennifer with your commitment to the TV show, how picky can you be with your movie choices and what are some examples of things you don't want to do that have been offered to you?

JA: Well things I don't to do or I try are things that I have already done that I regret. So I look out for the cliche romantic comedies. The formula... The thing I am attracted to is just good writing and stories that are based somewhat in reality. If it is too much of a gimmick... The guys pretends to be the husband to send the fake letter to get the girl - all of those sort of gimmicky things I avoid. But sometimes you don't really know. You think you are making a great choice and you're just not. What was the other part of the question?

How picky can you be...?

JA: Well that's hard. But in a couple of weeks I won't have that problem anymore.

Ben, having played the somewhat neurotic character in so many movies, how do you keep it interesting?Y

BS: I don't know. I just kind of take it on a case by case basis. I really thought the script for this was good and I like working with John Hamburg. So I don't really look at it in that way. But if you are trying to tell me something... [laughs] I don't know. Just take it on a case by case basis. For me, it was exciting to work with people in the movie. I thought the cast was great in this film. I worked with Jennifer and Phil Hoffman and Alec Baldwin was really good. It's kind of if the material and the project seem like a good thing, that's how I look at it..

Can you talk about the physical challenges in this movie?

JA: Wasn't he great in his salsa? That's what was so great about this job is I just laughed the whole time... Cracking up is fun, but you're not supposed to.

BS: The salsa thing was, I just took classes for a while and worked with a choreographer and tried to be as good as I can possibly be. Which, of course is not that great so luckily that worked for the script. It's fun to have something specific to work on. The racquetball scene was one of those things that we shot it all day and the first hour you thought "This is great. This is gonna be so cool." Then after an hour of playing racquetball - most people don't play for more than an hour, even professional racquetball players. Those last 11 hours of the day were just torturous and horrible. But I think it is fun to have specific things to work on. And especially in the context of a movie like this where the guy's trying to be good and he's not really that good. That takes a lot of pressure off so you know you just try as hard as you can and know your best won't be good enough which'll be good for the movie.

JA: I however was supposed to be a really good salsa dancer. I took two [classes]. I was supposed to take more. But I didn't. It was good. Thank God we got that. We had two days in New York shooting and then the next bit for me was all of the salsa dancing. And it was five days straight. My feet looked like raw meat. It was just disgusting. I don't know how those dancers do it. But it was so much fun. And then right after we shot those six days I broke my toe. So thank God we took care of all of that stuff. So I limped through the rest of the movie.

How did you break your toe?

JA: I stubbed it. It was stupid. Absolutely ridiculous. I stubbed it on an ottomon that no longer is there. And that was five months of that. But it was fun. I loved learning how to do it. I think it is an incredible dance and it was fun. And the ferret, as far as that, the woman was like, "He doesn't bite." She kept saying that. That was a mislead. But it didn't bite me for sure and I did manhandle it quite often. But Ben just had that unfortunate moment.

We like to see chemistry in romantic comedies. How do you get that?

JA: I don't think you get that. I think that just has to be there.

Did you think about that?

BS: I don't think about that. I know that at the end of the day you hope that there is something there that works. So it is fun to watch them together and you believe them as two people who would be in a couple or be attracted to each other or are just fun to watch together. But you can't just go for that result. There is nothing you can do about it... I knew that we both kind of enjoyed each other's company and laugh together and have fun together, and Jennifer is just a great person to hang out with and is extremely giving, fun, good person. But as far as how that translates to what people are watching on the screen, it is like anything else with what you are doing as an actor. I don't think you can be thinking about that. Because you can't control it. It is something you can't force.

JA: You'd probably get a review, you'd hear something like it was a very self-conscious performance.

BS: It's something that you can't force so often you just have to hope that it's there and the director is sort of aware of watching what's going on and trying to foster whatever it is between the two actors while it's happening.

 Intimate scenes....

JA: It is nerve wracking. There is just no way around it. It is awkward. There is nothing sexy. But we had fun. We were really proud of ourselves at the end of that day that we made it through somewhat.

BS: It's just a weird experience. I think in this scene in particular, it is a comedic scene, so it makes it easier that you are not... But I have been involved with scenes that aren't like that and it is a whole other sort of vibe going on. Because you are trying to... The circumstances of that scene. The fact that it is the first time for them... It all just kind of helped. The elements of doing something like that are so weird so it played into that. I think it would be harder if it was this really heavy romantic, deep thing. But it is always weird though, for sure.

JA: I have only had one other and it was thirty seconds and it was over.

 Intimate scenes....

JA: It is nerve wracking. There is just no way around it. It is awkward. There is nothing sexy. But we had fun. We were really proud of ourselves at the end of that day that we made it through somewhat.

Is it easier to believe in romantic comedies - the idea that there is one person out there for everybody - now that you each have true love in your own lives? As opposed to when you were going through bad times?

BS: For me, when I met my wife, I wasn't looking for her or it. I wasn't expecting it to happen. So yes, when it happens, you believe that... It's like if you are playing a parent and you have a child it is the same type of thing. If you really have that experience, it just informs it in a different way. So yes, I think so for sure. 

Jennifer, can you pinpoint one key comic element in Ben's work that you find particularly striking and Ben can you do the same thing for Jennifer...

JA: I can tell you one thing off the top of my head... You know when you are listening to Jazz and they are just all over the place and it is unexpected? That is sort of like Ben. A riff, sure. Ben does things that you sort of expect a line or you hear it or you read it on the page and kind of if you're reading your lines and you know the scene, you can sort of anticipate what will be happening. That just never happens. It's always an interesting- - which is why I think I laugh all the time while we are filming. I'm not very professional either, but he just surprises me and it is just unexpected all the time. That is why he is unique and real. It' always real. There is never a moment when you feel he is playing comedy. That's what I hate about a lot of comedies is when you're hitting a line or making it funny, he just pulls it right out from the truth.

BS: I'd say that Jennifer's just, there's so few,,, how do I say it? I don't want to say that there are so few women who are good at comedy. That sounds like a really sexist thing to say, but she really is one of the few actresses that I know where she has such impeccable timing as a comedienne, actress and I don't mean that in a bad way. But she really listens and she has timing in terms of knowing... And I don't think that it comes out of a premeditated thing. It's just in her bones, she knows when to say it and when to not say anything, and she just takes things in and she listens in a way that's very real too, I think. And just incredible timing which I think is a real gift.

Can you talk about the challenge of working with a naked Hank Azaria?

BS: Hank, of course, transformed himself into this frightening creature. I couldn't stop staring at his pecs which is great because when he turned around, I didn't have to look at his butt because I was thinking about his pecs so much. Boy, I don't know. It was really fun. Hank, talking about people cracking you up... Hank just cracked me up constantly, and you too, all of us. He's just so ridiculous. There was one scene in particular where he takes Debra [Messing] off to go on the boat and he comes over and I tell him, 'Just take care of her because she's like the most important thing in my life,' and we just could not get through it. I couldn't get through it. What am I saying? He just kept on. He's really one of the funniest people on earth. So, it was fun to watch him come in with his bronzed physique and the ridiculous wig and do his thing. It was great.

Did you have a butt double?.

BS: I wish I had. I wish I had.

Is there anything that you won't do for comedy?

BS: I guess not. I don't know.




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