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June 2004
DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story: An Interview with Ben Stiller

By Todd Gilchrist

DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story: An Interview with Ben Stiller

On June 18, Ben Stiller appears in his fourth film of 2004, the low-key comedy "Dodgeball". The difference between this film and his previous ones, however, is that it's actually funny, and the comedian had lots to say about his latest cinematic adventure, and about "Meet the Fockers", a follow-up to the 2000 smash comedy starring Stiller and Robert De Niro.

This is the funniest film of the year.

BS: Oh good, I'm glad you liked it. Thank you. I'm very happy. We had fun making it. I think the writer/director did a great job.

Clearly, you and this character have a lot in common, right?

BS: [Laughs] I mean, look, they're all elements, right? They're all elements of yourself somewhere.

You've played many comically extreme characters. How do you make this character different?

BS: I start with the mustache and then I go to the wig, and then the skin color. He had this kind of tone of orange that doesn't really exist in nature. That fake sort of skin, that tan machine, tan lotion thing. I don't know. It's just trying to somehow connect with some sort of ridiculous, sort of self-made kind of fitness guru thing that I think exists out there.

Was he based on any real person?

BS: No. There's people and elements and things, like over the years, like even like characters on "The Ben Stiller Show", sketch show, we did like a Tony Robbins take off, and there's that guy Tony Little, that fitness guy, and then just sort of like a combo of sort of, try to come up with something that feels like what the character is, based on what Rawson wrote, because Rawson wrote all that and it just was sort of fitting in, like how do I say these words and make them sound like they're coming from this guy, I don't know.

Did you play dodgeball as a kid?

BS: I did play dodgeball as a kid.

Were you the aggressor?

BS: I was angry. I had a lot of anger and rage, but I was not very physically daunting, so I think that worked [for me]. I was like very aggressive and into it, but I was, like, an awkward sort of adolescent and I was not as coordinated as I wanted to be. I was not the worst but I definitely wasn't the best. I was probably closer to the backend of the middle.

What's the connection with White Goodman to the character you play in Heavyweights?

BS: "Heavyweights", yeah. Tony Perkins. He's definitely a first or second cousin to him. And it was, yeah, it's so funny, because I was thinking, 'Aw, yeah. This is like in that world.' And then I always thought, 'Well, nobody ever saw "Heavyweights", so I can do this.' But a lot of people saw "Heavyweights" apparently. Apparently it shows on the Disney channel a lot or something. So yeah, there are definitely correlations between them. But you know, it's like, how often do you get the chance to do a guy like that? It was really fun for me.

You said you were awkward as a teenager. Is that where comedy comes from?

BS: I don't know. I guess so. I mean, I think comedy comes, on some level, from having a sense of humor about life. And I think probably comes out of seeing life in a way that you have to have some sort of perspective on it. People that don't have any sort of insecurities, I think, are, tend to be less funny. Don't you find? You know what I mean? No. Am I wrong? I think humor somewhat comes from the fact that you can see how ridiculous everything is and how we're all sort of just trying... I know I find those people funnier to me, the people who can see the ridiculousness in life. I don't know how that relates to insecurity, but I know there's something about it that makes, maybe it's the defense mechanism, I don't know what, but confident people seem to be less funny. But they seem to have less irony about them. I don't think it's bad, it's just the way it is.

You have so many movies this year, is "Meet the Fockers" this year?

BS: We want to get it in by the end of this year so that I can have five movies come out this year. We're hoping.

Are you concerned that people might lose their appetite for your movies?

BS: Oh my God, yes. That would be horrible, yes, Jesus. Why didn't I think of that. Unfortunately, I can't control when they release the movies. I've done these movies over the last couple of years. You just do what you find funny. Hopefully, you know, people will come if they want to come. I can't control that, you know. But yeah, I have an awareness of not wanting to do to much, but it's also kind of like, I have to just go, for me personally, with my gut of what I think is worth doing. And this movie came up, "Meet the Fockers" came up. "Meet the Fockers" has been in development for four years and it finally all came together. I liked it, I liked the idea of doing it, so I wasn't going to say no because of that. And "Dodgeball" was a movie that we took around town, they came to us with the script, and nobody wanted to make it except this one studio, and it's this writer/director wrote this really funny script that I just laughed at and I said, 'You know what, this will be fun to do.'

Was "Fockers" intimidating to do with Streisand and Hoffman?

BS: Right, we're still doing it. We have another month and a half to go. It's great. It's incredibly unique. It's one of those things where you go to work everyday and you go, 'This is just unreal.' And yet, you get to a point, and luckily kind of quickly, where everybody feels comfortable with each other, which you have to have to make it, sort of, work. But, I'm sitting there doing scenes with Barbara Streisand and going, 'I'm doing scenes with Barbara Streisand and she hasn't been in a movie in eight years and she's so funny and she's so iconic and it's exciting.

She's the quintessential Jewish mother?

BS: Yeah, well she's like, the Earthy, cool, sex therapist for seniors. That's what she does in the movie. So she let's it all hang out and she just looks great. She's got this dark, curly wig. She feels really... It reminds me of, like, a lot of moms from the upper west side in the 70's that I grew up with.

How are Streisand and Hoffman?

BS: They're incredible. He makes her laugh, and he cracks her up. They are like a married couple, except he doesn't look anything like James Brolin. James Brolin comes to the set and he's great. He's like the coolest guy ever. He's like the macho, cool, shock of white hair. What a crazy great couple they are. They are so good together. You watch them together and, although it makes no sense on paper, you see these two people together and you're like, 'oh, I get it. They love each other.' I think he's the coolest, but Dustin and Barbara are incredible. He makes her laugh, they have a vivaciousness, they feel, the idea in the movie is that they have a really active love life still and you really believe it.

Are we going to see you doing drama again?

BS: Yeah, I mean I hope so, if people allow me to. Well actually, I am going to take a break for a while, let everyone chill out for a little bit, myself included. And then figure out, kind of figure out what I'm doing. But I mean, that's my hope, to always be able to do different things.

Does it frustrate you to be in all these movies at the same time?

BS: Of course it does. It's very frustrating. It is. But you know, the lesson that I learned from that is, that if you do other movies and you think, 'Oh, maybe one will come out every six months,' and it doesn't work out that way, you can't control it. So, you know, you live and learn. You can't do anything about it. So next time around, you go, 'Okay, well I'll think about that as I go in to make the next decisions. For the most part, I feel, each movie you make a choice on based on the best decision on the time, what feels right.

How did the Milkshake bit come about?

BS: It was just sort of a flash of inspiration. [Laughs]

Well, if you're going to be in the suit...

BS: Yeah, exactly. It just was there and we were thinking of different endings for the movie and...

Did you have to learn the lyrics?

BS: I did. I learned the lyrics. It just is, just for fun. It's just for fun and we thought maybe, well, we watched it and we thought, 'Well, we've got to put this at the very, very end of the credits because this might be too weird to end the movie on. But it seemed to make sense for White Goodman because he's so much about his body. Now that he's big and fat, he has to accept it and make use of his body.

You are ripped in a lot of these movies. Is that something natural?

BS: [Laughs] My natural physique? No. Not at all. You just do what you gotta do for the movie. Owen Wilson is always making fun of me. He goes, 'You never get fat for a movie.'

How do you get into that shape?

BS: [Holding up his drink] Ice blendeds all the time. No, for that, it's funny because you're making a comedy and you're thinking that has really nothing to do with comedy. But this character is a guy who really takes himself very seriously and I just wanted to get to a point where at least he could walk around feeling like he was the cock of the walk, just so ridiculous, like a little peacock strutting around. So, I just tried to do what he would do. There's two ways you could go. You could do that or you could go sort of the other route, you know what I mean, and be really out of shape but pretend you're in shape.

Actress in Dodgeball?

BS: Yeah, Christine Taylor. It was interesting because we got to sort of have fun. And somehow she thought it was funny, like this character. She wasn't really repulsed by it, at least that's what she told me. So, it was actually, while we were working it out... The mustache had a life of it's own, I don't know if you noticed. Yeah, the pump up thing... I don't know. It was fun. We had fun, we were laughing a lot, we got to spend time together, which was good. When you're working, you don't get to do that. And she, we just connect on that level, where we like, we laugh at the same things, so it was actually really fun and therapeutic. It's always good to throw balls at each other. It would be good therapy. Good couples therapy.

Did you ever hit her by mistake or whatever?

BS: I hit her in the face a couple times, which was not good. Not helpful. That actually affected our relationship for like a week. There's just no way not to get upset with somebody after you've done that. It just sent us both back to eighth grade.


BS: My arm got a little sore, and she got hit in the face a couple of times. It was just exhausting. Playing those games is exhausting. It's for children. Children have the energy, but once you're, like, in your later 30's, it's not fun.

How old is your child.

BS: Two.

Does your child accompany you on these journeys?

BS: She came a number of times, but when we were doing the movie, she was like one and a half, so it was definitely not the best place for her to be. She'd look at dad in the weird wig.

BS: It was a combination, but you realize when you're playing the game, it's like such a free for all, because there's six balls, everything's happening at the same time, you can't follow anything, so we did have to choreograph like the final game, stuff like that, which was all written out. But it was like three weeks of shooting that, two and a half or three weeks, but it was exhausting and a little bit mind-numbing because it takes a lot of energy. Especially where they did the wide shots. The wide shots we had to play the whole game out. And you're exhausted after like three or four minutes and then you look lazy if you don't move around. So, it was hard.

Do you prefer physical comedy?

BS: I actually don't. I don't know. I enjoy watching both. I just went to this thing that Dustin Hoffman chaired where the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra played at UCLA to the Buster Keaton movie "Steamboat Bill, Jr.". That was incredible, great physical comedy; beyond physical comedy, it was like acrobatic stuff. And you watch the stuff and it's amazing, so I mean, I have a real respect for it. But I also enjoy "The Office", you know that kind of humor, or "Spinal Tap". I don't have any categories...

Do you have comedians you envied growing up?

BS: I think, like, Bill Murray and Steven Martin and Albert Brooks and Woody Allen and all those great filmmaker funny people. John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Martin Short, all those great SCTV guys. That new SCTV DVD is out it's awesome.

How is switching playing good guys and bad guys with Vaughn?

BS: Just that we switch mustaches, basically, from movie to movie. Different, yeah, very different. I mean, Vince is interesting because he takes it very seriously as an actor, even when it's a comedy. And when he's playing the bad guy, I thought he was a very credible bad guy, even in "Starsky and Hutch", he was like that guy, he's got a cool factor about him, you believe him, you know? And in this thing he's taking, he took it very seriously too, playing the strait guy. So we're playing these ridiculous scenes where I'm, like, in this get-up and he's just playing it very real. I think he's incredible. I just think he has such a talent. His persona, that "Swingers" persona that he created, the way that he can improvise in character, and he's a writer too. It's like it's all happening. So I just think he's unique and incredible.

Did you bring Hank Azaria to this?

BS: Yeah. It was after "Polly". He is in incredible shape. He's great. Yeah, he just came in and did it in a day. He did like his, it was funny because we hadn't shot the Rip Torn scenes yet, but his idea was he was kind of like doing like a young Rip Torn meets Clark Gable sort of thing, that character.

Did you have to do a dodgeball training camp?

BS: You know, the good thing is is that nobody knows what it looks like to really play team dodgeball, so we went for, I went for, I think two times. But, like I said, it's much more exhausting than you think, so... And it's very competitive. Even when it's a stupid dodgeball movie, people are taking it very seriously. Even when we were playing in front of like five hundred people and we had the extras there, it was like nobody wanted to look bad.

Do you have any plans to continue playing dodgeball?

BS: No. I mean, really, you play a little bit. I mean really, ten, fifteen minutes and you're done.

Do you get to keep the clothes?

BS: No. Did I get the spandex? No. The headband, I might have kept the headband.

What's after "Fockers"?

BS: Time off. It's chill out time. At least six months. I hope more.

Are you a workaholic?

BS: Well, I don't know. How do you define that term? No, I definitely worked a lot the last couple of years. I like being creative, I like directing and that usually takes a little bit longer. Kind of the way this whole five movie thing happened was, I'd worked on "Zoolander" for a few years, which was just one project and I focused on that for a long time, and so I thought, you know what, after that, I want a little less responsibility and I'll just go and act in a few movies and it sort of rolled out of control and it became this number of movies. But probably I'll be taking time off and then hopefully I'll direct something. So I probably won't see you guys for like two years. I know, it's gonna be tough. We're have to wean ourselves away from each other.

Movie acknowledges the conventions of these movies?

BS: We used to have a lot more of that kind of stuff in the original script. I think, what he, my feeling is, what happened was, he toned that down a little bit because I think he realized that he'd actually written a script that had real characters and people could invest in it and an audience wants to invest in the characters. So it's really hard to ride that line where you're sort of saying, you know, 'Hey, this is a movie' but also letting the audience feel like these are real people. I think that's the key to any of those movies working really is you want to like the characters and at least be able to invest in them in some way, so I think he was sort of riding the line on that, but I remember the original script had more of that kind of stuff in that.

What's the key to playing such a broad character?

BS: Honestly, I think you just try to figure out what the reality is in the moment with the character. Even if it's a really broad character, you have to somehow believe that the guy, for yourself if you're playing him, is a real person. Even if he's a guy who has this pretense, and I think the White Goodman character is a guy who is like, who is so artificial, that I think you can just justify it with the fact that he's made everything up in his life, he's created his look, he's probably changed his name, he probably does his voice because he wants to sound like that. And there are people like that, I mean there are weird people like that. So it's just trying to find the reality in the moment.

Is the tone of "Fockers" different from "Meet the Parents"?

BS: No, actually, I'm thinking and hoping that it's going to be similar. I think that's going to be, hopefully what makes it work, knock on wood, is that it's not going for anything other than trying to be what the original was with a new story and not trying to top itself, like more and bigger, you know what I mean? It's not trying to outdo it, it's just trying to say, 'Hey, here are these characters and here's a new story with these characters. They're great together. And Hoffman and DeNiro are great together, because Hoffman is so touchy feely and all over Bob and I think DeNiro's so freaking funny in this movie because really, the character's so defined and everybody knows that character by now. It's just really fun to watch him do his thing.

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