Ben Stiller Talks NY Knicks, Parents, Loyalty, and Zoolander Too!
'Zoolander 2' is The Kind's excuse to get under Ben Stiller's skin.
Ben Stiller is an actor everybody wants more from. If you spent one Night at the Museum with Ben, you were basically counting days for the next overnighter. If you went along with Ben to Meet the Parents, you were invested in the development of every other little Focker that followed along. And, obviously, if you've ever watched a human mannequin trip fantastic down a fashion runway, you've wondered, Geez, I wish I knew what Derek Zoolander was doing today. Like, I wish I knew in great detail what Derek Zoolander was doing today.
Plenty of movie stars have followings and are the faces of cinema franchises. Followings and franchises are the movie star's defining traits. Far fewer film artists have been consistently turning the medium on its head since 1992—the year The Ben Stiller Show launched on an upstart Fox TV network, won a Prime Time Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program, and went away.
Actually the show never went away. The subsequent resumes of Judd Apatow, Bob Odenkirk, and David Cross, three of the Emmy-winning writers on The Ben Stiller Show, have—along with Stiller's many and varied credits—largely shaped our conception of smart popular entertainment in 2016.
The Kind sensed that something deeper than sparkling charisma and glittering charm are at the core of Ben Stiller's pervasive web of influence.
We had some theories, and we caught up with the director, star and co-writer of Zoolander 2, to dig into the traumatic underpinnings of his creative functioning.
The Kind: Can you talk about the character building that goes along with being a longtime New York Knicks fan?
Ben Stiller: I am old so I remember when they won it all. It gives me something to hang onto. I moved to L.A. in the '90s; so I missed that era. Having lived in New York the past five years, it has been challenging and exhausting. The good news is that there is an exciting change happenng. Hope is in the air. We aren’t there yet, but [power forward Kristaps] Porzingis is the future. And even when they lose, there’s nothing like going to a Knicks game.
The Kind: You have a history of working on smaller projects, ranging from Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight to Extras to Noah Baumbach films and Arrested Development. Why are these independent efforts important to you?
Ben Stiller: It’s great to work on projects that you connect with—no matter the commercial appeal. It’s just about working on something you connect with. Smaller scale projects tend to be looser and have a lot less pressure on them. Also working on projects like that everyone tends to be there because they want to—so there is a camaraderie. It’s fun.
The Kind: You are said to have an amazing ability to remember people’s names upon introduction, even among large groups of people. Did that skill come to you naturally? How did you train yourself to do that?
Ben Stiller: I wish I knew who spread that rumor. I don’t think that’s true—but I took the Silva Mind Control method when I was 16. They had memory pegs, and ways to visualize what you want. Maybe some of that rubbed off. But honestly
The Kind: Many of your work relationships go back decades. What creates lasting loyalty?
Ben Stiller: Trust. You know what you are getting, and that is worth a lot. It also comes from working with people whose work you appreciate. After a while that can lead you to new places. Making movies is so challenging that loyalty and trust give you an advantage in getting to what you want the process to be.
The Kind: What are some tips for making people around you know they are important?
Ben Stiller: Acknowledgment. I know I feel good when someone tells me they appreciate what I am doing. I feel like everyone is better when they feel the freedom to be who they are. I haven’t always been this enlightened—or always put this into practice. But as I get older, I think the experience itself is more important than just the result. And if people feel that they have the freedom to do their thing, they tend to engage more.
The Kind: What are the best lessons learned from your parents, the ones you want to pass down to your kids?
Ben Stiller: We all inherently get so much from our parents. Stuff you are aren't even aware of. We all think we won’t make the mistakes they did, then end up sometimes making the same ones or new ones. The great thing is if you have the awareness you can work on that. My parents were incredibly generous people. I feel like my mom was very comfortable speaking her mind—which she was extremely funny doing. I hope my kids get that. And a sense of humor too.
The Kind: When you look out at all the circumstances in the world that could be changed for the better, how do you determine where you can help, and how to best help?
Ben Stiller: It’s about doing one thing. Something manageable—helping one person who needs help, makes a difference. One thing can lead to something else, and it grows. There are so many ways to volunteer—both locally or going out into the world. The thing to remember is that the intent and action and awareness make the change. So just start, and don’t be too hard on yourself—that doesn’t help anyone.
The Kind: What are the character Zoolander’s saving graces?
Ben Stiller: He is incredibly naive and honest. Derek has a huge heart. His ego is just as big or bigger, but he has no awareness of it, which is what makes him genuine.
The Kind: Zoolander #2 was 14 years in the making. What other unfinished business do you want to get done?
Ben Stiller: No more sequels for a little while. I want to hang with my kids this summer and be a dad, until they get sick of me—so I will probably be working by 4th of July.
Special thanks to Bronson Olimpieri.