Stiller hits new heights
It’s crime time for one of the world’s best known comedy actors, writes Peter Mitchell
BEN Stiller shakes his head as he looks out the window of a 34th floor Manhattan hotel suite to the madness on the streets below.
‘‘ It’s chaos,’’ says the 46- year- old star of classic comedies including There’s Something About Mary, Zoolander and Tropic Thunder.
The streets around the hotel are gridlocked because more than 100 world leaders have flown in to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, an annual event that allows easy access for US President Barack Obama and other heads of state in their motorcades to zip around the city but a headache for millions of other Manhattanites.
‘‘ Last night I went to dinner and Obama was having dinner next door,’’ Stiller says. ‘‘ The whole of Park Avenue, from 79th to 74th, was shut down. ‘‘ It was crazy.’’ When it is suggested to Stiller that Obama, Australia’s UNGA representative Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and other world leaders in town should catch the subway and leave the NYPD- led motorcades to big Hollywood stars like himself, he offers a smirk. ‘‘ Of course,’’ he agrees. Unlike many of the world leaders in town, Stiller’s approval rating with the public is sky high. With budget- conscious Hollywood studios slashing the amount they pay actors to star in films, Stiller, 46, is one of a handful of actors who still commands $ US10 million- plus paydays to headline a movie. In his new action- comedy, Tower
Heist, Stiller earned a reported $ US15 million ($ 14.8 million) to play Josh Kovacs, the building manager of a highrise luxury Manhattan apartment tower who hatches a plan to rob a crooked businessman who lives in the penthouse.
Stiller’s Tower Heist co- star Eddie Murphy, who plays street thug Slide and a member of Kovacs’ gang of thieves, pocketed $ US7.5 million.
The movie was directed by Brett Ratner, the outspoken filmmaker of the
Rush Hour comedy franchise who, before upsetting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with controversial comments, was set to produce the next Oscar ceremony with Murphy as host.
Stiller has worked with some of the best directors and producers in Hollywood and was full of praise for Ratner, who is almost as well known for his colourful, party- boy lifestyle as his movie- making.
‘‘ The way he does it is unlike anybody else,’’ Stiller explains. ‘‘ He has such an enthusiasm. He will get you to do things other directors can’t.
‘‘ Like, he’ll do 30 takes and you won’t know why. It’s not like it’s Stanley Kubrick telling you to do it. It’s Brett Ratner.
‘‘ But, the thing is he comes off as a guy who is like a character, is so vivacious and always has beautiful women around and is always on his Blackberry but when it comes down to making movies he really cares.
‘‘ His energy somehow gets you through all the stuff.’’
Stiller is heavily involved in each film he makes, whether he is wearing the director-writer- producer hats in Tropic Thunder, or in Tower Heist , where he is credited only as an actor.
Stiller met with Ratner for months before cameras began rolling on Tower Heist.
‘‘ We had a lot of discussions when we were developing the script,’’ Stiller said.
‘‘ We worked on it for almost nine months before it came together.
‘‘ We had a lot of disagreements. I would say, ‘ I think it should be this’ and he would say, ‘ No, I think it should be that’.
‘‘ But, we always agreed what the tone would be.
‘‘ I really didn’t know what would happen when we got on the set but on the first day it was great because he just loves to shoot. ‘‘ He loves to get into the shooting.’’
Tower Heist shows the inner workings of one of Manhattan’s elite apartment buildings, with Stiller’s Kovacs in charge of the tower’s many employees and ensuring all of the multi- millionaire residents have every whim catered for.
Donald Trump’s Central Park property, Trump International Hotel and Tower, was used in the film.
Kovacs is forced to bring together a team of property employees and petty thief Slide, to rob penthouse owner and shady businessman Arthur Shaw ( Alan Alda).
Shaw had conned Kovacs into investing the retirement savings and pension plans of the tower’s staff members with his company but it is revealed Shaw is the mastermind of a Ponzi scheme.
When Shaw is arrested, Kovacs and his gang use their knowledge of the building to break into the penthouse and find $ 30 million they believe Shaw has hidden.
Just like the gridlock outside, Stiller has discovered his star power and track record is not always enough to get Hollywood studios to green light his films.
I really didn’t know what would happen when we got on the set but on the first day it was great because he just loves to shoot
Stiller, along with Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell, are keen to make a sequel to
Zoolander, their 2001 classic comedy spoofing the modelling industry but have been hit by roadblock after roadblock.
‘‘ It has been a slow process,’’ says Stiller, who is married to actress Christine Taylor with daughter Ella, 9, and son Quinlin, 6.
‘‘ We wrote a Zoolander 2 script last summer and everyone wants to do it.
‘‘ I want to do it. Will wants to do it. Owen wants to do it. I’m just waiting for the studio to get their act together on it.
‘‘ I feel that for any movie I have been a part of, the strongest connection I have with the audience is on Zoolander.
‘‘ It was one of those movies that didn’t make a gazillion dollars but has this following.
‘‘ I think somehow the studio might not get the connection the fans have with the movie because it didn’t translate into box office dollars. They don’t get what is the other visceral connection people might have with the movie.
‘‘ I literally think they look at it as a math formula and the people who make those decisions have trouble looking outside the box these days in this economic climate.
‘‘ It is too bad because I feel a lot of people want to see it and we want to do it.’’
Now showing Village Cinemas