THE TH SE­CRET TO ZOOLANDER’S ZO EN­DUR­ING EN SUC­CESS

In em­brac­ing the Zoolander se­quel, does the world of fash­ion fully re­alise it is the butt of its jokes? By Michael Bodey and Si­mone Fox Koob

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

Hol­ly­wood’s al­lure is so strong that even the vic­tims of its par­ody and satire play along, wit­tingly or not. And so it is with the com­edy Zoolander 2, which marks the re­turn of Ben Stiller and Drake Sather’s sub­lime cre­ation, the ridicu­lously dim male model Derek Zoolander.

Fif­teen years af­ter the orig­i­nal film opened as a comic odd­ity flit­ting on the out­skirts of the fash­ion world, Stiller’s Zoolander re­turns with Owen Wil­son’s Hansel and Will Fer­rell’s Mu­gatu, along with the seem­ing em­brace of the fash­ion in­dus­try the film satirises so mer­ci­lessly.

Zoolander 2’ s co-writer Justin Th­er­oux chuck­les at the “meta” na­ture of it, not­ing it is “not that dis­sim­i­lar” to Th­er­oux and Stiller’s pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tion on the Hol­ly­wood satire Tropic Thun­der (for which Robert Downey Jr im­prob­a­bly earned an Academy Award nom­i­na­tion for his per­for­mance as a method-act­ing Aus­tralian per­former).

“We were think­ing, ‘ Oh boy, is Hol­ly­wood go­ing to be an­gry at us be­cause we’re mak­ing fun of so many peo­ple?’ ” the screen­writer re­calls. But af­ter Tropic Thun­der, Th­er­oux met the peo­ple on whom that film’s su­per-agent char­ac­ter Les Grossman or oth­ers were largely based and they would gush: “Oh my god, I can’t be­lieve you’re mak­ing fun of so-and-so.”

“No one thinks they’re the butt of the joke,” he says. “And that’s the beauty of satire. Peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly nar­cis­sis­tic peo­ple, rarely want to point the fin­ger back at them­selves. So they im­me­di­ately trans­fer th­ese traits on to other peo­ple they think they’ve met.”

Th­er­oux chuck­les as he re­calls peo­ple in fash­ion — “with a to­tally straight face” — en­thus­ing how they loved Zoolander. “In the back of my head I am think­ing, ‘ You’re kind of the in­spi­ra­tion for that, but OK’, ” he says.

Fash­ion’s em­brace of Zoolander was made of­fi­cial last year when Stiller and Wil­son an­nounced the se­quel to the 2001 hit at Valentino’s Paris Fash­ion Week show. And last month Vogue mag­a­zine’s cover fea­tured Stiller in char­ac­ter with co-star Pene­lope Cruz plus a lav­ish photo spread shot by An­nie Lei­bovitz.

Stiller, who di­rects the se­quel, is a lit­tle more diplo­matic about the sub­ject of his satire, point­ing out they made the orig­i­nal film as out­siders and back then the fash­ion world was “prob­a­bly sus­pi­cious, which I can un­der­stand”.

“It’s been great over the last 15 years how it’s been em­braced by the fash­ion world,” he says. “And I think all those peo­ple re­ally do have — most of them do have — a sense of hu­mour about it, be­cause it’s such a tough world and it’s a very stress­ful job to be a fash­ion de­signer, as you have to keep com­ing up with some­one new ev­ery few months. And you have to sort of take your­self se­ri­ously to be taken se­ri­ously.

“But what I’ve learned is th­ese de­sign­ers have to com­mit to some­thing, have to rein­vent them ev­ery four months. That pres­sure never stops. That’s why it gets more and more out­ra­geous. It is an art form for sure, but it’s easy to make fun of be­cause they have to take them­selves se­ri­ously.”

Th­er­oux at­tributes the fash­ion world’s em­brace to the fact there was “a lot of truth in the first one. So when we were re­search­ing the se­cond one, doors flung open for us be­cause peo­ple wanted to be in­volved.

“The fash­ion in­dus­try loves this movie be­cause they think they’re not the joke. And to a cer­tain ex­tent they’re not. Take [Fer­rell’s char­ac­ter] Mu­gatu.”

The out­ra­geous fash­ion boss is not based on any in­di­vid­ual in the in­dus­try — rather, “he is a sort of Franken­stein ver­sion of sev­eral peo­ple stitched to­gether”, Th­er­oux says.

Zoolander 2 is an­other im­pres­sive achieve­ment in the 44-year-old’s grow­ing re­sume. Af­ter be­gin­ning in the vis­ual arts, he has carved a solid ca­reer as a gig­ging ac­tor, with a long run in The District, his big­gest role be­fore his present run on screen in the im­pres­sive US se­ries The Left­overs.

Th­er­oux has also emerged as a strong comic writer for fea­ture films, pen­ning screen­plays for Tropic Thun­der, Iron Man 2 and Rock of Ages — and be­ing re­spon­si­ble for some un­cred­ited screen­play touch-ups — be­fore his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Stiller, Ni­cholas Stoller and John Ham­burg on Zoolander 2. And, for what it’s worth, he mar­ried Jen­nifer Anis­ton last year.

He con­sid­ers him­self a writer as well as an ac­tor, “I guess by def­i­ni­tion”, but does not feel the urge to touch up any scripts on The Left­overs be­cause “drama is not some­thing I re­ally know how to touch up”.

“It’s not my ball­park to play in,” he says. “I just love an ac­tor to be handed a script where all the sweat and coffee spills over it have al­ready hap­pened. And then I’m get­ting a nice pris­tine copy of a fin­ished thing, so all I have to do is say the words and make some faces.”

Zoolander’s se­quel has been some time com­ing, though that was not the in­ten­tion. Th­er­oux says the film has “gone through many it­er­a­tions, which [does not mean] it was prob­lem­atic”. But the orig­i­nal film opened wanly in the US af­ter Septem­ber 11, 2001, so there was lit­tle com­mer­cial in­cen­tive to make a se­quel. Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, an enor­mous ap­petite de­vel­oped.

“I kind of said, ‘If ev­ery­one had come to the movie when it first came out, we would have made the se­quel the next year’ — but no­body asked,” Stiller says, adding he tried writ­ing a screen­play in 2005 be­fore pro­duc­ing an­other one in 2010 with Th­er­oux.

“Justin and I worked to­gether on Tropic Thun­der and have been friends for 20 years, so we had a re­ally fun time work­ing on this,” he says. “The guy who cre­ated the orig­i­nal with us, Drake, who is no longer alive, he was re­ally the core im­pe­tus for the movie, it was his idea. So when Drake wasn’t around it was hard to think how to do it.”

Th­er­oux re­calls the writ­ers tak­ing their time try­ing to crack a cen­tral premise that jus­ti­fied Zoolander in the age of self­ies, In­sta­gram and in­sta-fame, as well as one that could also jus­tify in­te­gra­tion in the real fash­ion hubs of Paris, Lon­don or Rome. “We struck on an idea that we both thought was re­ally funny,” he says. “Once we had that idea we thought there was ac­tu­ally a rea­son for this movie to get made be­cause it feels big­ger, feels as funny and feels like we could re­ally blow the roof off it.

“Now it makes sense and it takes us to Europe and gets into a his­tor­i­cal rea­son for this movie to be hap­pen­ing, and it pro­vides us with all th­ese, not just cameos, but fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­ni­ties for other char­ac­ters to come in and out.”

Derek Zoolander and his sem­i­nal Blue Steel look are now back in a world that has changed in many ways. Yet in an odd way, Th­er­oux says, the grad­ual dis­cov­ery of Zoolander by au­di­ences via the old-world DVD for­mat “added to its spe­cial­ness”.

“It’s like that thing when you go to a record store back in the day and [find] a great band and tell your friend and they tell their friends; it feels weirdly more spe­cial be­cause you have own­er­ship,” he says.

Even if some claim­ing own­er­ship might not fully re­alise they’re the butt of Zoolander’s jokes.

Zoolander 2 is open na­tion­ally.

Ben Stiller, Pene­lope Cruz and Owen Wil­son in

Zoolander 2; Stiller and Cruz on the cover of Vogue; co-writer Justin Th­er­oux, below

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