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Home Interviews Brief Encounters Brief Encounters: Ben Stiller
Brief Encounters: Ben Stiller Print E-mail
Wednesday, 20 May 2009 06:18

Ben Stiller returns to star in the sequel to the box office hit, Night at the Museum. Also directed by Shawn Levy, Night at the Museum 2 sees security guard Larry Daley caught up in a chaotic battle between his old friends from the Natural History Museum and evil pharaoh Kahmunrah - he's back from the dead, along with various other historical villains. Stiller chats about why he returned to the world of museums.

Why did you think a sequel was a good idea?

The original movie had a great vibe; people seemed to get a good feeling watching it. I knew right away that it was a movie I would want to see, especially if I were ten or twelve years old. It would be my dream movie. The idea of all the museum exhibits coming to life was just a cool idea.


So is this one entirely different and fresh?

A: It seems to me that this one is even more exciting with a better story and an actual antagonist; in the first movie, Larry was discovering things and having to react, but now, Larry knows what is going on and it's really more about him interacting in a different way with the things that come to life.


What was it like working with Amy Adams?

I had the best time with her; she invigorated the whole film. In the first film I was running around on my own. It was quite lonely. So having a relationship, someone to interact with, is great. Amy’s character, Amelia Earhart, has a real zest for life and she helps me to get in touch with what I’ve been missing. Obviously she is made out of wax, so there is not really a great future for us. Amy is such a good actress. She brings innocence to the role because she is playing someone in a slightly different reality, but she also delivers that tough 40s-style Katherine Hepburn banter; she’s just amazing. Amy has the ability to take a stylized character like this and give her an actual humanity.


How much fun is it working and improvising with such a talented group of comedians?

Completely fantastic. In some cases I grew up watching these people I wanted to be like; they made me want to do comedy in the first place. I respect them so much and working with them is really cool. Christopher Guest, who plays Ivan The Terrible, is one of our great comedic filmmakers and actors. And it was great to get a chance to work with Hank Azaria again (who plays Kahmunrah). He is an old friend and is just brilliant. He is funny but also imposing; there is a fine line to playing a character like that and he figured it out. Owen Wilson is back and so is Steve Coogan. Robin Williams is fantastic as always and Ricky Gervais is amazing. We made each other laugh all the time.


Do you particularly like working with comedians you know well?

Yes, it’s great working with people you can improvise with and try new things. The director (Shawn Levy) was looking for that spontaneity.


How challenging is it working with characters who are not actually there when you are filming?

You have to commit and react to something that’s not there, and just trust that it’s going to look believable and real. In the first film working with the dinosaur a lot -- or the lack of a dinosaur -- was very educational for me. Having that knowledge in my head made it easier going into the second one, doing scenes with a squid, or flying cherubs that aren’t there. You use your imagination a lot more because they’re going to do all of the animation later so you actually have a lot of freedom to improvise.


How does it work, filming with a mini-Owen?

Owen and I were never were in the same place at the same time because they always shoot the little people later. So I do all my scenes with a little matchstick; I am literally talking to the matchstick. I have this emotional scene with Owen and I am holding him in an hourglass and he’s not there. It is pretty funny; there is just a little plastic doll of him. We interact best working with dolls of each other.


As a director, what's it like starring in a film you're not directing?

It is a relief in that there is so much less responsibility in terms of keeping the movie afloat, watching the budget and staying on schedule -- all those considerations. As an actor, you can just show up and do what your director wants you to do. The director has to be the engine pushing the movie forward all the time. I appreciate working with a really good director like Shawn, who knows what he wants. If I have an idea I’ll tell Shawn, but that's part of our collaboration and like most good directors, he welcomes ideas from anybody. I can come in and have fun. How often do you get the chance to get up close and personal with a giant squid?


So are you a museum fan?

I loved museums growing up. The Natural History Museum in New York was such a special place for me as a kid. I had been to The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. just once when I was 15, but I hadn’t been back till we started shooting this film so that was interesting. I love the technology at The Air and Space Museum; I’m a big Star Trek fan and they have the model of the USS Enterprise, and then just to see the actual Spirit of St. Louis - the monoplane that was flown solo by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 - or the space capsule that John Glenn orbited the earth in, was fantastic. Going to the actual Smithsonian to shoot for a couple of days was also fun; to actually go behind the scenes was incredible.


Were you always a history buff, even as a kid?

Yes, I don’t know what it was but I just enjoyed feeling a connection with the past. I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist for a long time. I loved ancient Egyptian history. In fact, I just recently went to Luxor and Cairo in Egypt. I visited the Valley of the Kings where King Tut (Tutankhamen) is buried and there are all the tombs of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs there. Then I went to the Pyramids and that was a lifelong dream for me; it was pretty exciting.


Is it true that you were ‘directing’ movies as a child?

I always loved acting and directing. I made little home movies when I was kid; Death Wish-style muggings with revenge plots. A kid would get mugged and then he’d run after the other kid and beat him up, and that was it. My dad was in the real film Airport 1975, and my sister and I made did Airport ’76 with a Super 8 camera. We turned the foyer in our apartment into the plane. My sister played the stewardess and my friends in the building were passengers and then we made the plane crash; we had a model and we set the model on fire and blew up the cockpit of this 747. It was all pre-9/11 of course.


Finally, when's the next sequel? Would you consider it?

I think a European jaunt. That would be good -- maybe a trip to The Louvre or The British museum. There are many other exciting places to explore and bring to life.”


Night at the Museum 2 is released on Wednesday 20th May. Read our review here.