Playboy Interview: Ben Stiller

By Jerry Stahl

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Playboy Interview: Ben Stiller:

**********It's no surprise that Tropic Thunder is one of the summer's most eagerly anticipated movies. What other film offers Tom Cruise as a bald, overweight, ruthless studio executive and Robert Downey Jr. as an African American, plus Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Nick Nolte and, by the way, very few women unless you count a bunch of men in drag? Nor is it surprising that the movie's director and star is Ben Stiller, the bent comic mind behind some memorable hit comedies, from Zoolander* to Meet the Parents* to Dodgeball. What is unusual is Stiller's ascension to the top ranks of Hollywood power players—on the screen (where he's a top box-office draw), behind the camera (as director and writer) and as a producer who owns a thriving production company and not only puts together his own films but also invests his money and talents in movies involving other actors. No wonder Newsweek named him the third-most-powerful actor in Hollywood after Will Smith and Johnny Depp. Of course, even Newsweek admits Stiller's prominence on its power list was "the biggest surprise of all." Comedians rarely get that kind of respect in the entertainment industry. In show business it pays to look at the bottom line: His Meet the Parents* movies took in $847 million worldwide. Night at the Museum* grossed $574 million. There's Something About Mary* pulled in a nifty $370 million. Stiller, 42, is also one of the most reliable comedy commodities around, playing cameos in numerous movies, music videos and sitcoms and bringing an extra creative twist to the talk-show circuit. Stiller, whose parents are the famous comedy team Stiller and Meara, was born and raised in New York City and backstage at his parents' TV shows. Growing up, he made Super 8 films with his sister, actress Amy Stiller, and made his professional acting debut when he was nine, as a guest on one of his mother's TV series. His breakout (and famously sticky) role in There's Something About Mary* launched him to stardom. He has dated Jeanne Tripplehorn, Janeane Garofalo and Amanda Peet, and married actress Christine Taylor—with whom he has since appeared in Zoolander* and Dodgeball—in 2000. The couple, who live in the Hollywood Hills, have two children. Playboy caught up with Stiller soon after Tropic Thunder was completed. To get a fresh perspective we tapped **Jerry Stahl, a contributor to the magazine who has not only worked with Stiller in the past but actually been portrayed by him in an adaptation of Stall's book Permanent Midnight*. Here's his report: "When I met Ben for this interview he was standing in his kitchen, stretching his lip to give me a look at the orthodontic mayhem he endured earlier in the day. His dentist, it seems, cut open Ben's lip during a procedure that involved shoving a peg into his gum to stick a tooth on it after the one that used to be there mysteriously fell out. "I asked if he had been given painkillers, and Ben responded, "You know I can't take them.' He reminded me of an evening years ago when in the name of research for a film about an L. A. dope fiend—that would be me—Ben consumed a slightly heartier than recommended dose of Vicodin and puked all over Vermont Avenue and my boots. Since then I've been best man at his wedding, and he has driven me home after a hernia operation. It's that kind of friendship. Some of this interview was conducted in his house, but some took place as Ben test-drove an Audi R-8 around the hairpin curves near his home. Not only was he able to answer questions calmly, he got us back to his house in one piece. Even though Ben barely dodged a couple of pedestrians, he never dodged a question."

PLAYBOY: Tug Speedman, the character you play in Tropic Thunder, is a movie star whose dream is to break away from the kind of role that made him famous. Is the movie autobiographical? BEN STILLER: Tug's an action hero. As an actor he's forced to do the same movie called Simple Jack over and over again. I wouldn't say that was accidental. And he's so committed to his character, he's slightly delusional. He thinks he's always in a movie. PLAYBOY: Is that a familiar feeling for you? BEN STILLER: Look at the actors you connect with over the years. When you see some characters, you go, "This is a Jimmy Stewart role." If it's comedy, "Okay, I see Steve Martin doing this." I am in no way saying I'm on their level, but if people see any quote-unquote movie star in a certain role over and over, they have a preconceived idea. Baggage develops. PLAYBOY: At this point are you in a position to choose the types of roles you'd like to do? BEN STILLER: Creative freedom comes with success in this business, but the more success you have, the more pressure you have to do what made you successful in the first place. But as I said, in the future I don't see myself doing the kinds of movies we've been talking about. PLAYBOY: So in a way you are a bit like Tug. BEN STILLER: Yes. That can happen at a certain level of celebrity. What makes it—hopefully—comedic is the way he ends up a prisoner of his own image. He gets captured in the Golden Triangle by a remote tribe of heroin traffickers who force him at gunpoint to reenact scenes from Simple Jack, in which he played a mentally impaired farmhand who can talk to animals. This was his big, serious movie—his Oscar bid. It is being universally ridiculed except in this tiny jungle compound where they love it so much they make him perform it at gunpoint on a sort of Gilligan's Island stage five times a day. It's the only movie they've ever seen, so he's kind of worshipped and humiliated at the same time. PLAYBOY: You've had your share of humiliation in movies. You have your face rubbed in fat-guy sweat in Along Came Polly, you're hit by Mickey Rooney in Night at the Museum, and you suffer sticky indignity in There's Something About Mary. You are physically or verbally tormented in Dodgeball, Zoolander and pretty much all your movies right up to this new one. Do we detect a theme? BEN STILLER: It's obviously a through line that people pick up on, but it's not something I seek out. For Polly I wasn't pounding the table, saying, "Find me a script where my face is smeared into a sweaty guy!" PLAYBOY: Is there a line of humiliation and abuse you won't cross? BEN STILLER: There are things I refuse to do. I think I'd draw the line at porn, but no one has asked. PLAYBOY: Do you regret the types of roles you've had? BEN STILLER: I'm not going to lie. It's worth getting a little beat-down from Mickey Rooney to hear his stories. One day, out of nowhere, he told me that when he was making Captains Courageous at MGM, he drove the first Lincoln Continental ever manufactured right onto the set. Another time he actually told me he gave Walt Disney the name Mickey Mouse. Disney wanted to call the mouse Mortimer. Mickey told him Mickey was better. PLAYBOY: When you started out, did you fantasize about—dare we say—being as famous as Mickey Rooney? BEN STILLER: Are you kidding? When I was starting out all I thought about was, How am I going to get work? I auditioned for three or four years before I got a job. Once you start to get work, you just want to figure out a way to keep working. PLAYBOY: So there was no master plan? BEN STILLER: I admire actors who have a plan. I wasn't one of them. Looking back, the great part about starting out is, you don't have people assessing who or what you are. Nobody's analyzing your work, because nobody cares. There's Something About Mary was my first box-office success. I remember people calling up and saying, "I knew it was going to happen." Suddenly I was some sort of quantifiable actor who could determine whether or not a movie got made. PLAYBOY: So that wasn't your goal, to be a bankable star? BEN STILLER: Before that I was happy acting, directing—just doing stuff. Suddenly you have this thing called a track record. It's a trap. You have this awareness that, Wow, that was a success. Now they expect the next one to be a success. But maybe it'll be a onetime thing... I never thought about any of this before. That's the trap: You start to care too much. It's like, now you're in the penthouse, but there's a trapdoor. You start to miss the days when you were starting out, when you were thrilled to get a callback. PLAYBOY: You were born into a showbusiness family. Weren't you just kind of in? BEN STILLER: God, no. In fact, that's where the idea of Tropic Thunder came from. Around 1985 all these Vietnam war movies were being made. I never got any of the roles. I even met with Oliver Stone. Nothing. I remember the guys who got those parts were always doing interviews about going off to boot camp for two weeks, how it was the toughest experience of their lives. They had to camp out, shoot guns, eat C rations, all of that. There was something so ironic and funny about actors talking about how hard it was to go off to boot camp for two weeks for a movie about a war when it obviously had nothing to do with the real experience of war. It might have been my own bitterness about not getting parts in these movies, but I did think there was the seed of something in the irony of actors taking themselves too seriously. Maybe this movie is my revenge. PLAYBOY: Tropic Thunder is about actors in a war movie who become involved in an actual war. To prepare your actors, did you send them to boot camp? BEN STILLER: We were going to have a three-day boot camp with Dale Dye, the bootcamp legend. Then three days became two days. Then it became 24 hours. Finally Stuart Cornfeld, my producing partner, came over and said, "Okay, here's the deal: We can do either the one-day boot camp or a cast dinner." I said, "Fuck it, let's do the cast dinner." PLAYBOY: So this movie is bitter because you never got any Vietnam war movie roles? BEN STILLER: Busted. PLAYBOY: Why didn't you get any of the roles you tried out for? BEN STILLER: I'm not a great auditioner. I freeze. For me it's very tough to go into a room full of strangers. I remember I really boned the audition for the Ralph Macchio role in My Cousin Vinny. I had a few callbacks, but I blew it. That's why I'm always amazed when I see actors come into a room and relax. When Owen Wilson auditioned for The Cable Guy, he was unique. He wasn't polished, but he was laid-back. He didn't push. I didn't think he nailed the audition, but Judd Apatow, who produced the film, said, "No, we've got to go with this guy. He's funny." He got it right away. Then I went to see Owen's first movie, Bottle Rocket, and I laughed literally from the minute he came on-screen until the end of the movie. I got him. PLAYBOY: You and Wilson became close friends. It must have been difficult when you heard he was hospitalized last year because of a reported suicide attempt. BEN STILLER: I love Owen, and I felt bad that he had to deal with all the outside bullshit. It's impossible to understand that kind of pain—depression or anything like that—until you're in it. PLAYBOY: Is it harder to deal with when you're a public figure and your personal problems are fodder for gossip and entertainment news? BEN STILLER: It's completely unnatural for people to lead public lives. It has gotten kind of crazy. PLAYBOY: Why are people so fascinated? BEN STILLER: People would rather dwell on somebody else's problems than look at their own. Or they'd rather look at somebody else's problems than at what the rest of humanity is going through. Do I want to pick up a copy of U.S. News & World Report or grab Us Weekly? If I'm in a checkout line, I'll take the one with the big pictures. PLAYBOY: It's a cliché that many comedians and comic actors have a dark, despairing side. Is that true or exaggerated? BEN STILLER: I once made a joke to a reporter about manic depression running in my family. The reporter didn't know it was a joke. I picked up the paper and read it. That was when I realized irony doesn't read well. From then on, it has been in every article written about me. PLAYBOY: Is it a fabrication? BEN STILLER: Totally. I'm not Mister Funny Guy all the time. I have my moods. I can also be ridiculous. Everybody's a different person with different people. But I said it as a joke. PLAYBOY: Do people expect you to be funny all the time? BEN STILLER: If somebody said to me, "Be funny," I couldn't. I don't know how to do that. PLAYBOY: What about at home, growing up? Your parents were comedians. Were there a lot of laughs around the house? BEN STILLER: Their comedy was born of necessity. They were both serious actors but weren't working. They needed money, so they started this act. My dad always wanted to be a stand-up, but my mom didn't. Stiller and Meara was their last shot. If the act didn't work, my dad was going to get out of the business and market his special chicken gai yung. PLAYBOY: Chicken gai yung? BEN STILLER: I recently learned this. They were living in Washington Heights, and he found a Thai chicken recipe he had big plans for. If their act hadn't taken off, it would have been Stiller and Meara Chicken Wings. PLAYBOY: You must have been relieved they stayed in show business instead. BEN STILLER: I can tell you it was not fun watching them on The Ed Sullivan Show. PLAYBOY: Why? Did they bomb? BEN STILLER: No, no! It was stressful. Ed Sullivan was like American Idol. It was the one show everybody watched. Ed had to like you so you could get invited back. My parents were on 30 times. But even when I was really young I was afraid they would screw up. Seeing them perform in nightclubs or watching them on TV at home, there was always a low-grade tension. It's probably why I've never enjoyed live performing. I've never done stand-up. I associate it with tremendous pressure. PLAYBOY: Did you inherit your parents' sense of humor? BEN STILLER: Actually, I've always liked to laugh at people more than make people laugh. I guess they did give me certain comedy values. Like my mother couldn't stand the Three Stooges, so that made me biased against them. PLAYBOY: Who did you like? BEN STILLER: My mother and I liked Abbott and Costello. Their movies came on WPIX in New York on Sunday mornings. My favorite was The Time of Their Lives; they played Revolutionary War ghosts. PLAYBOY: Did you spend a lot of time with your father? What did you learn from him? BEN STILLER: Sure, and he was great. After living through the Depression, my father thought being funny was very important, something he really enjoyed. PLAYBOY: What about the downside? BEN STILLER: He was not so good with pets. I have had a very spotty history with dog training, which I trace directly to my father. Now that I think of it, it's horrible. But I don't know if I should talk about it. PLAYBOY: What happened? BEN STILLER: Okay. When we were kids, my sister and I decided we wanted a dog, so my mom took us to get a rescue. We saw this dog in a window at the Bide-A-Wee home. Her name was Sugar. We took her back to our apartment on Riverside Drive. She was part collie, part shepherd, really sweet. But she was not house-trained, which my dad was not happy about. My sister and I said we'd take care of her. Naturally my father ended up being the one who had to do everything, including house-training. One day he brought in this trainer. I don't remember his name, but he had a Vandyke and American cheese. PLAYBOY: A Vandyke and American cheese? BEN STILLER: Yes. I went downstairs to watch the guy work. He would stand in front of the dog and hold up the American cheese to get her to sit. And he had what to me was a very inhumane method of house-training the dog. It involved suppositories. PLAYBOY: Suppositories? BEN STILLER: I don't want to get into it. PLAYBOY: You think you can just march out dog suppositories with no explanation? BEN STILLER: Look, this was 30 years ago. I don't think the practice is widely accepted. It's probably the most politically incorrect training method in history. The suppositories were supposed to stimulate the dog. PLAYBOY: To do what? BEN STILLER: To go to the bathroom. My dad had to administer them on the street. PLAYBOY: Seriously? You saw that as a child? Did it scar you? BEN STILLER: I did see that. Jesus, now that I think of it, it's crazy. I can't imagine having to do it. God, that's a horrible image. PLAYBOY: What happened to Sugar? BEN STILLER: Years of therapy. No, in truth she didn't last. We had to give her back. PLAYBOY: Is it safe to assume you've given up on house pets? BEN STILLER: My wife, Christine, and I have two dogs. We're getting a puppy in a couple of days for my daughter's birthday. PLAYBOY: Will you be in charge of housetraining it? BEN STILLER: Like I said, my record is a little spotty. PLAYBOY: Dog rearing aside, was growing up in your parents' world of show business a good thing for you? BEN STILLER: Oh yeah. My parents knew everybody. I met a lot of comedians and actors. Rodney Dangerfield was a good friend of my parents'. They went way back to when he was still known as Jack Roy. He would always come over for the holidays. PLAYBOY: What was it like celebrating holidays with Rodney Dangerfield? BEN STILLER: Rodney was Rodney. He had so much energy. He was always the focus of the room. He was a sweet guy, but he had a tortured quality to him, which was the basis of who he was—and the basis of his act. Years later I went to see him about appearing in one of my movies. I met him at the Beverly Hilton. He came out in his bathrobe. You're sort of there to see the king. When you saw the king, you saw all of the king. PLAYBOY: Meaning? BEN STILLER: Rodney's robe was always a little bit open. I tried to maintain eye contact at all times. I didn't want to look down. PLAYBOY: Who else did you meet through your parents? BEN STILLER: My parents were always connected in the comedy world. It wasn't a Hollywood sort of thing, but it was very New York. They used to have these crazy New Year's Eve parties. My dad did Hurlyburly on Broadway for three years, so all the people from the show would be there—William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Keitel, Rodney, of course. Andy Kaufman came once. I think he was dating Elayne Boosler. In the early 1980s Jerry Stiller and Anne Mara's New Year's Eve party was a place people would show up. I was, like, 17, 18, 19. It was exciting. I was in awe of Hurt at the time. He'd sit down and talk to me about acting. I never tried to network or anything, but show business was all around us. I wanted to be part of that world. I loved the feeling of camaraderie among the actors. PLAYBOY: Were your parents so cool you never felt a need to rebel against them? BEN STILLER: I went out to the West Coast to UCLA for a couple of quarters but then dropped out and came back home, so I kind of missed out on the whole youthful rebellion, learning-to-be-on-your-own thing. I was the guy who dropped out and moved back in with his parents. PLAYBOY: When did you finally move out for good? BEN STILLER: I was about 20. I made the big leap from my parents' place on Riverside to 83rd Street and Broadway, about four blocks away. As soon as I moved I got this girlfriend who was 15 years older than I was. She was an older woman, though I didn't think of her as an older woman. I met her in acting class. I remember the look on my dad's face when he met her. She was not only older, she was also about six feet tall and a complete knockout. PLAYBOY: How did your father respond? BEN STILLER: My dad's eyes popped out of his head. It was like, What is this woman doing with my boy? I probably should have warned them I had a girlfriend. PLAYBOY: Did he take you aside for a father-son talk? BEN STILLER: I'm still waiting for that. PLAYBOY: How did your mother respond? BEN STILLER: My mom's very matter-of-fact about stuff. Nothing shocks her. She was like, "As long as you have your health." PLAYBOY: So far Tropic Thunder has gotten good buzz. How do you capitalize on that? BEN STILLER: I've been trying to arrange a Tropic Thunder tour for the troops, but I don't know if we'll be able to. I had this idea of bringing actors from the movie and showing it at military bases. Basically, the idea is to bring a little bit of entertainment to guys out there dealing with real danger—with sort of Apocalypse Now go-go dancers. I may actually be dancing myself, which would be reverse motivation for the troops to want to get away from the base: "Please don't make me watch. I want to go back to war!" PLAYBOY: The role you cast Tom Cruise in for this movie—he's a bald, take-no-prisoners studio head—is unlike any version of him people have seen. Was it difficult to get him to take the role? BEN STILLER: The role was his idea. It wasn't even in the script. I didn't have to persuade him. He had the notion that if we had a studio head along with the actors, you'd see the whole business, how people interact. We decided the studio head would determine that the actors were more valuable dead; the studio would make more money by cashing in their insurance policies. Tom is amazing. We'd be talking about the characters, and in the middle of the conversation he'd say something like "My character should have these giant hands." I remember thinking at the time, Wait, did he just say "giant hands"? I seriously believe the man is a movie savant. The last time I saw him do something this out there was in Magnolia. PLAYBOY: Was it intimidating to direct or act with someone at that level of stardom? BEN STILLER: It depends. I wouldn't say intimidating. With Robert Downey Jr., for example, it was closer to embarrassing. PLAYBOY: Why was working with Downey embarrassing? BEN STILLER: Because I was so blown away by the guy, I started trying to copy him. It was like, Wow, this guy's a genius; maybe if I do what he does, I'll be a genius too! So I started doing what he did. PLAYBOY: What did he do? BEN STILLER: If Downey had some crazy vitamins, I'd get some. If he had spun around and thrown oat bran at the moon, I'd have run out, bought some oat bran and started spinning. I want to look like I'm as big a genius as he is. PLAYBOY: Did the vitamins help? BEN STILLER: They didn't help me, but Downey nailed the part. He plays Kirk Lazarus, a five-time Academy Award winner, the most respected actor of his generation—up there with the Daniel Day-Lewises, the Sean Penns and the Russell Crowes—and he's playing an African American. We had to find a funny, great, serious guy people would actually buy as a great actor. Someone who was a great actor—a great white actor—playing a black sergeant in a 1972 Vietnam war movie. PLAYBOY: What inspired that? BEN STILLER: I was talking to Justin Theroux, a writer on the movie. It hit us how funny it would be to see this massively talented actor take on the role of an African American and play it completely straight. I don't think another actor could have pulled it off. On every level he was a different kind of person than I expected. PLAYBOY: What were you expecting? BEN STILLER: Well, Robert Downey Jr. Obviously, he has had his troubles that everybody knows about. But you look at him and you see a guy so happy and generous that he makes those working with him better. He has this sharp, cynical thing going on, too. Some kind of anger fuels his acting, but he has found a balance that enables him to use it. I don't think I ever directed an actor that good. It was daunting. Even eating with him was daunting. PLAYBOY: Why was that daunting? BEN STILLER: His mind works so fast, when you eat with him you almost have to stop what you're doing and think about what he's saying. He has a unique thought process. Our first few dinners, I couldn't keep up at all. I was laughing and literally going back three sentences trying to understand what he was saying. You're on guard when you're around him but in a good way, because you don't want to miss anything. He's throwing out ideas—really good ideas—in a torrent. PLAYBOY: You're a dad now. Does being a family man influence your work? BEN STILLER: The biggest difference is that I wasn't accountable before. I tend to be a workaholic. You can keep some pretty insane hours when you don't have to be anywhere. But now I do have to be somewhere. PLAYBOY: Was there a conflict between work and family? BEN STILLER: There's always that conflict. And it's not just about time. When you're with your kids, you have to actually be there. You can't be thinking about how this scene has to be cut or that bit of music needs to be redone or about the scene you're shooting tomorrow. You need to find some balance, which was an entirely new concept for me. But hey, I've been married almost eight years. I live a pretty boring, stable life. PLAYBOY: In an alternate universe, what would you be doing if you hadn't ended up directing and acting? BEN STILLER: As a kid I was interested in being an archaeologist. I was into Egyptology. Also I loved scuba diving. I was an assistant diving instructor when I was a teenager. So I might have had some kind of undersea career. Another thing I loved was astronomy. In the summer, I took some extracurricular classes at the Hayden Planetarium in New York with my mom. PLAYBOY: You took astronomy classes with your mom? BEN STILLER: Yeah, and it was great. I loved that. But you know, once you get into all the stars and the constellations, eventually some math will be involved. That's when it always broke down for me. I've got some deep and unresolved math issues. I suck at it. PLAYBOY: It's no secret that a lot of actors' production companies are more or less vanity operations, but yours actually makes movies. BEN STILLER: Well, I don't want to get into other people's operations, but yeah, this year we were really busy. I mean, I got to direct and produce Tropic Thunder, and my company, Red Hour, produced The Ruins, which we developed from a great script by Scott Smith, the novelist and screenwriter who wrote A Simple Plan. The best thing about where I am now is getting to work with writers I love, trying to develop things a major studio might not necessarily jump on. It's always an uphill fight. One of the things I want to do is CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, from the short story by George Saunders, the New Yorker writer. He has been working on the script for the better part of 10 years. PLAYBOY: Didn't you develop and make Dodgeball after the studio passed? BEN STILLER: Yeah, but it's that way with any script that gets made eventually, unless it's some high-concept tent-pole thing. That's what being a producer is—trying to get things made. At this point I think I'm a better director than producer. I'm not the first person to say it's hard to get things made in Hollywood. Tropic Thunder took nine years. PLAYBOY: You obviously don't need the money, so what keeps you going? BEN STILLER: One of the reasons—no, one of the obligations you have when you get to a certain place in this business—is to take on projects that would not happen otherwise. PLAYBOY: Is there a movie you made that you really love that didn't come easy? BEN STILLER: Zoolander. That was a hard one. And when it finally got made, it came out two weeks after September 11. PLAYBOY: Was there any talk of delaying the release? BEN STILLER: Obviously, there could not have been a worse time to put out a movie. But at the same time, I couldn't think of any reason not to release it, other than people would be worried it wouldn't make as much money. Zoolander is more gratifying than any of the big-box-office movies I've been in. PLAYBOY: What makes it more gratifying? BEN STILLER: What it has become for people. The way it has lasted. Who could have predicted that? That's why you keep pushing. I've been trying to make What Makes Sammy Run? for, I don't know, 10 or 11 years. People were trying to make it for 50 years before me. I'm now too old to play Sammy, the part that made me want to do the movie in the first place. But that's the deal, man. You're always doing this at the same time you're trying to figure out how to do that. If you really believe in a project, if you have that passion, you have to be patient. And meanwhile you have to keep working, keep making movies. That's the nature of the business. It's like acting. There's more to making movies than people see. PLAYBOY: What is the reality that people don't see about acting? BEN STILLER: People tend to look at acting and say, "I could do that." I wish everybody could come on a set one time, stand in front of the camera and try it. When suddenly everyone is looking at you, the chemistry changes. It has taken me 10 years of working to get to the point where I feel comfortable. Try being funny or emotional when there's a bunch of union guys sitting around waiting for lunch, a director telling you to do something, an actor across from you who may or may not be giving you anything, a camera staring at you and some guy in a suit in a corner texting, probably about you. PLAYBOY: Are you looking for sympathy? BEN STILLER: No, that's what the job is. I'm sure any surgeon would probably say, "Nobody understands what it's like to cut open a human body." Or some fireman's reading this, going, "Nobody understands what it's like to walk into a burning building." Those jobs are a lot more daunting. PLAYBOY: Do you prefer working with directors who have acted? BEN STILLER: Directors who haven't acted don't have the same relationship to an actor. I've worked with directors who will give you a line reading off the bat. To me that's the death of creativity. You might as well be a puppet. Anytime I work with a director who has some acting experience—even if it was 20 years ago for five minutes—they know what it's like to get in front of a camera and try to portray reality. It makes a difference. Acting can be the most creative, amazing experience in the world. But it's a weird thing to do for a living. PLAYBOY: Is it less weird when you have your own customized trailer? Is it true you designed yours? BEN STILLER: How do you know that? That's horrible to talk about. A custom trailer sounds so... [laughs] Well, you know how it sounds. PLAYBOY: You've come clean about dog suppositories, yet you're ashamed to talk about a custom-made trailer? BEN STILLER: Dog suppositories are somehow less embarrassing. But if we're going to talk about it, we should get it straight. I did not design it, and it is not exactly custom-made. I told them some things I thought would make it a little more comfortable than average. PLAYBOY: What's wrong with the regular trailers? BEN STILLER: Believe me, they can suck. And you know, given the nature of moviemaking, you spend a lot of time in them. On the other hand I'm not Matthew McConaughey, who has literally lived in an Airstream trailer for the past 10 years or something. PLAYBOY: What's so special about your trailer? BEN STILLER: It's not like I did anything fancy. But why not be able to have the place you're spending 12 to 14 hours a day in be comfortable? PLAYBOY: But what makes the Ben Stiller trailer different from the standard star wagon? BEN STILLER: It's 500 feet wide and 30 feet tall. It's the largest man-made trailer on the North American continent. It has built-in speakers and a trampoline because, as you know, I'm a tumbler. No, come on-- it's just a regular trailer. Nothing groundbreaking. The big difference is, it doesn't have to be disinfected. It's risky having my own trailer, though, because then I have to be happy with it. I can't complain to the movie company about its not being big enough: "My trailer's not big enough!" "But you made it!" Same thing when you're directing and acting in a movie. What can you do, yell at yourself? PLAYBOY: Because of things like the trailer, most people assume your life is pretty cushy. What is the biggest fear you've had to overcome? BEN STILLER: I've been lucky in my life. But the scariest thing I've been through did not involve cameras and directors, I can tell you that. It was when my son, Quin, was born. The doctors told us there were complications. He suffered a trauma because he inhaled amniotic fluid, which has waste in it. So he was in a neonatal intensive-care unit for three days. That was the most fearful time I've ever had. I felt totally out of control. There wasn't anything I could do. It was surreal seeing all those little babies who are there for weeks at a time and the stress it puts on the families. We became friendly with the parents of the baby in the incubator next to Quinn's. This little kid had to have three surgeries, and he was only a few weeks old. I got a letter from his mom about six months ago, saying their son hadn't made it; that was crushing. You go through something like that and you realize there are no guarantees in life. You have to be thankful day to day. PLAYBOY: How's Quin doing now? BEN STILLER: He's great. You've never seen a more healthy, fun-loving kid. And here's the irony: He's the funny one in the family. PLAYBOY: Do you ever think of just packing it in? BEN STILLER: Sometimes I say to Christine, "Let's just get out of here and buy a farm in Virginia." I think I saw somewhere that somebody—maybe it was Robert Duvall—lives on a farm. I read that and it was like, Oh wow, that's what I've got to do. PLAYBOY: Is it? BEN STILLER: [Laughs] I seriously doubt that's going to happen. A farmer? It's probably a hard thing to learn at 42. Now that I'm talking about it, it sounds terrifying. I think I'll stick with what I'm doing for a while.


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