Ben Stiller: “I think it’s reductive to say only actors are insecure and needy. I think it’s also a very human thing”


I got a chance to see Ben Stiller‘s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty at the New York Film Festival and it’s definitely the type of film that will play really well with family audiences at Christmastime (although we’re in for a VERY crowded December in terms of movies).  Since it is about a timid man whose greatest accomplishments play out in his head, I actually think it might be a movie that hits too close to home with a generation of people whose greatest adventures might be little more than posting photos of the sandwich they ate for lunch on Instagram. 

He spoke to The New York Times about acting and directing the film, focusing mainly on how his approach to acting has changed over the last several years.

Although Mitty is still a comedy, it’s a bit more serious than a lot of Stiller’s wackier comedies.  However, he confesses that he doesn’t see much of a difference between the different types of movies he does. He explains, “It’s really just movie to movie. I completely connected with the story in Night at the Museum, and I had never really made a family movie, so I was really interested in that. I think it’s the same reason you’re doing movies, whether it’s a small movie or a big movie.”

Stiller points out that much of his comedy is based on the timing and body language, and not always on what his characters say.  He says, “I think it’s just people connecting with getting what’s going on in the character’s head. I think an audience appreciates that when they can get it on their own, and it doesn’t have to be served up to them as a specific punch line.” 

He later connects that to the idea that as an actor he now thinks more about his character’s background and personality rather than just making sure everything works out well on set.  He explains, “I feel like I’m trying to be more aware of that. I used to walk away thinking, ‘No matter what happened, it doesn’t matter as long as we got it.’ I don’t feel like that’s O.K. anymore. I’d like to think I can do good work that is not at the expense of hurting myself and others.”  Later he adds, “You’re always worrying: ‘Is it O.K. if I stop? Is that going to be all right?’ It usually does end up being O.K.”

When the interviewer points out to Stiller that being reflective and insecure is common to actors, Stiller shrugs it off.  He replies, “I think it’s reductive to say only actors are insecure and needy. I think it’s also a very human thing.”

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