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[Movies] Ben Stiller Talks About The Differences Between Acting and Directing
Posted by Joseph Lee on 12.20.2013

In an interview with Coming Soon, Ben Stiller spoke about his experiences as a director, including on his new film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which opens December 25. Here are highlights:

On the original 1940s film starring Danny Kaye: "You know, I'd seen the movie on television I think, but I didn't know the movie really that well. I'd read the short story when I was in school, but to be honest, I got sent a script of it about nine years ago that was sort of remaking the original movie. It was okay, but I went and looked at the original, and I realized that movie is sort of its own thing. It's a sort of classic musical comedy and made in that era when they were making those movies very well and I felt like there wasn't really a way to improve on that. It wasn't until I read Steve Conrad's script that I really got excited about it because I felt like it captured the tone of the story and that idea of a guy who… obviously, it's an iconic idea of the daydreamer, but what I really liked about Steve's script was it was very personal and it felt to me more of a character movie and more about a guy who is trying to connect with himself and trying to realize this version of himself that was inside that existed inside, but he couldn't be on the outside in that journey. That was really what was interesting to me."

On the fantasy sequences: "Yeah, that was sort of developed. What happened was, Steve and I got together and he had so much great stuff in the script and I just wanted to kind of go through with him and basically try to work on the story a little bit more and figure out how to make everything sort of be a little more cohesive in telling Walter's story and the themes. Besides the love story, there were a few different things going on in the movie, but there's sort of this love story with Cheryl, who he's trying to connect with and then this journey out into the world and the issues with his boss. It was a process of trying to focus the fantasies more and more in a more specific way to what was going on in Walter's relationship with Cheryl and his development of trying to finally get to the point where he kind of goes out and jumps on the helicopter. We went through a lot of different versions of different fantasies, and that idea was always in there, like this sort of epic fight with his boss, but really, we started to go down different roads of what it could be, and stylistically, what it could be. Jeff Mann, a production designer who's a really good friend of mine, and Steve and I sat together and just drew out a lot of different ideas and that's how we sort of hatched that idea. It came out of wanting to figure out a way to do some sort of a superhero type battle that was maybe a little bit different than what we'd seen before that would somehow relate to Walter's skateboarding past. We sort of developed some storyboards first, and then, we started sort of rewriting it based on the storyboards we were coming up with, and then we did a pre-vis, so it kind of became its own thing. That happened with a bunch of the fantasies as we went along; we really focused them more on the story more and more."

On his future as a director: "You know, I'm not actively searching that out. I mean, actually for me, the next directing thing, I would like to direct something that I'm not in and do something in a different world. I don't know what genre or even a specific thing, but I'm just interested in doing different kinds of movies, so yeah, I would never rule that out, but also for me, right now there's a level of visual effects in superhero movies, and the size of it and the spectacle of it is so huge that there's something for me that's a little bit daunting about that in terms of finding the connection with it as a filmmaker. If it was the right thing that I could find a way into it, I would be open to it."


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