Ben Stiller may just be the biggest comedy star on the planet these days (check out Night at the Museum‘s $556.6 million global gross). But he achieved his latest success off camera, as one of the producers behind Blades of Glory. And he’s pretty certain why the figure-skating flick went to the top of the winners’ podium, with a $33 million opening gross: Good story. Good execution. And, of course, Will Ferrell. ”I’m a huge fan,? Stiller told EW.com when we checked in with him earlier this week. Here, he waxes on about the fellow comedian, whom he also worked with in Zoolander, Starsky & Hutch, and Anchorman — and has admired for years.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After Blades of Glory‘s big opening, where does Will Ferrell go?
BEN STILLER: Up, up, up, and away! [Laughs]
In what way was he responsible for the movie’s success?
Will is just so brilliant at being able to be that kind of character. He’s just one of the funniest people around. I know I’m not saying anything groundbreaking, but it is that simple. He’s a really good actor — that’s at the base of anything he does. But in terms of character comedy, like what he did on SNL for years, the guy is just so good. Also, he’s so professional, he’s so consistent, and he works really hard.
What is his appeal — what do people respond to in him?
Well, I think he just embraces and commits fully to whatever he’s doing. He’s not afraid to be who he is, he doesn’t have an ego about it. I think that’s really important no matter what you’re doing. When he’s playing a character, he’s not worried about how it’s going to be interpreted or what people are going to say. He did a movie about ice skating, he’s doing a movie about basketball [Semi-Pro, now in production], and he doesn’t care. He’s making choices that make sense to him, that he thinks are right, and I think people respond to that. He just does what he thinks is funny without worrying about having to please a lot of people. Ironically, I guess that’s what translates.
Is that unusual?
I don’t think so. For people I admire who are funny and do what they do, I think they have a sense of just being who they are, really committing to doing what they think is funny. Will’s also a genuinely nice person, that comes through. And I think people appreciate others who make them laugh. I mean, I’ve watched Blades of Glory countless times over the last year and a half or whatever, and I walk around my house quoting lines from the movie all the time, because he’s just funny as s—. [Chuckles]
The outtakes that you as a producer get to see of him must be even funnier.
Yeah. You can’t really categorize what he does. I think it’s talent, obviously, but he comes from a background of having done this for a long time in very high pressure situations: Saturday Night Live, the Groundlings improv stuff. I really admire people who are consistently good in that situation, because in a movie, obviously, you get a lot of takes. You know, in Zoolander [which Stiller directed], I’d say 75 percent of the stuff of his that we used were from takes when we’d just go, ”Okay, now do whatever you want to do.? He would go off into places that would surprise even himself, and then he’d be like, ”All right, that was weird.? [Laughs]
How was that for you as a director?
I loved it. That’s my favorite experience, to be able to work with people like that and watch them do their thing and just be a part of it and encourage them to do it. And I knew he was having fun when he was doing Blades; the first time I read the script I knew it would be a killer Will role.
How do you feel about the suggestion that Ferrell might want to diversify and branch out into dramas and the like? You’ve been in that situation before yourself, of course. Is doing so necessary?
It’s a very personal decision. It should only be when it’s something that he feels is right and makes sense to him. I think people put so much on quote-unquote comedic actors that when someone does a serious role it becomes: ”Ooooooh, they’re trying to be serious!” But at the end of the day, I just think it’s like the way you choose any role: You just choose it if you feel like it’s the right thing at that time, on a very specific case-by-case basis. He’s doing what makes sense to him and he doesn’t have to explain it to anybody. With someone like Will, my sense is he just does what he thinks is challenging to him in the moment, whether it’s doing a broad comedy or whether it’s doing an interesting movie like Stranger Than Fiction. I don’t think it’s something to be overthought.
And he’s an actor at the end of the day, that’s what actors do.
Exactly. And I think that people don’t really get that for Will to do something like what he does in Blades of Glory is as challenging as anything. To be able to take those chances and go for it in that way, I think it’s as challenging as any other kind of acting.