''Night at the Museum'' director Shawn Levy clues us into how Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller got all revved up to play adult versions of nerdy teen sleuths in ''Hardy Men,'' now in fast-track development

By Steve Daly
Updated February 23, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Ben Stiller: Avik Gilboa/WireImage.com; Tom Cruise: Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage.com

The Hardy Boys book series started way back in the mid-1920s, eventually totaling 190 titles, and the Boys have appeared in multiple TV-show iterations. But now this pair of teenage crime-solvers, who helped pave the way for other adolescent snoops like Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Scooby-Doo gang, are on track to become big-screen brothers. The Hardy Men, an action comedy starring Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise, was announced on Feb. 12 as being on a fast development track, though without a script as of yet. The movie will revisit the sibling crime-solvers, but as adults who’ve grown very competitive. We caught up with director/producer Shawn Levy — who’s riding high right now with Night at the Museum, which just crossed the $230 million mark at the domestic box office — for details on what to expect from a Hardy movie. Read on to find out how the idea gestated, what tone the film will take, and why, in a meeting with Tom Cruise, you’ll never be the bounciest person in the room.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Week after week, Night at the Museum keeps pulling a large audience. We’re nearly at the two-month mark, and you’re still in the box-office top 10.
SHAWN LEVY: We seem to be getting people going back for repeat viewings, and we’re getting people going on dates without children. Ben and I had lofty hopes, but this has way exceeded them.

So how did you make your way to teaming up again with Ben Stiller for Hardy Men with Tom Cruise aboard?
Ben and I had such a good creative process on Museum that we were actively looking for our next collaboration, even though we have very different personalities.

How are your personalities different?
Ben is a lot quieter. His intensity is a lot less scattered. [Laughs] And I talk a lot more loudly, as he once pointed out to me with love.

So there you were looking for more work together.
Throughout post-production on Night at the Museum, I noticed that Ben and Tom Cruise had developed a very good friendship.

Noticed how?
Like I’d be with Ben and Tom would call, or Ben would mention he’d been over at Tom’s house. So I think that planted a seed of them [working] as a duo. And like many people, I’d seen that skit of Ben as Tom’s stunt double a couple of years ago [from the 2000 MTV Movie Awards].

I got talking with some of the people who work at my production company, and I [discovered] there was this fallow script called Hardy Men that Ben’s [production] company had had for close to a decade. I put two and two together and thought, Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller as the Hardy Boys grown up. That’s as funny an idea as one is likely to find. And they’d be awesome playing brothers. So, I told Ben the idea. I told [20th Century Fox chief] Tom Rothman the idea, who told Tom Cruise the idea. Next thing I knew, we were all in a story meeting together.

When was that?
Three weeks ago, we had a meeting that lasted several hours. It was one of the most dynamic rooms I’ve ever been in, because the ideas were flying in such an enthusiastic way. So much so that we left that single meeting determined to make this movie.

You’re a very high-energy guy, and you often say yourself that you have a very short attention span. So what was the vibe taking your first meeting with Tom Cruise?
I’ve always had the burden of being the most energetic, enthusiastic person in the room. That responsibility is officially not mine any more. I started pitching the movie I saw in my head, and as intensely as I was pitching, Cruise was listening with more intensity. It was the most energized meeting any of us had had in a long time. Literally, this meeting ended with the three of us saying, Yeah, this is a movie. This is a movie we’re gonna make. My little 20-minute pitch triggered over two hours of brainstorming, which was a mixture of suggesting ideas and themes, and even, at points, Tom and Ben improvising bits of dialogue in the room.

Like dialogue about what?
They improvised petty arguments… everything from Who is the murderer? to Why did you just drink that orange juice from the carton? They already look vaguely similar, and their mannerisms kind of overlap in some hilarious ways. And the more time they spend together, the more they can emulate each other’s rhythms, and styles. The comfort Tom has with Ben as a friend made them a perfect fit.

So how much of a flat-out comedy might this movie be?
This is not a parody. This is not satire. I think what Tom and Ben responded to is, We don’t want to make a fluffy comedy version of The Hardy Men. We want to make a kick-ass action comedy where the characters are real.

Will there be a main mystery or murder mystery, too?
It’ll have a mystery aspect, yes. But if we execute the movie we’ve been talking about, it’s gonna have elements of Midnight Run and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in that it’ll be a relationship movie with some very wild action sequences.

Do you know much about the previous script drafts, when the movie was stuck in development all those years?
Prior drafts had shades of Starsky and Hutch, in that they played on the mismatch of retro-boyhood detective celebrities in a contemporary world. It had a lot of period-piece humor, and a lot of stuff where they were small-town do-gooders who don’t fit in today. We’re going to rely less on that idea. My version is going to be more grounded in sibling rivalry. This is about two brothers who are at each other’s throats, trying to outdo and one-up each other until they finally realize they’re simply better together than they are apart.

So there’s no script yet, just a premise?
Right. Obviously there’s a lot of work to be done before we can shoot. But when you have two stars of this caliber fully vested in making a movie happen, things happen.

Aside from Risky Business and Losin’ It, Tom Cruise has not really made any comedies — not ha-ha comedies, anyway. Do you think this is an easy fit for him?
Tom is a super-smart, funny, creative guy. He’s not interested in doing just one type of movie.

You’d announced you were working on developing Warner’s comic-book adaptation of The Flash. What’s up with that now?
It’s in development. And right now, Hardy Men is in development too. The difference is, Hardy Men has two massive stars saying they want to make it, and soon. That tends to give a project an inside lane.

Does that mean you won’t do The Flash?
Flash is another ball I’m moving downfield, and it all becomes a matter of how things time out. Certainly the producers on Flash were aware that [Hardy Men] was something I was noodling. I’m genuinely interested in both films. But when Cruise and Stiller look at you and say, Make this happen, one is inclined to make it happen.