Ben Stiller is back in cinemas this month with a sequel to Night At The Museum. He tells us why he’s excited by the past
Why did you think a sequel was a good idea? The original movie had a great vibe. I knew right away that it was a movie I would want to see, especially if I were 10 or 12 years old. It would be my dream movie. Making the original Night At The Museum helped me reconnect with my own childhood. The idea of all the museum exhibits coming to life was just a cool idea.
What challenges did you face with the sequel? I think people have an expectation for a sequel; they want one, but they don’t want to see the same thing. They want it to be better, which it should be. I thought the script was better this time.
How much fun is it working with such a fantastic group of comedians? Completely fantastic. It was great to get a chance to work with Hank Azaria again. He is an old friend and is just brilliant. Owen Wilson is back and so is Steve Coogan. Robin Williams is fantastic as always and Ricky Gervais is amazing. We made each other laugh all the time.
Do you particularly like working with comedians you know well? Yes, it’s great working with people you can improvise with and try new things. The director (Shawn Levy) was looking for that spontaneity.
You’re also a director. What’s it like starring in a film that you’re not directing? It’s a relief in that there is less responsibility in terms of keeping the movie afloat, watching the budget and staying on schedule – all those considerations. As an actor, you can just show up and do what your director wants you to do. The director has to be the engine pushing the movie forward all the time. I love directing and it’s great to be able to do both but I’m happy just to act in this one. How often do you get a chance to work with these actors, these environments and these sets? How often do you get the chance to get up close and personal with a giant squid?
I know you love museums. Continuing the historical museum theme must have been great fun. I loved museums growing up. The Natural History Museum in New York was such a special place for me as a kid. I had been to The Smithsonian in Washington DC just once when I was 15, but I hadn’t been back till we started shooting this film. To actually go behind the scenes was really incredible.
Was history a passion when you were a kid? Yes, I don’t know what it was but I just enjoyed feeling a connection with the past. I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist for a long time. I loved ancient Egyptian history. In fact, I just recently went to Luxor and Cairo in Egypt. I went to the Pyramids and that was a lifelong dream for me; it was pretty exciting.
As a father it must be great making a film like this. My kids aren’t that impressed. They see me as their father first and I am really happy about that. I also have to go away to do these movies. So all these things are complicated as parents. It’s an interesting balance that you have to strike because you want your kids to enjoy the fantasy of movies but then, as a parent, you want them to understand what you do so that you can explain why you’re going away when you’re leaving to go to work. Small kids don’t get it and really there’s no reason why they should. You say ‘I have to go away to work’ and they say ‘but I want you stay’. My daughter is really excited that Amy Adams is in the movie because she loved Amy’s film Enchanted. So Amy came over to our house and had a tea party and that was pretty special.
Most of the comedy in this film and most others comes from men. Why do think that is? Is there some kind of prejudice that women comedians face, perhaps? I do think there is and I think it comes from men. I’m surrounded by funny women in my life: my mother, my sister and my wife. My wife Christine is hilarious. I don’t think it’s true that men are funnier than women. There have been funny women for years like Gilda Radner and Catherine O’Hara. There is no one as funny as Tina Fey just now, male or female. I think that in general, though, there’s a certain ‘men’s club’ sort of attitude about comedy in terms of how men see women. But it goes deeper than that. I think men want to see women in a certain light, it’s subconscious and they’re not even aware of it. It has to do with men’s outlook on women. Hopefully that will change. Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian is in cinemas now.