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Good friends and frequent big-screen collaborators Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller recreate Starsky & Hutch on the big screen. If you donít know what that is, you werenít watching TV in the 70s. Jenny Cooney Carrillo checks out the new versions and discovers they played it like the actors who were fired from the pilot episode.

Starsky and Hutch was one of the most successful cop shows of the 1970s, and the long-awaited film adaptation Ė in which Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson play detectives Dave Starsky and Ken ĎHutchí Hutchinson Ė has also been a box-office hit in the United States. Original stars Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul, who played the San Francisco-based detectives with opposite personalities from 1975-79, have a cameo in the action comedy, and rapper Snoop Dogg also co-stars in a memorable turn as informant Huggy Bear. 

Why do you think this cop show was such a phenomenon?
Ben: I talked to Paul Michael Glaser about it and he explained to me that when they did the show, it was coming at a time that was post-Vietnam and there was an anti-establishment feeling that these guys were embodying as cops who were cool and worked within the system but not really as part of the system. They took their cop work seriously but there was no cynicism and they were free to have fun with each other. So many cop shows based off that, including movies like Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys, and that is one of the reasons we wanted to go back to the movie and have it take place in the 1970s because we canít reinvent the buddy cop movie but we can go back to the original one and embrace that. As for the tone of our film, we decided it would be like the original Starsky and Hutch pilot that they did and then they decided to fire me and Owen and hire Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul!

How did you find a balance between making a parody and taking it seriously?
Ben: My production company got the ball rolling so we were involved right from the development of the script and the idea behind it was always to try and figure out how to stay true to the show but not make fun of the characters. We wanted to treat them as real people yet put them in situations that might be ironic when you look at them in 2004, even though it is taking place in the 1970s. So if you look at the production design and costumes and the hair, itís all spot on. That is not an inflated version of it and the hairstyles we got for one of the characters when they go undercover, that raccoon wig thing, that came out of a book called ĎBad Hairí which was literally a book of bad hairstyles from the 1970s! We wanted to stay true to the characters and have it as if these guys really thought they were in a serious action movie.

What was your own history with the TV show and how did you feel about meeting the original actors?
Ben: I grew up watching the show and I just loved it as a kid, especially because if you had dark, curly hair and you were ethnic or Jewish or Armenian or Greek or anything, Starsky was your guy. So I was really excited about the idea of doing the movie and then I watched a lot of episodes while we were getting ready and I saw the chemistry that provided the whole basis for the show. If it wasnít for the chemistry, it would have been a basic cop show. But when Paul and David finally showed up on the set to work with us, it was really exciting to watch them work together after all those years. I had lunch with Paul just to talk to him about it before we began shooting and it was fun to hear all the stories and then see them fall into their roles on the set. 

Owen: I was pretty young when the show first came out but by the end, I was watching episodes and I had the little Starsky and Hutch lunchbox and the little hot wheel car of the Ford Gran Torino! David lives in England now so I spoke with him on the phone before I started work on the film, and he was very nice. But I think we were all excited and nervous when they both came to the set and put on their wardrobe, since they hadnít played those characters since 1979. As soon as you saw them kidding with each other, it was like they didnít miss a beat and reminded us all of why the show continues to be so popular.

Did you feel intimidated when you had to act with them on the set
Ben: I first went to old episodes and watched a lot because I wanted to get a feeling for what Paul Michael Glaser did, but the more I watched, the more I realized that his character was so specific to who he was as a person, that I couldnít do that. But Owen and I have a connection with each other based on years of friendship and working together so by the time we got on set, weíd gotten into our own rhythm of what we were doing. But it was great to see David and Paul come on the set and see these naturally cool guys. Owen and I both donít look as cool so part of the humour we thought that might come out of the movie was us trying to attempt to be cooler than we were some of the time. It was a little intimidating working with them, but when I had lunch with Paul Michael Glaser, he had seen the thing Owen and I did together and saw a little bit we did on the Oscars a few years ago and loved the interplay between us, so he was very supportive which really made all the difference.

Owen, how did you feel having to sing David Soulís hit song Donít Give Up On Us Baby?
Owen: It was very hard to do that scene where I sang, because Iím not a musical person and Ben would agree to that. It was also tough because part of me wanted to impress Amy Smart and Carmen Electra, who were in that scene with me, and when I started singing what I wouldnít even describe as musical notes, I literally felt their interest in me die!

Ben, how did you feel driving the old red-and-white-striped Gran Torino?
Ben: Owen has a different opinion of my driving than I do but I thought I did really well! I took lessons with the stunt drivers and they blocked off parking lots for a few days and taught me how to do reverse 180ْ and power slides and stuff like that and it was so much fun. I scared the hell out of Owen when I actually did a power slide during one scene and he was just a white knuckle passenger the whole time. 

Owen: Well, the truth has to come out: Ben is maybe one of the worst drivers Iíve ever seen! Heís from New York City and he didnít grow up driving. He rode in cabs and on subways but as far as getting behind the wheel, he didnít have that much experience. He claims to have taken driving lessons before the movie but as far as I can tell, they didnít pay off!

What do you think of this retro trend in Hollywood with movies inspired by1970s TV?
Ben: I think it is a generational thing because the people who are making these movies are people like myself, who have a nostalgic feel for the TV shows you grew up with and that was definitely the impetus in wanting to do this movie for me, because I have such fond memories of the show and I donít think you can discount that for a whole generation of people my age. I think there has always been nostalgia in our culture so I donít think itís unhealthy. I loved Charlieís Angels and Iím looking forward to The Six Million Dollar Man too!

How will you sell this movie to audiences who are too young to remember the original Starsky and Hutch?

Ben: Luckily, thatís not my responsibility! The interesting thing Iíve found in the sampling Iíve gotten so far from people who saw the movie is that older people who know the show are actually tougher critics and younger people love it because they donít have anything to compare it to, so maybe because they donít have a preconceived idea of what itís supposed to be, that will turn into a good thing. 

So do you feel closer to Starsky or Hutch in your own personality?
Owen: Iím definitely not like Benís Starsky because he is very kind of Ďby the bookí guy and thatís not so much my personality in real life. Hutch is probably a little of me, and Ben is more like Starsky I would have to say. Except for the driving!

How difficult was it to play characters made famous by other actors?
Owen: The first time I saw Ben run as the character, I felt he really nailed the way that Starsky used to run on the show and the whole long hair thing and the look. So I had no trouble seeing him as the character. I guess it was a little intimidating playing Hutch after growing up watching someone else originate that role on the show but if Ben is Starsky, I felt pretty comfortable playing off him so that somehow made it easier.

What do you find funny about each other? 
Owen: Right from the moment I came out to Los Angeles and met Ben, when I auditioned for Cable Guy, we seemed to be on the same wavelength. He just seemed to find stuff I was doing in the movie funny and when weíve acted together, he just has the ability to crack me up. There is funny stuff on the Meet the Parents outtakes where it was just really hard for me to keep a straight face with Benís expression because he wasnít even saying anything but I donít think anyoneís face can register a betrayal or hurt the way Ben can!

Ben: Owen is shy, smart and sardonic. Heís got a great sense of humor and I think we share a really similar sensibility and thatís why we get along so well. He has this thing where his career has been based on him sort of just being who he is and he has a real sense of who he is and stays true to that as an actor. He has this laconic, laid-back thing but that is not his attitude to work and I think heís smarter than a lot of people perceive. 

Published April 8, 2004

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