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Real life invaded his movie life when Ben Stiller was shooting Meet the Parents with Robert DeNiro: his personal version was easier, he tells Jenny Cooney Carillo.

You were about to get married while you were making meet the parents. How scary was it for you to meet your own in-laws?
It was funny; I got engaged while we were making this film, so I actually did go through all that meeting the parents stuff. But another strange parallel was that my wifeís father owns a home security system so he was a security expert, which was exactly what was going on with my character and DeNiroís character in the film! I did meet my future father-in-law and tell him I wanted to marry his daughter but he didnít put me through any weirdness like DeNiro does in the movie, although he is kind of a big guy and he plays golf and all these things that I donít do, so it was a little bit scary! But he just said right off the bat, Ďwell if she loves you and she approves of you, then I approve of you tooí, so that was a lot easier than my characterís experience!

Why was it important for you to get married?
Iím almost 35 so Iím ready to have a family and I found this incredible woman and we get along and have fun and laugh and I never thought that I would find all that. So when itís right, itís right and the marriage part of it, that commitment, was something that I really wanted with this relationship and I love it. Iím enjoying being married because itís great to have that person who cares about you wherever you are and whatever youíre doing in the world.

How did you feel about the scene in the film where youíre forced to wear an undersized speedo?
Itís the kind of thing you try and block out of your mind because you know thousands of people are going to see it and itís an incredibly embarrassing, ridiculous moment. But your job as an actor is to just commit to what youíre doing and know that if it were done right it would be a funny moment. You try not to think about the personal repercussions!

Youíre probably used to being embarrassed in movies after something about mary, right?
Yeah, everybody who came up to me on the street after that film seemed to have a different reaction but most of them start out by saying it was the funniest movie they ever saw and then theyíd say, Ďhowís your penis?í That kind of puts the Speedo scene in Meet the Parents back into perspective!

Your character is scared of de niroís character in the movie. How scared were you of the real de niro?
It was a little bit intimidating working with De Niro so I could definitely use that feeling in the movie. Having some experience as an actor when people come up to you, for him I canít imagine what that is like. Even doing the press junket, every question was, Ďwell youíre this intimidating guy in your workí and to me, itís a little frustrating to listen to journalists asking him, like theyíre surprised heís doing comedies and saying, Ďyouíve never done comediesí because in my mind I grew up watching him and heís one of my favorite actors and the movies heís done, the serious movies have always had comedy in them in the character, all the Scorsese movies for example, and heís also done flat out comedies like King of Comedy, Midnight Run and Brazil. This guy has a great sense of humor and I think thatís the biggest surprise about him. Some people tend to think De Niro is very serious but that is just because the movies that did well at the box-office were all dramas and that is all they remember.

Any scene you found especially difficult with him?
I found the last scene in the movie we have together, the interrogation in the room at the airport, was the most intense. Firstly because for me it was the first time I felt the full De Niro weight, having him bore into me looking straight at me for a number of hours doing that scene and he was that intent the whole time. And the funniest thing was when we got interrupted because we were shooting in an Hassidic section of Brooklyn and every Friday at sundown the Sabbath horn goes off like theyíre announcing itís Sabbath. So weíd be all quiet on the set doing a scene that was very intense and suddenly this horn would go off and weíd have to laugh because there was nothing we could do about it. I canít imagine what it would feel like to be in a drama with him and have all that intense energy coming at you all the time!

Trying to match his intensity?
Yeah, just staying with him. I think thatís what my character is trying to do in the movie. Heís trying to gain this guyís respect on some level and finally has to end up being himself or just saying, Ďlook, I donít care if you donít like me but this is who I amí, and there are a lot of parallels for me in the experience of working with him, because I think I was very lucky as an actor in this movie in that I could just take the real life situation and apply it to what was going on in the movie. I think if I had to play his best friend or we were cops and I had to be buddy buddy with him, that would have been much harder.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie is the airport scene. Do you have an airport horror story?
I have to say I hate airports. Iím not that scared of flying but I just hate the whole process, giving up control over your life for the period of time when you go into the plane and dealing with getting stuck for hours, stopping on the runway, getting delayed and things you canít carry on the plane with you, so I definitely identified with my character in that scene. When I was eleven, I was going to camp and changed my mind and the plane was on the runway and I got them to turn the plane around and take it back to the gate which was a horrible experience for everybody involved.

What makes you laugh?
My taste is a little bit more offbeat than mainstream comedies today. I love Christopher Guest and his movies. I canít wait to see his new dog movie, Best in Show, and I loved Waiting for Guffman. That to me was one of the funniest movies in the last few years. And of course Spinal Tap. People like Bill Murray, Steve Martin and people like that I also grew up watching and loving. But I also think Dumb and Dumber was an hilarious movie so I kind of run the gamutÖ

How do you balance the three professions in your life?
I think Iíve just gone back and forth between them, still trying to find what my ultimate vocation is in terms of acting/writing/directing. Right now the movie Iím working on Iíve written and directed and Iím producing and acting in, so itís the first time Iíve really ever done that and Iím enjoying it a lot. I love directing and I know thatís something Iíll always want to do. I donít necessarily love directing AND acting, but sometimes if you have an idea of something you want to do, itís necessary to figure out a way to do all of them.

What is the best career advice youíve ever been given?
Itís hard to distill one thing that somebody said but the thing that I get from most people who have successful careers is that they go with their instincts and they donít care too much what other people think. I think thatís the best advice Iíve ever followed, to go with my gut feelings.

Published 21/12/2000

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Ben Stiller


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