There's more to Ben Stiller than meets the eye as the
Emmy-award winning comedian, actor, producer and director reprises
his role as Madagascar 2's Alex, the innocently egotistical
Lion looking for more in life than the inside of his cage at the
New York City Zoo.
The witty father of Ella Olivia and Quinlin Dempsey, his
children with fellow actor Christine Taylor, stopped by to dig
deeper into his wild ride as king of the jungle.
You're known for portraying characters with outrageous
lines or looks and manage to deliver both with a perfect deadpan.
How you do that without laughing through every take?
Well, when you're making a movie, the good thing is you can do
it a few times, so there's sort of a freedom there. If you're
working with somebody who's funny, or makes you laugh, then it's
very easy to lose it a lot of the time. But that's sort of, I
think, the fun thing too, because then you know that there's
something going on there that's good and it's making you laugh.
It doesn't necessarily mean it's going to make an audience laugh,
but at least it's energizing and real and so, sometimes you just,
you know, you just laugh. And then you go do another take,
and sometimes that becomes one of those things where people are
cracking each other up, and it's like the Carol Burnett Show or
Do you ever bring your straight-faced strategy into real
Yeah! I mean it's almost harder in real life when you're in a
situation where you're not supposed to laugh, or something's funny,
'cause the stakes are higher and you don't wanna embarrass yourself
or somebody. But I feel like that's sort of like, controlling. And
I don't think I'm necessarily that good at it, I'm just sorta.
You had the opportunity to record with Chris Rock this
time around. Did that affect either of your performances in any
way? Was there a lot of improvising going on?
I really wanted to record with Chris just because I felt like
that's what we're talking about, just having the energy in the room
and obviously a lot of improv happens if you're there in the room
with somebody, because you can actually have a scene. When you're
doing these lines by yourself, it's very isolated. So I
specifically requested just to be able to get Chris and I together
just to see what that was like. And he's so good, and he's so funny
at this sort of genre, too. Just in terms of knowing the character
so well that I just ended up laughing at a lot of what he was
doing. I don't think I came up with that many funny lines,
but I enjoyed what he was doing.
It does give you a sense of the camaraderie and just the
connection, too, because when you're doing this over the course of
a few years, you don't get that feedback from anybody else until
you actually see the movie. And then you see scenes cut together,
it's like, "oh wow, this actually worked, these people together"
and you know, you feel the relationships.
Of the two of you, was Chris Rock the biggest ad
I think so. I mean, I would go off of what he was doing, but he
just seems to have a real knack. I think it's something about that
character, Marty, and how he just really knows that guy so well. I
think my character's a little bit more reactive to him, anyway.
Did you have a chance to interact with Bernie Mac at
Not really. I mean, it's so sad and what I did get the chance to
do is listen to his performance a lot, especially in the last few
months. And I thought we were going to be able to spend some time
together doing press, because I think he's so good in the film, and
I just thought it was great casting, and what he did with the role,
it just like, exuded so much warmth. And so, it's obviously a
really, really sad thing, and my heart goes out to his
What did your son, Quinlin, think about coming on board
with the project?
Actually both my kids did. With Quinlin, it was tough because he
knew that there was something going on. He's only three, he's like
under three, I guess when we did it, and Ella's six. And they
were sort of wary of the situation, just because they don't like to
be told to do anything.
But, then he got in there, and he got in front of the
microphone, and there was like a run of like a minute where he just
had fun and he was making sounds, and we were saying, 'Oh, be
happy, happy and sad.' And then he started to get a little bit
intimidated by the microphone and the whole thing. And then
that's when you start to feel, like, this horrible stage parent
saying, 'Laugh, cry, cry.'
But I'm happy that they're both in the movie. It's interesting
because you realize that if your kids aren't that comfortable with
that situation you don't wanna force them to do it. I was happy
that they weren't getting up there and going all Shirley Temple or
How would you feel about your children getting involved
in show business?
If they wanted to, I would support it. It's not the easiest
business, and I think I would try to tell them the ups and downs,
you know? Or, try to give 'em some sort of overview of my
experience, and give them a sort of an idea of what it is. But, if
you love doing it, that's why you should do it. The other stuff
just comes along with it. I think I've encouraged them to go to
Does being an actor come in handy when reading bedtime
stories or playing with the kids?
I think every parent has to sort of be an actor with their kids
when they're doing that. You know, you just sort of have to commit
fully, and you don't care, because you know the audience, and you
want them to be happy, and kids love to be told stories, my son
especially. So if you can make them laugh, or you can sort of get
them into that mode where they're into it then yeah, you use
whatever abilities you have. And that's fun, you know, that's
When the kiddies pounce on you the minute you walk in
the door wanting to hear a story after a long day of shooting, how
do you handle it?
It's always great to see your kids after your working. It's
always such a fresh, new, energy, and just pure love, it's
nice. Sometimes they need to hear the story, like right now,
my son likes to hear the same stories over and over again. And he
has this thing with Thomas Trains - he knows all the Thomas Trains
and all the names of the trains, which there are a lot of them, so
he likes to have stories told to him that involve the Thomas
Trains, and the hard thing is remembering the names of all the
trains because he knows them inside and out, and there's like,
hundreds. Well, not hundreds, but, maybe like, 50, 60, whatever.
They keep coming up with new ones so that's the stress of trying to
remember, you know, if you get the names wrong he'll correct
Sometimes I'll fall asleep while I'm telling the story, and then
I'll fall into my subconscious and I'm talking and not making
sense, and then he'll say to me, 'You know you're not making
sense,' and then I'll wake up.
What does Ella like for you to read?
She likes these chapter books where she can read a page or two,
and then I'll read a page, or my wife will read a page. You
know, sort of alternate. But, it's fun though, because she's
reading on her own, so, it's good.
How do you balance family time with your other
You just have to do it. You have to be aware of it. I think being
together no matter what is probably the biggest thing. Just being
in the same place. So, like, this summer I've been shooting in
Vancouver and the family's been up there all summer, so we've been
together. We're here now together, because even if the hours
are long, you still get together at night or in the morning and
there's a feeling that everybody's connected, which is really
And then, you just have to sort of try to plan your life
accordingly, and make sure that you know how long you can go
without seeing them. So when I was doing a movie a couple years ago
and I was in Vancouver, I would just come back every weekend,
things like that.
Do you think that voiceover work is a good fit for your
Oh this is great, yeah, because you go in for three or four
hours every few months. But it's a very different process.
Will you continue to do voiceover work in the
It's really very doable. We're actually starting a new one with
DreamWorks with Robert Downey and I'm really excited about that.
And that's a whole different world, in that we're producing that,
too. And so I'm getting more into the making of these, which
Did you kids enjoy seeing the first movie?
Yeah, they did, oh yeah. I mean, you know how it is with
movies and kids, so you get these DVDs and they go back to them. I
mean, I don't think they're any more connected to it because I'm in
it, I think they just like the movie. But it's a nice thing
that they know it's my voice, but, also, it's kinda like they get
wrapped in just watching the story and the characters, so you don't
wanna keep on reminding them, 'That's me, that's me.' Destroy the
Are they excited to see the characters matched up with
their own voices on the big screen?
Yeah, I mean, I don't know if Quin is gonna quite get it, but I
think Ella will be excited. They love to watch home movies and some
stuff that they're in, they like that.
Are Ella and Quinlin aware of what you do for a
I think Ella's a little more aware of the stuff that goes along
with it a little bit, and it's not the greatest thing in the world
to explain. It's a weird thing to be able to explain really.
Having grown up with parents who were in the business, I saw my
parents getting recognized, and you know, there's nothing you can
really do other than pay attention to them and really be aware of
it. It's just part of it, like young people coming up or
photographers and things like that. It's a little bit abnormal, so
you try to protect them from it as much as possible.
Have you had a favorite dad moment in the past few
Gosh, you know, there are a lot of great ones. I mean, just
yesterday we all went to the playground together on the Upper West
Side where I grew up going. It's fun as a dad to be able to take my
kids there, having gone there as a kid. Feeling that connection and
that cycle of being able to keep things going... that sort of
But I love every day and every, just like I was saying, it's like
pure love and good things, you know?
Convonista says: Ben Stiller and I chatted in October 2008,
and the interview was originally released a few weeks
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.
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