Ben Stiller has the bearing that oozes stardom. He arrives for
this interview dressed in an elegant, brightly coloured suit and
large sunglasses, which he never removes, with an air of
confidence. But then Stiller has been around showbusiness for
much of his life; his father, Jerry, plays George Costanza's
erratic father in the hit sitcom Seinfeld.
Stiller was the second of two children born to comics Jerry
Stiller and Anne Meara (who, during their '60s heyday, appeared
together over 30 times on The Ed Sullivan Show).
Being the offspring of celebrity parents makes one an easy
target for the entertainment industry's pundits. When The Ben
Stiller Show premiered on Fox in 1992, Washington Post critic Tom
Shales quipped, "Who is Ben Stiller, that he should have a
show?" Beating his peers to the punch, Shales concluded that
the mastermind behind the patently irreverent sketch-comedy revue
was merely a "well-connected Hollywood brat," and
suggested that his material was perfectly suited to "that
hard-to-fill 3 a.m. Slot on the Home Shopping Network."
The series may only have lasted midway through its first
season, but the relatively unknown Stiller enjoyed a measure of
vindication when he shared a 1993 Emmy Award with its co-writer
for the sharply satirical scripts that became the show's most
distinguishing characteristic during its brief run.
But looking at the baggage his parents may have brought to his
career, the younger Stiller remains philosophical. "I think
anyone who has parents in the business and then goes into it
themselves, has this kind of unspoken understanding, which is
that you're always carrying around this baggage that are your
"It's not fun to have
to deal with mass judgement of ANY kind."
While he made a number of TV guest appearances during the
mid-'90s, the commercially frustrated comic concentrated the
lion's share of his post-Fox creative energies on forging a
career in movies. For his Reality Bites directing debut, Stiller
cast himself in the role of a shallow careerist yuppie on the
corporate fast track at the MTV-esque In Your Face network. The
film may not have been a huge hit, but it was received well
enough to enable Stiller to direct his next film: The Cable Guy.
While Carrey's fans didn't get it, Stiller's direction won him
critical kudos, and on that film, Stiller has no regrets, though
he remains clearly disappointed over the film's reception.
"It's not fun to have to deal with mass judgement of ANY
kind. Obviously it's great if everybody keep saying: We love you
and you're the best. However, I think an experience like that
really serves to put everything in perspective, because at the
end of the day you come out of something like that, you have to
just believe in what you did, and realise that all the accolades,
all the criticism exist outside all of the work that you're
doing. THIS part of the job, sitting here talking to you, is
probably the LEAST enjoyable part of being a film maker or an actor, not because of you, specifically, because it doesn't
really have anything to do with the WORK that you're doing."
But Stiller is still very much the actor: first timer Jake
Kasdan made his feature film directorial debut with the oblique
thriller about eccentric and intensely private detective Daryl
Zero (Bill Pullman) and cast Stiller as his sardonic front man
partner Steve Arlo. After the two are hired by blackmail victim
Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal), Zero sets up a sting operation and
soon focuses on his suspect, Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens), a
woman he meets at a health club. Thinking Zero is an accountant,
she asks him to look over her tax return. Clues lead to hitman
Kragan Vincent (Matt O'Toole), who could be Gloria's father. The
role as Zero's dry and sardonic front man was written especially
"I loved Jake's clever
script" on Zero
"I think I've been very lazy in getting jobs", the
actor recalls, "in that I've tended to generate my own work,
making films that I've also appeared in, and with this, I loved
Jake's clever script and was thrilled that I could do it without
having to go through any kind of hoop-jumping. It was fun."
Zero Effect is an unusually complex mystery, a return to the
private eye genre of old, but asked if the actor could be as
adept as solving mysteries as his onscreen character, and that of
Zero, Stiller offers a resounding no. "I'm really bad at
figuring out the mystery/plot/ things; I'm just simply not good
at that", he says laughingly. "The character that I
play in this movie is a lawyer who's pretty smart, and he's so
far away from me. I'm more a kind of an emotional,
right-side-of-the-brain type of guy. So to play a guy who's
really ordered and has it all together, and understands all these
intricate little details, is not me in reality. So I couldn't
figure out the mystery if I tried."