This trio of comedic actors talks about working with Ben Stiller and the Farrelly Brothers
For the first time ever, Jerry Stiller portrays the on-screen father of his son Ben Stiller in the new Farrelly Brothers comedy The Heartbreak Kid. We recently caught up with Jerry to discuss what that experience was like. Also joining in on the conversation were his two very funny co-stars Danny McBride (who stole the show earlier this year as a green tea-fueled ramp builder in Hot Rod) and Rob Corddry (best known for his work as a correspondent on The Daily Show).
Here is our very insightful conversation:
What was it like working with your son, Ben Stiller?
Jerry Stiller: Well, we decided that one day, we would tell the truth about what it was really like. Right now, we are only going to tell the public what they want to hear. "Oh, it was so wonderful." Because people like to hear happy stories about kids and their parents. The wonderful thing about working on this film with Ben was that it brought us closer together. We got to know each other as actors and performers. Stuff that maybe we patched up, stuff that didn't happen when we were growing up together. Me being a dad, and him being a son, and me being a performer. I also have a daughter, Amy, and both my kids didn't see us enough sometimes. Or know us enough because we were too busy working. I think every kid feels this way. Even I feel that I didn't know my own father. I didn't know my own mother. Why? Why are we so angry with our parents who were never there for us? My father was working twelve hours a day driving a bus. Now Ben comes up to me and says, "At this point, I know how much you and mom were working so that we would be taken care of." There is a certain amount of understanding when you are doing work as performers. Your time is constrained to that way of life. But here we were, working as actors together, and he understood how much energy goes into making something work. I know these guys have the same thing in their lives. How do you relate to your dad?
Do either of you guys know who your parents are?
Danny McBride: I've never met either of them. I hear they are great, though.
Rob Corddry: Danny, I'm your father. It all comes out here. I know this is awkward. Especially in a room full of press.
Danny McBride: My god, are we going live with this?
Jerry Stiller: We're doing an improv just now. That's what this is.
Danny, your timing is simply amazing. Does that come pretty naturally?
Danny McBride: Thank you. You know, the Farrellys just let the cameras go, and they let you expand upon it. I grew up in Virginia, so a lot of those people had timing that was often a bit retarded. Maybe that was where it was pulled from.
Is there a lot of overlap between Mississippi and Virginia?
Danny McBride: I think Mississippi is a different beast than Virginia. In Hollywood, they think all of those southern states are the same thing. Right?
This is the second movie in a row where you give someone a really good beat down. Is that something that you like doing?
Danny McBride: I don't know why I'm getting cast as the beat down guy. I don't know. I've only ever been in one fight. In seventh grade, this guy was flicking my ears on the bus. I pushed him, and I got punched in the mouth. That's my big fight.
You are very physically intimidating.
Danny McBride: That's what I get a lot. But a lot of people mistake this for muscle. But its not muscle. Its anti-muscle.
All three of you guys...Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you. I thought you were done talking.
Danny McBride: Nope. It's gone.
Jerry Stiller: I'm sorry. I was just thinking, all of you guys had outrageous hairdos in this. I'm wondering how the Farrellys come up with those hairstyles. What is the process of that. Rob, did you actually grow out that tuft of hair on your forehead?
Rob Corddry: No, but I could. If challenged I could. Never say that I can't. But, no. That was fake. So sorry to disappoint.
Did they have a group meeting about your hair?
Rob Corddry: Yeah. Probably. There were probably a couple of meetings that went down concerning that. We weren't involved. We just showed up and did it.
Jerry Stiller: My hair was the color I chose to have it. That kind of reddish color. The color of Tang. I was once called a Tang colored actor. I played the exact same character on two different sitcoms. And the thing that made it work was the color of my hair. But in that sitcom, the Seinfeld thing, every time I arrived, my hair was a different color. Sometimes it was dark brown, sometimes it was dark green. They never bothered doing anything to my hair. Because I was a recurring character, and it could have been three months, anything could have happened to my hair. I tried to match my hair with my wife's on that show. Estelle Harris. Her hair was Tang colored.
Have you ever given your son relationship advice?
Jerry Stiller: I don't dare do anything like that. They could give me a few pointers when it comes down to it. We were like a lot of families in that regard. We never talked about it. You see it in the movie. You learn from osmosis, or you learn through feeling the vibrations. Ben had a much different lifestyle than I ever had growing up. And I wouldn't have wanted him to have mine. It was a dead end everywhere I went with ever girl. I was unhappy, I was miserable, and then I ended up with my wife. She pulled me out of the dregs. She kind of understood where I was. Does that answer the question?
What did you guys learn from working with Ben Stiller?
Jerry Stiller: Well, I've learned that I trust my son as an actor in the scenes that we played together. There are moments there where there are long pauses. When I saw it on screen, I realized that those were the moments where something was going on between me and him. The audience was getting it. It had to do with trust. I wasn't going to micromanage the scene. I wasn't going to say, "Why isn't he saying what he should be? Why is he doing it like this?" He did the same with me. I work differently then him. I sort of prepare myself before I start a scene. He might be dealing with something else that is abstract, which has nothing to do with the scene at all. Once they say action, we are working together. It is all about giving it up to the other person, which every actor will admit to doing. If you give it up to the other actor, it's called generosity. You don't always have it. In this movie, we were playing us three guys together, and there was a lot of generosity between us. There was so much coming in. Some of the lines that came form Danny were not in the script. But they were funny. They made the scene work. This thing about the hair, more people talk about the hair than they do the movie.
Rob Corddry: Well, this is a movie about hair.
Jerry Stiller: It becomes something that is not in the script, and then it is in the script because it's good. It's something that you trust. It's very hard to do.
Danny McBride: What did I learn from Ben? Probably that I need to work out more. The man is great. He eats. And he is able to be physically fit. I can barely get up. They have to CGI my physical fitness. Yeah. Its called movie magic.
Rob Corddry: For me, I don't know. Its hard to be specific about what I learned working with Ben. This is a little embarrassing. I'm just in awe of him as a person and an actor. I aspire to be like that. He is such a good actor, he's not just a comedian. He has great comedy instincts, but he is also a good and precise actor. I am just in awe of him.
Jerry Stiller: The scenes with you and him were just super. The rapport you had with him kind of knocks it one leg up.
Rob Corddry: Well, like you were saying. It is very easy to work with him.
Rob, what do you have coming up next?
Rob Corddry: I think the next thing would be Harold & Kumar 2, which is coming out in April.
You were talking earlier about how much you and David Koechner look so much alike, are you guys ever going to working together?
Rob Corddry: We have, actually. We worked on this movie called Unaccompanied Minors. It was a kid's Christmas movie. We shot a day together. So, yeah, we've done it. Dave Koechner and Rob Corddry! Absolutely.
Do you think you guys would ever play brothers at some point?
Rob Corddry: We should, right? We get mistaken for each other. We get mistaken for each other a lot. And Paul Shear? From Human Giant? The three of us together are good. I think it's basically because of our baldheads. And we are very handsome.
Jerry, what are you gearing up to do next?
Jerry Stiller: Well, I am going to do evenings in front of an audience about my life, where I talk about the people I love who used to be in the business. The one thing I get to do, which I would never get to do in a movie, is my impersonation of the Nichols Brothers tap-dancing to Inka-Dinka-Do. For whatever reason, it seems to really hold an audience for a few minutes. And I would do it for you now, but if you can't see it, it doesn't really translate. But I would try it for you. I will do a few minutes.
Will your wife be in that bit?
Jerry Stiller: No, she never does Inka-Dinka-Do with me. No.
Does she come onto the live stage show with you?
Jerry Stiller: She does. How did you guess? I'm trying to find this part of me. I call it The Essential Jerry Stiller. I do this comedy act. And every time I open my mouth, she comes in and gets the laughs. I've been sitting in the wings emotionally for all these years. I've been on hold. And she comes in, and saves my ass. If you can use that. But I say, "Don't come with me on these dates. I want to see if it works by myself." She invariably shows up, and at the end of the evening they laugh because of her. Even if they don't know that she is coming on, just her being in the audience changes the mood of the evening. Maybe I'm asking for disaster not having her there. But I have a feeling whether or not I can do this by myself. She has been the core of my life. She has made all of this happen. So we'll see. That's all. And I am not going to do Inka-Dinka-Do for you.
Rob Corddry: Is she free to do a stage show with me, then, if she's not doing anything with you?
Jerry Stiller: She'd love to do that. Absolutely. Give her a buzz.
The Heartbreak Kid opens this Friday, October 5th, 2007 at a theater near you.