The comic actor Ben Stiller – or as he has also been known, Greg Focker or Derek Zoolander or Tugg Speedman or White Goodman – is one of the most popular and successful and critically acclaimed movie stars of all time. His movies have grossed more than $2.6 billion in the U.S. and Canadian markets alone and he has been honored with an Emmy Award, a Teen Choice Award, and a boatload of MTV Movie Awards. There’s actually more to this funny man than meets the eye. Here are 10 things that you may not have known about the comedy star Ben Stiller.
10. He hates the term “Frat Pack”
Actors who dip in and out of each other’s movies have often been sorted into groups. Every decade seems to have a group of actors that the press give a name to. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was the Brat Pack: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. Then in the 2000s, the press started referring to Ben Stiller (who they called the “acknowledged leader”), Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Will Ferrell as the “Frat Pack.” But Stiller hates this term. He said in a radio interview, “It’s such a weird thing that people come up with a name that doesn’t really exist – and why does everything have to rhyme all the time? If it rhymes, does it make it real? Is that it? They don’t do it for other things. They don’t have the Women Schwimmin, do they? I think the whole thing about the Frat Pack group is completely fabricated anyway. The group doesn’t exist, but it rhymes. At least there’s that, so it must be true, right?” The new league of comedy actors – Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and the like – have jokingly called themselves the “Fat Pack.”
9. His parents were in show business, too
You may know that Ben Stiller’s father is also an actor. His best known roles have been the sitcom characters Frank Costanza (father of George) and Arthur Spooner, but he has also played a bunch of supporting roles alongside his son, like the part of Derek Zoolander’s agent Maury Ballstein. The younger Stiller is fond of casting his father alongside him in the movies that he directs (which is cute, right?). This is no big revelation. It’s pretty well known that Ben Stiller’s father is in show business. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that Stiller’s mother Anne Meara was also in show business. Although she sadly died back in 2015, she left behind a heck of a legacy – she was a four time Emmy Award nominee, a Tony Award nominee, and a Writers Guild Award winner. She was acclaimed for her work as an actress, a comedienne, a writer – you name it, she did it spectacularly. Together, the couple made up Stiller and Meara, a comedy duo who were hugely popular in the 1960s. So, it comes as no surprise that they raised a son to become one of the biggest comedy movie stars in Hollywood history.
8. His name attracted all those legends in the Night at the Museum cast
Shawn Levy, the director of the Night at the Museum movies, has had only laudatory things to say about his ensemble cast of A listers, and he credits his star Ben Stiller with being the magnet that attracted them all to the project. From older legends like Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams to the newer class of greats like Owen Wilson and Ricky Gervais and Paul Rudd, the movie is full of iconic comedic actors. Plus, Steve Coogan wasn’t a huge star in America when the movie was getting made, but he had been well known as a comedy force to be reckoned with in Britain for over a decade. What drew them all to this movie in particular? Ben Stiller. Levy said, “When actors hear that Ben Stiller is in a movie they want to work with him. It’s a high water mark and it absolutely draws actors in and I’m convinced that’s a big part of why we got this cast.” The movie was a huge hit, of course, with all the icons on its billing. It spawned two sequels with the original cast intact and grossed over $570 million at the global box office.
7. He prefers human stories to formulaic Hollywood stuff
Hollywood has consistently turned out movies that have alien invaders and robot uprisings and explosions and car chases and shootouts and fist fights and a conventional love story and a happy ending for decades now. These movies have become so predictable that it’s hardly even worth watching them. Movies don’t surprise anymore. But Ben Stiller is a champion of the few that do. He said, “Tom McCarthy for me epitomizes the kind of smart and emotional character oriented storyteller that the movie industry needs today. I think it’s important – in this day of huge, effects driven franchises – to support and celebrate human stories that don’t center on aliens or robots.” This is probably why he does so many movies with a respected auteur like Noah Baumbach. The actor speaks very highly of his regular collaborator: “I’m happy someone is making the edgy, character oriented dramas and comedies that are the kinds of movies I grew up watching. I hope the studios will get with that program.” As long as popular, famous movie stars like Ben Stiller keep abandoning big budget Hollywood fare to appear in these smaller, more intimate, more personal pieces, then Hollywood will eventually get with that program.
6. Roger Ebert said that Zoolander was the reason for 9/11
In his one star review of Ben Stiller’s movie Zoolander, film critic Roger Ebert basically blamed the movie for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which had occurred just two weeks before the film’s release date. With post-9/11 anger and paranoia fresh in his mind, an irate Roger Ebert wrote, “There have been articles lately asking why the United States is so hated in some parts of the world. As this week’s Exhibit A from Hollywood, I offer Zoolander.” According to Stiller, Ebert apologized to him in person for the harsh review, although in the time between the publication of the review and Ebert’s death, he never offered up a public apology or retraction of his comments. The movie suffered from poor timing, since it’s set in New York and it’s a comedy about international politics (it’s nothing too biting or relevant or sociopolitical, but it is there) and it came out two weeks after 9/11. Yikes. Not every critic agreed with Ebert that the movie was part of the problem. The reviewer for Ain’t It Cool News had the right idea. He wrote, “It’s a perfect film to help people forget everything for a few hours, and it’s gonna be huge.”
5. He loves hearing from his fans
A lot of movie stars hate to be approached by their fans, which is fair enough. It is a form of harassment and they are just trying to live their lives. But some of them go a couple of steps further and don’t even want to hear how much their fans love them and their work. You’d think that’s why they do it, but some of them don’t like it. They just want to make their movies and get on with their lives. Ben Stiller, on the other hand, loves to have this kind of encounter with his fans. That’s the whole reason that he makes movies. He explained, “I appreciate it when people tell me that I’ve made them laugh. It’s not a nuisance when somebody comes up to me on the street and says, ‘Hey, I was having kind of a bad time and I went to one of your movies and it really took my mind off of it for a couple of hours.’ It’s a really great feeling.” So, if you’re ever out and about and you spot Ben Stiller walking down the street, let him know how much you enjoy his movies, because you’ll make his day.
4. He once had cancer
Ben Stiller revealed a few years ago that he had undergone a prostatectomy procedure, assisted by cutting edge robotic technologies, to remove an “aggressive” tumor from his prostate. The surgery took place in 2014 and the star said that he feels blessed to have had the cancer eradicated so quickly. He said, “I was really fortunate that my course of treatment was basically an operation and that was it.” He still suffers from some side effects from the surgery, but he says that he is “doing great” following the operation. Stiller also explained that he wasn’t on the lookout for cancer or having regular check-ups at all and was very surprised to find that he had prostate cancer. He said, “It’s surreal. It’s not something that I was really thinking about. It wasn’t on my radar at all. And if it wasn’t for this test that we’re going to talk about, I don’t know if I would have had as easy a course of treatment or the prognosis that I did have.” So, let that be a lesson – you never know when you could have cancer, and if you don’t keep an eye out, it might be harder to combat than Stiller’s was.
3. He almost played Brian Fantana
When Will Ferrell and Adam McKay were first writing Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, they had a page at the back of the script where they wrote down their top casting choices for the lead roles. Ben Stiller was their top choice to play Brian Fantana back when Stiller wasn’t a big star. By the time they got the movie made (in 2004, when Stiller starred in a grand total of not three, not four, but five movies), Stiller was an even bigger star than Ferrell and he didn’t have the time to star in Anchorman, so the role went to Paul Rudd instead. Stiller ended up having a completely unexpected cameo role during the news team showdown, which is actually funnier than having him play Brian. Stiller has been considered for a bunch of other roles, too. He was Harold Ramis’ top choice to star in Ghostbusters III, which ultimately went unproduced, and Tim Burton considered him for the role of Willy Wonka in his weird, surreal, gothic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a role that inevitably went to Burton regular Johnny Depp. Plus, Stiller was the first choice to play Chazz Michael Michaels in Blades of Glory.
2. He went uncredited for his role in Happy Gilmore
Happy Gilmore was the wacky comedy about a brazen wannabe hockey player who discovers a hidden talent for golf that he uses to compete in a tournament to win his grandmother’s house back from the I.R.S. that shot Adam Sandler to superstardom as if Happy himself had smacked him in the ass with a driving wedge. But Sandler wasn’t the only star to get his start in the movie. We also see a young Ben Stiller, a few years before he became the world’s biggest comedy movie star, in the role of an abusive nursing home employee. It’s understandable that Stiller didn’t get top billing for his brief, yet memorable role – but he didn’t even get credit! Look in the credits at the end of the movie – you won’t see Ben Stiller’s name anywhere. His character isn’t even named by anyone on screen. If you look carefully enough, you will see “Hal L.” written on his nametag, but that’s about it for actually identifying the character. Of course, now, what with Stiller being a huge star and the internet existing, we all know who plays the nurse in the movie. But back then, no one would have had a clue.
1. He turned down the chance to direct Good Will Hunting – because he didn’t know who Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were
Ben Stiller is known predominantly as an actor, so it’s easy to forget that he was the voice of Generation X as a director in the ‘90s. It came to light a few years ago that Stiller turned down the chance to direct Good Will Hunting – because he didn’t know who Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were. The revelation came when Stiller was taking part in an interview during a press tour for a movie he was doing a few years ago and the interviewer asked him if he had any big regrets in his life (so it must have been a pretty tough interviewer). The actor said, “I remember my agent sent me the script for Good Will Hunting to direct, and I was like, ‘Who are these guys, Affleck and Damon? And why are they attached to this project? No, thank you!’ I mean, maybe I’d change that.” Of course, the movie as directed by Gus Van Sant went on to gross over $200 million at the worldwide box office and made Damon and Affleck huge Hollywood stars. They went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, making them the youngest winners at the time. But who knows, maybe it wouldn’t have been the same movie if Stiller had directed it. Maybe things just happen for a reason.