Do you all have dreams that you would think about, and if so, did they come to fruition?
Kristen Wiig: Yes, I’ve always dreamed of doing this for a living. I feel like I’m living that dream.
Ben Stiller: I have wanted to be a movie director since I was 8 or 9 years old. That’s what I always dreamed about doing as a kid. I also dreamed of having children, and now I have daughter and a son.
Kristen Wiig: You thought of that as a kid?
Ben Stiller: I did. (laughs) I also remember as a kid thinking I’ll be 35 in the year 2000. (laughs) That was the future, and the coolest thing ever.
Did your kids see the film? Were they with you on set?
Ben Stiller: I don’t really talk to my kids when I’m working. No…. I am always seeking the approval of my children. My daughter is interesting. I think, in a really healthy way, she delineates between me as an actor-director and me as her dad. I think me being her dad is her preference. But she’s also interested in movies. So is my son. My son is 8 and my daughter is 11.
My son has seen the movie in pieces as I’ve been working on it at the house. My daughter, Ella, has seen the film. But, yeah, it’s an interesting age because she has just started getting interested in those kinds of things. I do seek her approval. She does gives it every once in a while.
Ben and Kristen, this movie is about taking risks and going outside of your comfort zone. Can you talk a bit about working outside of your comfort zone and taking risks on this film and your lives?
Ben Stiller: I don’t know. It’s the question of what the risk is. There’s life risk and creative risk. If someone is risking their life, that’s real risk, I guess. Creatively taking a risk is about putting yourself out there and trying things. It’s also about hopefully entering unchartered territory and seeing what happens. I think that’s actually part of what being creative is about. I think if you’re not doing that, you get static.
So for me, it was about charting territory, in terms of the tone of the movie, so that doesn’t fall into a specific genre. I also feel like that’s what audiences appreciate sometimes. They like seeing something they haven’t seen before, or that they quite know how to categorize because it isn’t something predictable. I wanted this movie to be its own thing, so that risk was kind of part of the fun of making the movie.
Kristen Wiig: To go off of what Ben’s saying, whenever you do something creative, it’s always technically a risk. A risk may be something you may be scared to do. When I started in this business, and wanted to become an actor, I didn’t have any experience at all. I was living in Arizona, and knew I didn’t want to be living there. (laughs) I thought, what would I do if I could do anything in the world? I was like, I would move to L.A. and try to be an actor.
I had taken Acting 101, and was a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz, but had no other experience. But I packed my car anyway, and moved out of my apartment a few days later. I didn’t tell my parents until I moved to L.A. (laughs) So I guess that would probably be a risk, because I was terrified and had no idea what was going to happen. But I felt like I needed to do it.
The scene in the movie that was the biggest risk for me was the one where I was singing. I’ve sung on SNL, but this was me actually trying to do a good job. It was a David Bowie song, so I wanted to do it right. So as far as the movie, that was the most terrifying for me.
Ben Stiller: You didn’t seem terrified when you did it, though.
Kristen Wiig: But to hear it back and know it was going to be on the screen, and the fact that I was genuinely singing it, was scary. Going into the studio was fine, because it was just me.
Ben Stiller: I always had a backup plan. We were going to call Carrie Underwood, but we didn’t have to. (laughs)
Kristen, did you want to participate in more of the action sequences?
Kristen Wiig: Well, the first scene where Ben was running into the burning building was my first experience with any sort of action. There was fire and things falling from the sky. That was the only thing I really did, and that’s what the script called for. I don’t know if I would have wanted to do more action-I guess so! (laughs) That’s a hard question to answer.
Ben Stiller: We had a sequence we cut about two months before we started shooting because of the budget. Ted was supposed to ride down Sixth Avenue with about 50 horses, like in Lawrence of Arabia, looking like Anthony Quinn with a scimitar. He grabs Cheryl and takes her down into the subway. The horses also all go down into the subway and come out into a desert. They ride through the desert and end up in this Bedouin village, and everyone breaks out into a number from Grease. That would have been a fun action sequence. Steve kept pushing for the Grease number. (laughs)
Can you talk about the story taking place against the backdrop of Life Magazine closing, and how it works into the theme of the film?
Ben Stiller: It was Steve’s idea and I’ll let Steve talk about it. But I will say from my point of view, it was an amazing idea, in terms of the context of the movie. For me as a director, that was a way to have that world that Walter lives in relate back to the original short story and the world of the New Yorker. It also reminded me of the history and lineage of New York magazines and the architecture and the environment. Then of course the metaphor–it’s actually not even a metaphor, it’s a context–of the fact that the world going from analog to digital, which made that it very modern. It was a great idea.
Steve Conrad: I felt like it meant two things to us. One, it allowed our character to visually be surrounded by imagery that many of us regard as the greatest, such as pictures of Muhammad Ali. He would be sitting in a small office, surrounded by accomplishments that seemed to be outside of his grasp. It seemed like a nice way to kick off the story.
The second thing it meant to us was that we knew Walter was going to have to face challenges before he was forced to face them, like all of us do. Something in his life was going to push him out, and make him fight before he was fully prepared.
So I thought of selling his workplace. I thought that’s on all of our minds a lot. I think about how steady the ground under our feet is all the time. So it seemed like that would give our story a good push in a couple respects.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig and Steven Conrad for taking the time to speak with us. Make sure to catch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty when it hits theaters on December 25.