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Ben Stiller and Director Shawn Levy Team Up to Talk About "Night at the Museum"

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Ben Stiller and Director Shawn Levy Team Up to Talk About "Night at the Museum"

Ben Stiller stars in "Night at the Museum."

© 20th Century Fox

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Does your reactionary style of comedy come naturally?

Ben Stiller: “For me that was the challenging thing in the movie, was reacting to things that weren’t there. I know that I’m better as an actor when I’m working with a good actor. I think anytime you’re working with a better actor, it makes you a better actor. So the hard thing for me was working with the dinosaur or some of those animals that weren’t there, because you really generate so much and you have to really figure out a way to make it real. But also you’re totally creating it.

It’s easy when you have an off-camera person like Shawn who would be giving me the off-camera dinosaur or a monkey or a lion, and doing it with all of his heart and soul and enjoying it. But the tough thing was when there was a shot on screen with you and they can’t put anything there. I found that hard. I think there are a lot of other actors who are better suited to that kind of thing and are better at it, and so I found that part hard.”

Shawn Levy: “I think Ben is one of the great comedic actors working and not just now, but for a long, long time. Part of what is always so great about his work is he is always honest on screen. He doesn’t fake it and, as such, he’s always kind of a relatable audience surrogate for us as viewers. So in this movie, as Ben said, we could have just had Ben running down a hallway looking scared. But we knew that wouldn’t feel as believable as him reacting to something, even if it was me on a ladder being wheeled down a hallway. We literally adopted a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to get Ben something concrete and real to play off of. It’s the difference between playing tennis with a wall and playing tennis with another person.”

Did you pretend to be the Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing him?

Shawn Levy: “Oh yeah. There were weeks upon weeks...”

Ben Stiller: “He really took it on. He really got the whole thing.”

Shaw Levy: “I would do the talons. I would bring my little talons up by my nipples and simulate the T-rex in that fashion. I think it was scarily real.”

Ben Stiller: “It was weird. Then he was like, ‘You have to stay in character in between takes.’ Then he’d start running down the hall and the animators were video taping him to get the motion right.”

Will that be on the DVD?

Shawn Levy: “Yeah, there.”

Ben Stiller: “Also as the monkey. He really got monkey like.”

Shawn Levy: “It is true. In fact, like 80% of the monkey’s sounds in the movie is me. You can’t do it justice in print so I won’t bother humiliating myself, but literally 75%-80% of the monkey is actually me on set playing the monkey.”

Ben Stiller: “It made a huge difference for me. Talking about your question, it made a huge difference to have somebody to react to, for sure.”

Shawn Levy: “…In a movie like this where these circumstances are wildly unrealistic, it was critical for me to have a center for the film that was fiercely realistic. Because if you have someone reacting unbelievably to unbelievably circumstances, there’s no comedy there. But for Ben to keep it always true in the midst of surreal events, I think that’s where a lot of the comedy comes from.”

Where did the idea come from to have Dick Van Dyke dance over the credits?

Shawn Levy: “It was literally just an idea that came to us on the day. It was never in the script. We just played some music very loudly and said, ‘Dance! Dance!’ And, first of all, Mickey Rooney was kind of confused. Then he was like, ‘You really want me to dance?’ Then they all really committed to it like you can see, but none more gracefully and with such agility as Dick Van Dyke. I’m not sure if you stuck around that long in the credits, but my personal favorite is Dick, after doing a weird, sinewy, Axel Rose snake-like move, just turns his back to the camera and does a pure booty shake for about five seconds. I hope you caught that because that’s a gem.”

This cast is so diverse. What is it about comedic acting or about the film itself that made such a diverse cast come together?

Shawn Levy: “Well, first of all, I genuinely believe…that Ben is a magnet for other actors and other comics. There is no question.”

Ben Stiller: “It’s the metal plate in my head.”

Shawn Levy: “When actors hear that Ben Stiller is in a movie, they want to work with Ben. It’s a high water mark and it absolutely draws actors in. I’m convinced that’s a big part of why we got this cast. I also think, like Ben said, that it’s rare that you genuinely get a big, fresh idea, an idea that we haven’t seen and an idea that isn’t a derivation of other ideas. I think the kid in all of us, and the kid in all of the cast members, were eager to be a part of that.”

Ben Stiller: “I genuinely think it’s the idea. You know, when I heard the title I just wanted to be part of the movie. I really did. But I think also that when Shawn was putting together the movie he really wanted to give it a classic feel and go for and sort of shoot for the best. We were really lucky to get the best.”

Shawn Levy: “Usually on a movie you make your wish list for every role. You name the actor that in your perfect world you would cast. We started going after the wish list and all of them said yes. Usually you go two or three rounds and you’re into your second choice. But on this movie, with studio support, we got our first choice. We got them all and the result is this cast that’s so exciting.”

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