Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Press ConferenceWas there anything you wanted to take home from the Smithsonian?
Ben Stiller: "I really enjoyed everything at the Air and Space Museum. That was just really fun to be around all that stuff. The real stuff, like the real Spirit of St. Louis. We got to walk around the back one day and there is an incredible model airplane collection back there that nobody sees. I mean, there are hundreds of model airplanes, detailed out. If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s kind of amazing."
There are so many cool props and costumes in this movie. Were any of you able to take any home? Owen, were you able to keep a figurine of yourself? Or Robin, what about the horse?
Robin Williams: "It’s so nice to try and take a horse home. ‘Sir, you have to put that in a carry on bag.' Even the horse said, ‘I don’t want to go home.’ That’s not right."
Owen Wilson: "No, I didn’t get to keep a figurine. I just saw the figurine for the first time last night. But the boots that I wore I was able to take those home. They’re actually the same boots that I wore in Shanghai Noon so it was kind of funny."
Ricky Gervais: "The only thing that I wanted to take home was the American flag because I love America."
Robin Williams: "You really want to be a citizen, don’t you? Ricky’s available for adoption. Madonna refused. 'Please help right now. A lovely English man to adopt, call now. Angelina, our lines are open.'"
To the writers, how did the decision come about to use the Wright Brothers?
Thomas Lennon: "We wrote 16 pages of material for the Wright Brothers in a separate adventure that they have."
Robert Ben Garant: "A dream ballet sort of thing."
Thomas Lennon: "Sort of a dream ballet. It basically revealed the puzzle to Larry and Amelia but that got cut."
Robert Ben Garant: "We’re hoping that they do like the X-Men spinoff of the Wright Brothers."
Thomas Lennon: "Some kind of origin story of the Wright Brothers and see how they started on bikes and stuff like that. So look for that next summer."
How did you get permission to film at the Smithsonian?
Shawn Levy: "You say exactly that, 'I won't break anything.' But I think it did help immensely that our first movie was well-known enough that A) that the people knew, the Smithsonian knew that we were going to treat it respectfully and with humor and wit and definite reverence as well. And also the fact that it was the first movie to actually increase attendance at the New York Museum, I guess. I was told that [attendance went up] close to 20% after Night at the Museum came out. When I met with the Smithsonian, they knew that our first movie had actually increased museum attendance, and I think that anything that can kind of capitalize interest in these institutions is a good thing. It was very welcoming from the get-go."
How much of the film was actually shot in Washington or on soundstages? What was your experience like in D.C.?
Ben Stiller: "Well, we were here for the first week of shooting, right? So we shot here as much as we could get away with shooting without disrupting everything. Shooting in the Air and Space Museum, the real one, was really important in establishing the scale of it because it's just so huge. And we went back and built sets that were pretty immense in Vancouver, but nothing close to what the real size of the museum is here. But I was really happy to be here that first week because it just helped to ground us in what it really is, get connected with that just to be able to see the real stuff."
Shawn Levy: "Yeah, the memorable thing for me, there were a couple of nights, one, where Amy, Ben and I had some time off and it was like three in the morning and we were waiting for stuff to get lit. So then Ben, Amy and I got to walk around the Air and Space Museum, alone, in the middle of the night. And it was silent and dark and both spooky but completely cool. And that was definitely a memory that I’ll always have."
Amy Adams: "We shot the Lincoln Memorial too at night. It was a full moon over the whole National Mall. It was just gorgeous. It was really amazing."
What was the most difficult part of making this movie?
Shawn Levy: "Most people ask about the visual effects of the movie, but to me, the best part of the movie is the cast and the performances. I can’t think of a comedy that’s assembled this level of ensemble, so one of the biggest challenges is when you have a scene with Robin, Ricky or Hank or Ben, or everyone up here, and add to that Bill Hader and Jonah Hill and Steve Coogan, and people that aren’t here today, there was a lot of improvisation. And any time you do a complicated movie, you plans things pretty meticulously, and almost every day we would throw out a plan, because the actors came up with stuff that we couldn’t have anticipated."
"But I would say wrestling these very, very long improvisation scenes down to some kind of useful shape was challenging. I think a great example is Ben and Hank, the whole 'Don’t Cross that Line' scene. That scene is 100% improvised. I mean, we had a script, we shot a couple of takes, and before we moved on, I said, ‘You know what guys, do one without the script,' and they just made that up for about five minutes and it’s in the movie."
Owen, you had so many special effects to work with. Were you actually physically present with the other actors when you were doing your part? How do you create such a big character in such a small guy?
Owen Wilson: "I was just saying how we were never together. I never saw Ben either. Coogan was there for most of the matte stuff. Yeah, Jedediah doesn’t see himself as a miniature little cowboy. He sees himself as kind of bigger than life. It was just kind of easy to play a character that you never had to worry about Shawn saying, ‘Give me less.’ It couldn’t be too over the top."