Actor Ben Stiller and director Noah Baumbach have collaborated several times. The duo first met when in 2010 filming Greenberg, which cast Stiller as the titular character, an anxious New Yorker visiting Los Angeles who finds companionship (and more) with his brother’s house sitter Florence (played by Greta Gerwig). Then the duo teamed up in 2014 for While We’re Young, where Stiller plays Josh, an anxious New Yorker in a difficult marriage. Most recently, Baumbach and Stiller collaborated on The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), in which Stiller plays an anxious New Yorker with a complicated family (Dustin Hoffman plays his father, while Adam Sandler plays his half-brother).
Here, Stiller explains how he first met Baumbach and Sandler, what it was like to shoot the film, and why he has always had a crush on Brooke Shields.
How you ended up in The Meyerowitz Stories?
Noah Baumbach and I became friends from doing Greenberg together. It was really interesting when we were making Greenberg. I actually lived right up the hill from where we were shooting, which was his mother-in-law at the time’s house. So, I would walk to work every day down Outpost in L.A., which nobody walks down Outpost. You almost get killed every day going to work. But Greenberg didn’t drive so it was my method way of getting into the part. But it was also kind of a goodbye to L.A. for me because I had lived in LA for 20 years and I moved to New York right after we did Greenberg. We stayed in touch, because we had a lot in common and our friends lived in New York. After that, [Noah] wrote While We Were Young, and I think he had me in mind for the part.
The Meyerowitz Stories came out of us talking about wanting to do something with Adam Sandler. Adam and I had known each other for probably 20-something years. I think I met him probably in like 1988 or 1989. Adam would make appearances on this MTV game show called Remote Control that Ken Ober hosted and Colin Quinn was on as a sidekick. It was a very popular gameshow at the time and Adam would come on and do characters. He was just starting out, and he was a really cute, popular, young standup. I was starting to try to be a director and also do sketch comedy.
Then when he did Happy Gilmore I came in and did a small part as Hal, who ran the nursing home that Happy’s grandmother stayed in. We had a great time and had talked about doing stuff over the years, but never really spent time together. Actually, doing this movie was the first time we got a chance to spend a good amount of time together. And it was just a really great experience to be able to work with him and hang out with him. I feel like we got to know each other. In a way, I feel it was sort of mirroring the relationship in the movie between Danny and Matthew who lived together for a while when they were teenagers and then they split off. And, so we kind of had the same thing where we’ve known each other but not really been together a lot.
So Adam and Noah and I got together and had lunch one day before he wrote the script and just talked about some general thoughts and ideas of what the movie could be about. I know that Noah had this idea that we’d get into a fight at one point. That was sort of like the one thing that he knew he wanted to get to before he wrote it.
And we talked about things that we’ve been going through in our lives and parents and being at a certain age where you have to deal with parents getting older and also just where you’re at in your life. And then Noah just sort of went off and wrote this very specific story that somehow we both felt very connected to, even though we only had that one conversation before.
What was your first audition as an actor?
I’ll tell you the cringe-y audition story I have. I had to do a monologue–it was some off-Broadway play and I was probably about 14–and it’s a kid talking about something about his bris, which is when you have the Jewish tradition of a child having his tip snipped off, right? And I went into this audition, and being the nice Jewish kid that I was, I did not know what a bris was. And I decided to pronounce it brie. BRIS as brie. So, I did the whole monologue about my bris, or like talking about this bris. It was like a drama and then at the end the guy said, “Thank you very much and it’s pronounced bris.” I did not get the part. But it stuck with me, that feeling.
And now you know the correct word.
Yeah, I thought about that all during my son’s bris. It was like, what a beautiful brie he’s having.
What was the moment you knew you made it in Hollywood?
Gosh, I would have to say mine came later in life. 10 years ago when Tropic Thunder came out, I ran into Clint Eastwood at something. And Clint Eastwood came up to me and he said he liked Tropic Thunder. That was like, for me, probably the coolest like thing ever.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
Brooke Shields. I was convinced we were gonna get married.
Had you met?
I was in New York, she was in New York. We were around the same age and we knew people who knew each other then. Eventually I did meet her. I had a friend who knew her. Like my friend’s mother knew her mother, and we did not get married. But we’re friends and friendly.
It wasn’t awkward?
Well, I never told her. Unless she sees this, she will not be aware of it. Yeah, so I had a big crush on Brooke.
Where was your first kiss?
At Hidden Valley Camp in Freedom, Maine when I was 12. It was great. It was under a tree. I remember thinking it was very romantic and cool and just like charged, which most first kisses I would imagine are.
I was at camp and I was kind of homesick. And I actually remember my father had come up to the camp because I was saying I wanted to go. And then I met the girl and then I was like, “Dad, get out of here. Get out of here.”
What was your favorite birthday?
I remember I had a surprise party when I was 30 that my girlfriend at the time threw. It was in L.A.. it was at the house that I was living in at the time, yeah. That was fun because I was truly surprised and I never had a surprise party.
How did they coordinate it? You just walked in?
My god, I don’t remember. It was so long ago. But it was like a big surprise. And there was a magician at the party. He did tricks. He did close-up magic for people. You know, like little groups of people where you come and take sponge balls out and pull things out of people’s ear.
Do you have any secret skills?
I can juggle a little bit.
Wow. Can you do magic?
I took magic lessons when I was a kid. I was really into magic. I was not very good. I didn’t practice enough. I don’t think I had the natural ability either. But there was a place called Lou Tannen’s Magic Shop in New York, which was where all the magicians went. And it was the magic shop and all the magicians would demonstrate the tricks for you there. And then you’d take them home and not be able to do them because they were magicians. But then I took lessons with this guy named the Great Slydini, who is a very famous closeup magician. He lived somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen and I would go to his apartment. I was like 10 years old, and he had this very famous routine where he would take an audience member up on stage, sit them down and he would take a box of Kleenex and crumple the Kleenex up and make them disappear in front of them. But if you were watching from the stage, what you saw was that he was flipping the Kleenex over their head, but they couldn’t see it because of their vision. It was a great routine. The audience would be laughing, the person sitting there. And, so I would be practicing this flipping the Kleenex on my sister all the time and she would just get mad and say, “why are you doing that stupid thing where you throw Kleenex at me?” She didn’t encourage my magic career. I still kind of try to do it and every once in a while I can do it.
Gal Gadot, Emma Stone, Margot Robbie, and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
“This year on Halloween, my daughter and I went trick-or-treating, and I had on this huge mask so I could see everyone but they couldn’t see me. Whenever I saw a Wonder Woman costume on a girl or a boy, it was so exciting. My daughter, who was dressed as a unicorn zombie, would run up to me and say, “Did you see that Wonder Woman?” They were everywhere!”
Gal Gadot wears Moschino Couture dress; Fabergé ring; Off-White c/o Jimmy Choo shoes.
“[Jennifer Lawrence] came to see Cabaret and both of my contacts popped out of my eyes at the same time and my prescription is -900, which, if you know what that means, is like…I cannot see. So, they had to drag me off the stage in the dark and she came backstage afterwards and I was like, ‘I couldn’t see anything! It was garbage! It was a disaster!’ And she was like, ‘Enough, enough. I’m your dance mom. You need to calm down.’”
Emma Stone wears a Louis Vuitton dress; Cartier earrings.
“I am Vietnamese, and we don’t celebrate birthdays. My parents don’t actually know their birth dates—they just go by their signs. When somebody asks you how old you are, you say, ‘I’m born this month in the Year of the…’ I was born in the Year of the Sheep. Sheep don’t like to be the center of attention, and they don’t like being told what to do. That pretty much sums me up.”
Hong Chau wears an Etro dress; Chanel Fine Jewelry earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring.
“I’ve had a flirtation with Winston Churchill for years; there’s been a book of famous Churchill quotes on my bookshelf since childhood. To me, he was the man who won the war. And yet, when I was first asked to play the part, I thought, Don’t be ridiculous, and turned it down. But they came back, and it felt right. My wife said, ‘Look, you get to stand in Parliament and say these great words. What have you got to lose?’”
Gary Oldman wears a Canali suit; Boss shirt and tie.
“I always joke that Jason Dixon, the character I play in Three Billboards, is Barney Fife meets Travis Bickle. I spent a lot of time trying to perfect his southern Missouri accent. I did ride-alongs with a cop down there—he had a great twang. Accents should be practiced as if you’re drunk. Actors get a little tense when they have to do an accent. Drunkenness relaxes everything.”
Sam Rockwell wears a Marni trench; Editions M.R shirt; Simon Miller T-shirt; Huntsman pants; Rolex watch; Church’s shoes.
“My character in The Meyerowitz Stories is a sweet family girl, but when she sends films she makes in school to her family, you see her wild side. I’m naked in most of those films. I sat next to my dad at the premiere, and that was probably the most uncomfortable thing in my life. To see myself 75 feet tall and naked was not easy. I sank into my chair and heard my dad kind of laugh nervously. We pretended those scenes never happened.”
Grace Van Patten wears an Alberta Ferretti dress; her own jewelry.
“Being an actress, for me, is about my own transition. It’s about looking for answers. It’s about trying to survive in my life and also for the lives of others who face similar challenges. Life is scary, but art is not scary.”
Daniela Vega wears a Max Mara dress; David Webb earrings; Piaget necklace; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring (right hand); Tiffany & Co. bracelet and ring (left hand); Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“My husband is an artist, but he still has a hard time watching me sometimes. During The Killing of a Sacred Deer at the Cannes Film Festival, he was both hypnotized and shattered. When he hears me scream or cry from a certain place in my soul, it’s almost like it goes straight into him. His brain and heart don’t discern between acting and real life.”
Nicole Kidman wears a Prada top and skirt; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring; Jimmy Choo pumps.
Where was your first kiss? This is going to sound like a murder story, but it was in the woods, outside of a baseball park. I had lost my turtle. Curtis, the guy I kissed, found it.
Was that your first pet? No, it was a schnauzer named Ozzie. He hated us so much. He never wanted to be in the same room with us.
So what’s your porno name—first pet plus first street name? Ozzie Ormond.
What was your favorite Halloween costume? A picnic table. My mom wouldn’t let me be a witch or a ghost or anything demonic, so I cut a hole in a plastic cloth and went as a picnic table. The problem was I had a crush on this guy named John, and I was so pumped for Halloween because it was our chance to interact. And then I put my face in the tablecloth and was like, “Hi, John. Are you my boyfriend?”
Jennifer Lawrence wears a Dior dress; Dior Fine Jewelry earrings and ring.
“When I first read the script for Get Out, I thought, Are you allowed to do this? Are they really going to let this black guy kill all these white people? I think the most fascinating art pieces come at a price to the person making them. And this movie took a risk. On opening night, I went to see it in a theater in the hood in Atlanta. The crowd clapped, they cheered, they yelled, ‘Get out, man! Yo—get out!’ It was all the stuff that we hoped the audience would say.”
Daniel Kaluuya wears a Gosha Rubchinskiy x Adidas Football sweatshirt and sweatpants; ’47 hat; Gucci socks; Kaluuya’s own sneakers.
“I booked The Florida Project when I was 6. I’m 7 now. It was really fun because during shooting I got to eat ice cream! I want to start my own YouTube channel, and the name of it will be I Am Crazy for Ice Cream because I am crazy for ice cream. I’m also so into fashion. I wear shorts in the movie, and they were so short. It was a struggle getting them on. Now, I’m like, ‘Mom! Where are my skirts? No more shorts!’”
Brooklynn Prince wears a Baby Dior dress; La Coqueta shoes.
“I’m naked quite a lot in Beach Rats, and it’s a little strange to act when you’re naked. When the boom operator is standing over you, and you’re not wearing anything, it’s awkward. But, in the end, I didn’t find it difficult. I’m pretty comfortable with my body. Not in an ‘I’m happy to flaunt it for £5’ kind of way, but it does go deep into the psychology of someone trying to figure out their own sexuality, and their identity.”
Harris Dickinson wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt, pants, and boots.
“As an actor, people put you in categories. It’s ‘Oh, she has an accent,’ or ‘She doesn’t have an accent,’ or ‘She can do this accent,’ or ‘No, she can’t.’ They’ll say, ‘She’s a pretty blonde, so I don’t know if we can see her in a comedy.’ So I know that for Fatih Akin to pick me was a big risk because he’s very well known in Germany as a director who casts unknowns or people he discovers who are not actors at all. In the beginning, he got a lot of backlash for it. And, in truth, I don’t think I could have played this character five years ago. Now I’m ready to shed any beauty look. I want to be stripped of any pretense, of any glamour.”
Diane Kruger wears a Rosamosario romper; Christian Louboutin shoes.
“When I was 14, I auditioned for an Off Broadway play. The scene was about a bris, the Jewish tradition of a child having the tip of his penis snipped off. Being the nice Jewish kid that I was, I did not know what a bris was, and I decided to pronounce it brie. Bris as brie. So I did the monologue, and, at the end, the director said, ‘Thank you very much, and it’s pronounced bris.’ I did not get the part.”
Ben Stiller wears a Gucci coat; Olatz pajamas.
“When I was 6, my favorite film was Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It’s got a lot of adult jokes, and it was really inappropriate for a child to see. In school, they asked us, ‘If you were to make a potion, what would you put in it?’ Even then, I could recall lines of movies, and I said, ‘The testicles of a newt!’ I got called up to the front of the class and was asked why I put testicles in my potion. I had no idea what testicles were—I just loved the film.”
Margot Robbie wears a Dolce & Gabbana top, shorts, and shoes.
“I was late to the game on The Room, which is considered by many to be the worst movie of all time. For years, I would see this billboard in L.A. that Tommy Wiseau, the actor and star of the movie, had paid to have up on Highland Avenue. It was a picture of him, sort of glaring down at you, with the words THE ROOM and a phone number. I was like, ‘What is this? Do you call the number and this crazy, weird, vampirelike guy can be in your movie?’ But then I started reading The Disaster Artist, which was written by one of the other actors in the movie, and before I was halfway through, I just knew it was such an incredible, bizarre story, unlike any other in Hollywood, about outsider artists trying to achieve their dreams. I was instantly drawn to Tommy. It’s almost like we were made for each other.”
James Franco wears a Balenciaga shirt; his own pants.
“To play Molly Bloom, I thought about what women have to become in order to find power in a society where men are making all of the rules. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh—the Kardashians are an incredible example of women who have their own sense of entrepreneurial power.’ And in real life, Molly looked a lot like them. For research, I actually watched Kim’s tutorial on face shading and contouring. As the movie goes on, Molly transforms into this idea of what a woman has to be in order to be heard: The heels get higher, the necklines are lower, the hair is longer. It was quite a departure for me, physically. And the strange thing is, I don’t look like myself at all in this film, and so many people have said to me that I’ve never looked better.”
Jessica Chastain wears an Oscar de la Renta dress; Sophie Buhai earrings.
“Until I read the script for Lady Bird, I had never encountered a female heroine who very much sees herself as a female heroine. In films, you rarely see young girls who love themselves. Lady Bird takes the self-confidence thing to a new level. She knows she’s going to be someone. And she has something to say, even if she doesn’t quite know what it is yet.”
Saoirse Ronan wears a Chanel dress.
Did you have an audition outfit back when you were starting out? I had multiple outfits. Much like a costume box. I would change between auditions. I remember changing in the car on the freeway. I’m still a fast changer. And discreet. I have a talent for taking my clothes off quickly.
What was your first favorite film? The Sound of Music. It was very influential. And I got to meet Captain von Trapp while filming All the Money in the World [Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey after Spacey was pulled from the project]. We were about to be in this movie together, and I thought, How soon is too soon to ask Christopher Plummer to sing “Edelweiss” into my phone for my daughter?
Michelle Williams wears a Louis Vuitton dress.
“I play real people a lot. And it is a huge responsibility. Anytime you are playing somebody who was alive, for good or for bad, that performance becomes a version of an official record of what happened: what motivated them, what obstacles they faced, and how they got through their particular struggle. There’s a degree of leeway that you can allow yourself as long as you’re not turning good guys into bad guys, or knowledge into ignorance. Having said that, it’s a little easier playing someone who’s no longer living. Because then you don’t have to meet them.”
Tom Hanks wears a Tom Ford suit, vest, and shoes; Boss shirt; Rolex watch.
“I had a successful soap opera career in Mexico, but I left my fame and my comfort and I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to make films. I was very, very famous in Mexico, and in the States I was working as an extra. People thought maybe I was running from the police. Why else would I leave everything I had to play a maid? I told them, ‘This industry is going to change. We are too strong of an economic force to be ignored forever.’”
Salma Hayek wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress; Cartier earrings.
“I was loosely attached to Call Me by Your Name for four years. It never seemed like it was coming together, and then it did. Now I’ve spent nearly two years promoting it. So, in many ways, it will be the project of my youth. When I’m older, I’ll look at this film and remember what it was like to not be jaded, old, and washed up. I’ll look back and say, ‘Oh, when I was young…’”
Timothée Chalamet wears a Sandro jacket and pants; Schiesser tank top; Sermoneta Gloves gloves; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
“My first kiss was at a party, when I was 12 or 13, during my first term at a coed school, so, you know, hormones were raging. A girl named Dora had this party when her parents were out of town, and it was literally a bacchanalia for 13-year-olds. No one was having sex, but it was just like, ‘Oh, we all get to kiss each other.’ And there were around 200 people there. It was about five hours of everyone going, ‘Have we made out yet? No? Let’s go!’ To this day, my friends and I will be in a pub or at dinner and say, ‘Remember Dora’s party?’ and sigh. It was an awakening.”
Andrew Garfield wears a Shrimps coat; Michael Kors sweater; Sunspel sweatpants.