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Interview: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson for "Starsky & Hutch"

By Paul Fischer Sunday February 23rd 2003 11:00AM
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson for "Starsky & Hutch"

In casting the new comic version of the TV series Starsky and Hutch, you couldn't ask for a more ideal acting duo than Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, close friends off screen since Wilson starred in the Stiller-directed Cable Guy. In Starsky and Hutch they play initially unwilling partners in the seventies-set action comedy. Paul Fischer caught up with both actors sitting, and sparring, together on occasion.

Question: What was it like jumping on a naked Chris Penn?

Stiller: He's a big guy, a big guy -- a very solid guy. I was actually really excited to work with Chris because I've known his work for years. I was really happy that he did the movie. But, it was fun, in the moment, to get a little physical

Question: Why were you so keen to do this?

Stiller: I just had a great time doing it, I loved the show growing up, it was one of my favourite shows as a kid. It was really different for me to be able to do this sort of genre, it was a chance to get out of that genre a little bit and yet still do it in a way that made sense comedically. So it was just fun -- it was a fun time. I worked with Owen -- I love working with Owen, you know...

Question: Were you nervous to meet the real guy (Paul Michael Glaser)?

Stiller: I was nervous, yeah, definitely. I got to sit down with Paul before we started shooting. He was great. He was so supportive and really into the idea. He had seen Owen and I do, I guess do something on the Oscars a couple years ago and had thought we had good chemistry in it and got behind the idea of us doing the movie. He was just totally supportive. That really made a difference to me, it kind of gave me the freedom to go off and do whatever.

Question: At what point did it become a comedy or parody?

Stiller: I don't think we ever looked at it as a parody. I think our characters take it pretty seriously in the movie. I don't think we're ever doing jokes that are commenting on the genre -- I know that, for me, was the way to look at it was that these guys are in a serious movie.

Question: Did you ever betray that for the sake of a great joke?

Stiller: Not in my mind. It's tone is what the tone is, but in my mind [the physicality] that's Starsky's routine that he does to warm out and get his body going in his '70s sort of work out thing.

Question: Owen, were you also a fan of the show?

Wilson: Yeah, that was the first cop show that I was into, was that and then 'Magnum P.I.,' then 'Miami Vice,' but 'Starsky & Hutch' sort of began it.

Question: Was there a childhood fantasy involved in trying to relive those days?

Wilson: Yeah, I've had and it seems like, in other movies kind of played like, I played an astronaut in 'Armageddon,' I played a soldier...

Question: What is it about each other that keeps drawing you back? And what is going to take to get a "Heat Vision and Jack" (the never-aired pilot Stiller directed featuring Jack Black and Owen) on one of your DVDs?

Wilson: Ah, 'Heat Vision and Jack'...

Stiller: I don't know. We just enjoy each other's company and have fun working together and I think as long as people allow us to work together, it'll just keep on going -- I think.

Wilson: But I think even if people didn't allow us, I'd like to think that we'd be in the Marina doing community theatre.

Question: What kind of play would that be?

Wilson: It would probably be maybe a one-man show, and Ben would play a supporting role.

Question: Ben, what made you decide to bring the 'Do-it' character back?

Stiller: For years, actually, we were looking for a way to do that. To tell you the truth, originally in 'Zoolander,' the part that my dad played was going to be that character with me playing that character, but we could afford to do it with the visual effects, so we changed it. But it's been one of those things that I've wanted to do for a long time.

Question: So this was a character that you did before?

Stiller: I did it on the show about 10 years ago.

Question: Did you put a lot of your own stuff into this?

Stiller: I guess so, I mean, Todd wrote the script and he did a great job and it's sort of his own tone. I guess that's what I thought was interesting because I think 'Zoolander' was obviously more of my own sensibility and this was working with Todd's sensibility, but I think Owen and I brought whatever it is we are as people to the characters -- but it's through Todd's eyes.

Question: Are you more comfortable, Owen, doing buddy comedies -- because you seem to have almost carved a niche for yourself as almost a...

Stiller: The uber-buddy

Wilson: Yeah, it does seem like I always ... in buddy movies there are always sort of specific beats that you end of hitting and there's sort of the break-up and then getting back together and those scenes are always kind of funny for me to film.

Question: Will you and Jackie work together again?

Wilson: You never know, Jackie did 'Around the World in 80 Days' and I worked a day on it with Steve Coogan as the Wright Brothers with Luke. It's always great to work with Jackie.

Question: How much leeway did you have in the script in interpretation and improv?

Wilson: I think they did a good job. Todd met with Vin and me before filming and we would talk about the script and he would go write up new stuff based on whatever ideas we might have come up with.

Question: Was the Disco dance off a tribute to "Zoolander"?

Stiller: I don't know, that was more of Todd's idea, I just went along with it -- obviously that had more of a '70s influence to it.

Question: What is it about doing dancing?

Stiller: It just happened co-incidentally that last couple movies that I did -- it just happened to happen, I'm not seeking it out.

Question: Can you talk about the voice you're doing for "Madagascar"?

Stiller: It's kind of very similar to my own voice. It's going very well. I mean it's an interesting process in terms of doing that. Are you talking about what the process is like?

Question: What do you think that will make a great family movie and why were you interested in it?

Stiller: I now have a child, so... when I started working on the movie, my wife was pregnant. The child is now 2, when the movie comes out my child will be 3. It's one of those processes that goes on so long that, as you go along with it, you sort of... I think those kind of movies, once you have a kid you have a whole new appreciation for them because you see how much your children enjoy them. I think that was the main motivation for me to want to work on it.

Question: Owen, what voice are you doing in "Cars"?

Wilson: It's a voice kind of similar to my own. The character that I play is a car, a race car that is kind of talkie and is going to learn his lesson and Paul Newman is going to do a voice in it -- we had a lot of great people doing voices in it.

Question: How long have you been working on it?

Wilson: They take forever to do, so it's been a couple years now and I think it's going to be a least two more.

Question: Have you seen any of the animation yet?

Wilson: Just stuff that they showed me when I went in, but it won't be the final stuff.

Stiller: I've seen animation on mine.

Question: Did you have any input on it?

Stiller: No. You just look at what they do -- it's incredible what they do, how they approach it. It's mind boggling to me, the process that they go through.

Question: How much time did you have to spend in the water for the new Anderson picture, "The Life Aquatic"? Were you in submersibles at all or did you actually have to get in the water?

Wilson: It was one of those things like every movie that's always kind of a big crisis; 'Oh, you need to go over to Italy and you gotta go and do all this diving. You're going to have to go get certified, but you can't be certified in America, it won't work there...' And then you go over there and you hardly do any diving.

Stiller: So the Italians are really tough on the certification?

Wilson: Yeah (laughs)

Question: Why is that film being shrouded in such secrecy?

Wilson: I wasn't aware that it was. Really? I didn't know that. I play a guy named Ned Plimpton... (Ben leans over and whispers in his ear) Oh, ok... You know what? I'm not going to be able to talk about it, someone has advised me that if I answer that question, in a court of law, they can prove that I had knowledge. No, it's kind of inspired by Jacques Cousteau and Bill Murray plays a Cousteau character. It's not that secret. [I play] Ned Plimpton. I fly for Air Kentucky and I may or may not be Bill's son.

Question: In Starsky,, how committed were you guys to the period detail? And do you think there is a difference between the '70s cop show and something today?

Stiller: Yeah. I watched a lot of the episodes just to get inspired, to get a vibe for what they were doing and I think the feeling of a lack of irony or cynicism; characters take themselves really seriously and what they do very seriously and sort of not worrying about political correctness as much as we do now, their attitude towards women.

Question: Do you have a different memory of the '70s than they actually were like?

Stiller: Do we? I don't know. I think through movies and television we have idealized them in a way because the culture has turned them into sort of the new fashion of the retro '70s and all that -- it's impossible for it not to get turned into something it wasn't because the reality is that you're taking all these elements like the television, the clothes and the music and all these things and they may get idealized in our minds on some level no matter what it is, so it can never be what it was. But I grew up in the '70s and the elements that I remember from it are loving these shows and these guys taking themselves really seriously and thinking that was ok.

Question: What memories do you have?

Stiller: I think it was a freer time -- there was so much less media, so much less saturation of satellite television, electronic games -- you know, it was Pong, it was very low tech. I grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the '70s and there were block parties and it was multi-cultural and it was the aftermath of Vietnam and people were sort of into Earth Day and saving the planet -- it was very genuine and real and sort of connected to something, I think. My parents were very, sort of, progressive, so...

Question: With the cameo in Anchorman (starring Will Ferrell), and Dodgeball with Vince Vaughn -- there seems to be this community of comedians where you're always in each other's movies...

Wilson: Well, I think that the first time I worked with Ben was on 'Cable Guy.' And then he also sent me and Wes a really nice note about 'Bottle Rocket,' he liked that movie and I like being in 'Cable Guy' and it's just sort of people that you get along with and have the same sort of sense of humour or find funny in. So Will is in this movie I did in Austin with my kid brothers -- yeah, it does seem like there is an overlap, and I'm getting ready to be in a movie with Vince Vaughn. The movie that Vince and I are doing is called 'The Wedding Crashers.' [With Will] I didn't write it, Luke wrote it and my older brother [Andrew] directed it in Austin, it's called 'The Wendell Baker Story' and Luke plays that character and Will Ferrell plays someone who is kind of competing with him for this girl, Eva Mendes.

Question: Friendship between the two cops made the TV show distinctive, so can you talk about how you played with that for the adaptation?

Stiller: Yeah, I think, it was based on their relationship and their chemistry. In the original show, they really did look after each other and cared about each other and I think the humour came from them enjoying poking at each other. I think in this movie, we had to find our own relationship and adapt the movie to that, because I think that was the key for the show working was that it worked on the basis of their relationship. So I think our relationship is a little bit different, so we sort of adapted it a little bit towards that. The idea of having the movie be about the beginning of their association, so you could have a little more tension -- that was something I think we had more of than they had in the show.

Question: The relationship is a little gayish -- were you careful not to go to far in that direction?

Stiller: But a lot of that stuff that you might think is kind of like a parody they actually did in the show. They did wear shoulder holsters in the locker room, they did console each other -- there's an episode where Hutch's girlfriend gets murdered [Owen: Oh yeah!] and Starsky hugs him and he breaks down... it's all stuff we took from the show, so it really wasn't...

Question: You were attracted to this first..

Stiller: Me? I went to the studio and said, 'What do you think of doing a movie?'

Question: And what made you think Owen would be the perfect Hutch?

Wilson: Oooh.

Stiller: Yeah, after a couple of other people fell out and Brad Pitt was unavailable...

Question: Were you concerned when you were making this that it would evolve into just another buddy comedy?

Wilson: I would say that I was more afraid that it would be just this big of spoof, that you can't really hook into the story and that it would be sort of like a skit, making fun of stuff. So it was nice when I saw the movie to see that it is funny and we have funny stuff, but it there is stuff that kind of, I thought, kind of works and a lot of that is having Vince Vaughn as the villain, who is every time we cut to him instead of having some kind of stock villain, it was somebody who is charismatic and fun to watch and doing funny stuff.

Question: What does Vince Vaughan add?

Wilson: In this movie, he kind of gives what could be a tricky part of the story -- because it's the villain and he makes it into a believable ... and more than that, because it's 'Starsky & Hutch,' it's a funny kind of take on it.

Stiller: I think there's a whole vibe to the movie that I find sort of... I find it hard to describe and we had a hard time to hone in on when we were making the movie when you talk about the tone on it -- the idea of those things that you're talking about, the generic aspects of the buddy comedy, the aspects that might make it seem like a parody or whatever, I felt like the idea was always to ride the line where you embrace all those clichés because that's what it is, and yet to find a reality in it where you care about the characters, but also, the clichés are that it is the most generic 'Starsky & Hutch' plot that you could find. And that's the thing that works for me on that level, that it is that and it is hard to describe it, but yet it is fun to watch that if you have an affinity for what the show was. And Vince brings his brilliant persona.

Question: What surprised you about Snoop Dogg?

Stiller: Nothing really surprised me, it was great to work with him and it was so much fun to see what his world is and how he approaches the work -- he takes it really seriously. It's fun.

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