*One could say “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is not that far removed from that of its director and star Ben Stiller.
Touted for his roles in “Night at the Museum” and “Meet the Parents” franchises, Stiller is also known for creating unrecognizable and hilarious characters in “Tropic Thunder” that starred Tom Cruise, Robert Downey, Jr. and Brandon T. Jackson. Stiller’s onscreen characters has taken on many forms.
As Walter Mitty, Stiller not only goes on a personal journey but also one to find Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn); and in the process becomes a hero. Kristine Wiig is the object of Mitty’s affections, Shirley MacLaine is the mother and Terence Bernie Hines is Gary Mannheim.
In Mitty’s trek to amazing places audiences get to tag along, while laughing hysterically at his embodiments. As Mitty catches a train to work, he is scene at the 125th Street Broadway line in Harlem. Along with Stiller and Wiig at the Mandarin Hotel in New York was screenwriter Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happynes”). The film Strip asked him about that scene and he said, “We kind of figured where he was likely to live. And, it’s an exterior platform, which there are few of and he needed to be outside. You recognized it?” Anyone who has lived their whole life in New York City is likely to recognize that train stop but of course Conrad was happy I took notice, remarking, “Good, good!”
Dreams being an important part of one’s development, Stiller and Wiig were asked what dreams of theirs came to fruition?
“I always 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,” Stiller said. “I always dreamed of having children and having kids and I have daughter and a son,” he continued. “Being able to do this for a living was definitely a dream of mine,” Wiig weighed in. “Yeah, I’m living that dream.”
Scaling a mountain in Iceland was one of Stiller’s favorite days but there were others.
“I skateboarded as a kid here in the city and I would make my way around the city on my skateboard like that. That whole fight with Ted through the city streets is me on a skateboard and Adam Scott is on roller blades. That was fun to do. Especially skateboarding down Fifth Avenue. Closing it off. That was like a crazy fantasy come true. My second favorite day was probably the day that we shot those scenes in the ocean. We scheduled our shoot in Iceland to end on those days at the end of September because we knew that’s when the seas would be high enough, so it all was focused on that and to actually get in the water and doing the shots for real was one of the most exciting days I ever had, really, in my life.” So goes it for the secret life of Stiller.
Based on the best seller “Lone Survivor,” the film of the same name stars Mark Wahlberg as the book’s author, Marcus Luttrell. Of all the celebrities interviewed over the years, Luttrell stands out most. This Navy SEAL died for his country during mission Operation Red Wings in search of the Taliban leader Ahmad Shad. However, Luttrell was revived and he is very much alive today—with a handshake that matches no others. Seated next to the movie’s director Peter Berg, The Film Strip asked the two about the making of the film.
What was most challenging in brining this heart wrenching heroic story to the screen and what protocols had to be followed?
PETER BERG: Every movie has its own unique series of challenges. For me probably the biggest challenge was, because this is not made up, this is a real human being sitting here next to me and 19 of his friends were killed was to do justice to the families of these men and the Navy SEALS community. So the overreaching challenge that made me work very hard and made all the actors work very hard was to try and make Marcus proud and make the family members proud.
MARCUS LUTTRELL: You have to realize in real life, that gun battle lasted for over 3 hours and the movie is only about 2 hours long. So, my hats off to all of the stuntmen who laid it on the line and hurt themselves doing what they had to do to get that done because in real life we all died. The only reason I’m sitting here is because of modern medicine. I wasn’t special, I wasn’t the best frog man out there. The fact that I made it off the mountain was just pure luck and God’s and a little bit of skill. People always ask me, ‘I don’t know how you can watch that, doesn’t that affect you?’ I just tell them, ‘I went through it in real life!’
How did you go about filming some of the intense action scenes, especially the gruesome tumbling down the cliffs?
PB: When I read Marcus’s book and I read those sequences which he describes, Marcus and his three brothers jumping off the cliffs, I thought of 9/11. I was here when people were jumping off of the towers and I’m sure if anyone that saw those images, they’re very searing and just brutal images. The idea that four men would be standing on a cliff and their best option is to jump, that was something that really penetrated for me creatively and emotionally.
Those stunts were done without any dummies, without any wirework, without anything mechanical. Those were human beings literally throwing themselves off of cliffs. Some guys got hurt, some guys got bumped up, ribs were broken, a lung was punctured, some concussions, but these guys were determined to try and do everything they could to capture what Marcus described in the book.
Interviews with Mark Wahlberg and other cast members will be in the upcoming feature.
Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment journalist who reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]