CATEGORIES Interviews
In the very simplest of terms, Ben Stiller is pulling what movie buffs would call a 'Punch-Drunk Love' or a 'Stranger Than Fiction' with his latest film, 'Greenberg.'

Like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell in those two films, the funnyman famous for his work in broad comedy ('There's Something About Mary,' 'Meet the Parents,' 'Tropic Thunder,' etc) flexes serious dramatic chops as Roger Greenberg, a failed musician-turned-carpenter who moves from New York to L.A. to house sit for his brother shortly after suffering a nervous breakdown and spending time in a mental institution.

The film, written and directed by Noah Baumbach ('Squid and the Whale'), marks a career-best performance by Stiller, who imbues the title character with convincing ambiguity and instability. He's a character you feel uneasy watching, whether engaged in the mundane (regularly writing letters of complaint to Starbucks and other companies) or the momentous (continually screwing up his budding relationship with his brother's assistant, played by Greta Gerwig). In the very simplest of terms, Ben Stiller is pulling what movie buffs would call a 'Punch-Drunk Love' or a 'Stranger Than Fiction' with his latest film, 'Greenberg.'

Like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell in those two films, the funnyman famous for his work in broad comedy ('There's Something About Mary,' 'Meet the Parents,' 'Tropic Thunder,' etc) flexes serious dramatic chops as Roger Greenberg, a failed musician-turned-carpenter who moves from New York to L.A. to house sit for his brother shortly after suffering a nervous breakdown and spending time in a mental institution.

The film, written and directed by Noah Baumbach ('Squid and the Whale'), marks a career-best performance by Stiller, who imbues the title character with convincing ambiguity and instability. He's a character you feel uneasy watching, whether engaged in the mundane (regularly writing letters of complaint to Starbucks and other companies) or the momentous (continually screwing up his budding relationship with his brother's assistant, played by Greta Gerwig).

We asked Stiller about pivoting from comedy to drama, New York to L.A. and more.

Do you think this is the most dramatic work you've done yet?

Well I don't know. I guess, how would you define dramatic?

Well, there's some dark comedy in it, obviously, but you're also playing a very sick and troubled character at the same time, and you had to go to some dark places.
Yeah, I think it was the most satisfying experience I've had, as an actor, maybe ever, [or at least] in a long time. Working on 'Permanent Midnight' was also a really good experience in being able to have a character that was that specifically defined, and I think Noah just wrote such a great script. As a filmmaker, he's sensitive to characters and so interested in what they're going through, and leaves the space and the room for that to happen on screen. That was really very fulfilling.

Have you ever written a letter to express your dissatisfaction with something?
(Laughs) Um, I think I may have written a letter or two to people that I didn't send, a perturbative letter, but I don't think I ever sent the letter. For Greenberg, obviously, that's his way of expressing himself.

Had you seen 'Squid and the Whale' and 'Margot at the Wedding,' and did Noah's body of work influence your decision to work with him?
Oh yeah, I think there's only a few directors who, if they called up [and offered anything, I would do it], and he's one of them for me. I would have done whatever he sent over, honestly. I just felt lucky that he actually sent this really great specific role, but I think he's such a talented filmmaker and he's so unique in his trust in his own rhythms in what he's interested in. He also has a great sense of humor, and he can do broader, more mainstream stuff, but I think he's really interested in exploring a certain kind of movie. And it takes a lot of courage to make that kind of movie these days. Really take the time with it, leave the space and allow things to breathe.



As a native New Yorker now living in L.A., I'm guessing you related to Greenberg's coast-to-coast move and commentaries on the cities.
Yeah, I love New York. I've always felt like a New Yorker, and I think I always will be, but I've also lived in L.A. for like 20 years. (Laughs) L.A. has a lot of great things, and it's kind of a lonely place. It's much more isolating, but it's also got a beauty to it. And there's something about the west coast and the history of California and Los Angeles and movies that I've always been interested in. I go back and forth. I have kids now, so I want them to have a New York experience. I don't think I feel comfortable just raising them out there totally. But what I liked about 'Greenberg,' about the movie, was that he sort of embraced the idea of being an outsider in Los Angeles and how that can feel. Walking on the streets of Los Angeles is a very lonely feeling, because nobody does that.

We're all excited to hear that the 'Zoolander' sequel is moving forward. Where do you see Derek Zoolander going in 'Zoolander 2'?
You know, I don't want to say too much about it because we're still figuring it out. But he's older, and I think him and Hansel have ... what I will say is they've both fallen out, as it happens in pop culture, their time has come and gone. So when we pick them up, they're sort of on the outside, they're not on people's minds anymore. They're having to reconcile themselves with that and figuring out where they exist in today's world. They have to overcome some adversity and sort of reintegrate themselves into society.

So Owen Wilson is definitely coming back?
Yeah -- there's no 'Zoolander' without Hansel.

It's sort of fallen out of the pop culture zeitgeist at this point, but what did you think of that label "The Frat Pack"?
I have no feeling toward it whatsoever, except that it rhymes. (Laughs) I don't know, it feels very early 00's to me. (Laughs) Anyway, I never really got it, I never went to college, I was never in a fraternity, I don't know what that means.

Aside from the 'Zoolander' sequel, you also recently starred in 'Night at the Museum 2,' and this year we'll see you in 'Little Fockers.' Are there any other characters of yours that you'd like to revisit?
It's not one of those things where you can deign to think that people would want to see a character again. I mean I've had good experiences with things that I've enjoyed doing, like I had a great time doing 'Dodgeball,' I enjoyed that as much as anything. But I also liked doing 'Permanent Midnight,' so the experience is the experience. You know 'Zoolander' is pretty special, I think, because originally it had such a tough time at the beginning, and the fact that it's lived on even though it was never a big box office hit, that's a very nice feeling to see that something has had a life in that way. So that's why I look forward to doing another one.

Read indieWIRE's discussion with 'Greenberg' director Noah Baumbach