AFI Fest: Ben Stiller Talks 'Freeing' Experience of Getting Serious With 'Walter Mitty'

12:51 PM PST 11/14/2013 by Stephanie Chan
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From left: Sean Penn, Kristen Wiig and Ben Stiller

"You really have the opportunity tell the story the way it is," says the actor-director, who was joined by co-stars Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn and Adam Scott on the red carpet.

Ben Stiller was the man of the hour at AFI Fest for Wednesday night's premiere of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

In the movie, Stiller retells James Thurber's 1939 short story about a daydreamer who escapes his mundane life by fantasizing about having extraordinary adventures. In addition to starring in the titular role, Stiller also directed and produced the film. While juggling between three different roles may have posed a challenge for him, the actor's co-stars seemed to think otherwise.

"In the final product, you'll see he's just really thoughtful about character relationships," said Kristen Wiig to The Hollywood Reporter of Stiller's strength as a director. Wiig, who plays Mitty's love interest, added, "On set, he was so generous and present."

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Starring as Mitty's new boss, Adam Scott noted how he was impressed by Stiller's ability to juggle between acting and directing.

"I would forget sometimes that he was directing because he seemed to be taking so much time out for all the actors," Scott told THR. "I love Ben's work so much. I would have come in to do extra work. I was just happy to be there. It was an added bonus that he was a sweet, inspiring person to work with."

The Parks and Recreation star, admiring Stiller's directorial talent, said: "You see this movie, as with Tropic Thunder, you see the canvas is huge. I feel like it's hard to pinpoint one strength because he's firing on all cylinders."

Stiller, who was featured in THR's Directors Roundtable from this week's issue, shared how Mitty opened up the filmmaking experience for him.

"Having made a lot of comedy, which is judged on how funny it is, the story and emotional connection is all there -- but this movie, having the experience of not necessarily having the laughs as the criteria but rather the characters, the story and the laughs became a result of that new experience," the director said to THR.

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Having starred in and directed comedies including Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, Stiller said Mitty was a "freeing and exciting" experience for him.

"In a genre other than that, you really have the opportunity to tell the story the way it is and not worry as much about entertaining the audience," he said. "What I've re-learned is that audiences really enjoy getting drawn in and want to follow the story. If you can get them on board for the ride then it sort of follows."

In terms of what he hopes the audiences will take away from Mitty, Stiller said: "Hopefully they're seeing something that connects inside. That's what the best movies are -- when you're watching something you haven't necessarily seen before and it feels familiar inside of you."

As for Wiig, she believes audiences will walk away seeing "Ben as a director." She added, "I think he made an incredible film and I'm really excited for people to see this movie."

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Also starring in the film are Sean Penn (who arrived for the red carpet, but didn't speak to the press), Kathryn Hahn and Patton Oswalt.

20th Century Fox releases The Secret Life of Walter Mitty wide on Christmas Day.

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