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In Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel play the grown children of Dustin Hoffman’s frustrated artist Harold Meyerowitz. Viewers meet Stiller’s Matt, Sandler’s Danny and Marvel’s Jean when they’re all adults, dealing with years of resentments.
So how did the actors determine the dysfunctional drama that created their characters’ current situation?
“We all spent a lot of time together before we started shooting,” Marvel told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the movie’s New York Film Festival premiere. “We spent a couple of weeks hanging out and rehearsing and talking a lot, so that just kind of came organically from the time spent and hashing out things and Noah throwing in suggestions. But a lot of it is in the writing, too.”
Stiller explained that some of the ideas for the film were planted in a lunch he had with Sandler and Baumbach, in which the three men talked about collaborating.
“We started talking about the situations we were going through in our lives and parents were getting older and having parents and that tug of war you have when you have kids but your parents are still alive,” Stiller told THR. “That world was kind of what it came out of, and then Noah went off and wrote this great script.”
Stiller also told the Lincoln Center audience in a post-screening Q&A that he drew on his own long-term not-so-close relationship with Sandler.
“Adam and I have known each other for about 20 years. For me, I took a part of that relationship because we’ve known each other for a long time but haven’t spent a lot of time together. Making this movie was sort of the longest time we spent together, which is sort of like the movie a little bit. So that was a place to start,” he said.
Sandler, who has received rave reviews for his more understated turn, told reporters ahead of the NYFF premiere that working on the film was like doing a play.
“There was a lot of rehearsing, a lot of talking about the script and the characters and meeting with different actors at different times, a lot of preparation,” he said. “And then when we got there, you felt a lot of confidence in what you were talking about.”
For Marvel, some of her own preparation included finding a voice that fit her reserved character, a departure from her pattern of playing dominant, intense women.
“I have a very low, strong voice, and I wanted to find a place for her voice to live that was sort of outside of my body and off-centered and over here,” she said. “And [Noah] introduced me to the New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, so I started watching YouTube videos of Roz, and she has a voice that lives over here, which was very helpful. I don’t know what made the connection, but I started finding John Cazale made a lot of sense to me as Jean. I started watching a lot of him as Fredo [in The Godfather] and in Dog Day Afternoon, and I started incorporating a lot of things of his and I slowly created Jean. Those were my two main influences.”
The Meyerowitz Stories is playing now in select theaters and streaming on Netflix.
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