'Zoolander 2's' Cyrus Arnold Talks Cracking Up With Will Ferrell, Perfecting Derek Jr.'s Version of Blue Steel
The young actor reveals how he learned he landed the key role of Derek Zoolander's son and what it was like to work on the highly anticipated sequel.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Zoolander 2.]
Of all of the new castmembers in Zoolander 2, one of the biggest parts belongs to Cyrus Arnold, who plays Derek Zoolander Jr. in one of his first movies.
Viewers got a brief glimpse of Derek Jr. at the end of Zoolander, with the then-baby already taking after his dad, with spiky black hair and the ability to flash a modeling look like his father. But 15 years later, at the start of Zoolander 2, Derek (Ben Stiller) and his son are estranged, with the former living in seclusion, as a "hermit crab" as Zoolander says, after his son's been taken away from him following the death of Derek's wife Matilda (Christine Taylor). It seems the dim-witted male model had trouble raising his son on his own, struggling to figure out things like how to make dry pasta soft.
Derek later learns that his son is at an Italian orphanage and the two reunite. But the "fat little smarty pants" Derek Jr. has become doesn't have much in common with his looks-oriented father. Still, when Derek learns that Mugatu (Will Ferrell) has conspired to kidnap his son, who may possess the key to eternal youth, he and Hansel (Owen Wilson) join forces with swimsuit model-turned-Interpol agent Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz) to get Derek Jr. back.
In the process, Derek Jr. has a showdown with Mugatu and he and his father ultimately reconnect, with the youngest Zoolander flashing another modeling look.
Arnold — who previously appeared on Comedy Bang! Bang!, Sam & Cat and the About a Boy and Richie Rich TV series — auditioned for the role of Derek Jr. twice and didn't hear anything for four months. Then he and his mom/manager were asked to fly to New York to meet Derek Zoolander himself, Ben Stiller, who also wrote, directed and produced both movies.
"He was really nice; he's really open to people," Arnold says of his first impressions of Stiller.
And it was Stiller who surprised Arnold with the news that he landed the part in the highly anticipated sequel. A week after their trip to New York, Arnold's mom picked him up from school and told him he had a commercial audition via Skype.
"I get in front of the computer at the house and then the casting director supposedly pops up on the screen … and I'm like, 'You look a lot like Ben Stiller' and it was, and he told me I got the role," Arnold tells The Hollywood Reporter, explaining he can't even remember what his reaction was apart from sheer "shock and awe."
"I would never dream of working beside one of the greatest comedian-actors of all time," he adds.
Arnold was a fan of the first Zoolander, particularly the walk-off between Derek and Hansel, he says.
"All of those insults are hilarious," Arnold explains. "And the David Bowie cameo's pretty good."
And when Arnold filmed Derek Jr.'s face-off with Mugatu, Ferrell's ad-libbed rant also had Arnold laughing.
"The one time I broke character [while filming] in that entire shoot was during the scene with Will Ferrell," Arnold says. "It was just so funny — the insults he came up with in that movie. You know how he says an entire monologue? In the script it was one or two sentences, and then he extended that and improvised the entire speech. I laughed a lot; it was really hard for me to film it."
Although Derek Jr. impresses his father with his ability to speak Italian, Arnold himself doesn't speak the language and was shocked when he was told he had to deliver an entire speech in the foreign language.
"That afternoon, I did not know that that entire speech was in Italian, and I didn't speak any Italian whatsoever even though I was in Rome. The PA asked me at lunch, 'Are you ready for the Italian speech?' And I'm like, 'What?!' My mom didn't blink for like a full minute and me neither. I was really worried. I had to memorize an entire speech in Italian, a foreign language that I didn't know how to speak."
He also worked hard, with Stiller, to master the modeling look he flashes at the end of the film.
"It took me a whole day to perfect my own interpretation of blue steel," Arnold says. "It's such a unique look — it's harder than it looks! It's not just a good looking fish face. It's really hard. It took an entire day to do, so that shows how hard it was to perfect."
Arnold is quick to note that any onscreen challenges he faced were quickly forgotten because he was having so much fun with his co-stars.
He cites Derek Jr.'s harrowing car ride with his dad, in which the senior Zoolander pulls out a selfie stick and tries to snap a few photos while driving, as his most memorable scene, noting that they worked on that scene during his first and last days of filming.
"That specific scene shows so much about what Derek Jr. feels about his dad," Arnold says. "[Derek Jr.'s] nothing like [his dad], and he doesn't think they'll bond anytime soon, and it kind of makes him sad because he really did want to bond with his dad, he really tried, but they're just so unalike that it was hard for them. … But they get along in the end."