And More From The Director & Cast Of The High Concept Comedy
In Brett Ratner’s “Tower Heist,” Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy lead an ensemble cast in a story of wronged hotel employees who decide to seek revenge against a ruthless financial world maven who has run off with their pensions. A comedy, heist flick and even a triumphant middle finger to the swindlers that put many out of house and home (though the filmmakers say the ties to current events were unintentional), the film is a crowd-pleasing confection about the little guys finally getting one over on those in authority. A solid supporting cast including Alan Alda, Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick and more help bring the story, a distinctly New York City-set tale, to life.
We recently caught up with the cast during press rounds for the movie and learned of the real life experience Alan Alda drew on to play the villain, Eddie Murphy’s love of heist flicks, and how Gabourey Sidibe ad-libbed one of the film’s more memorable moments. Check it out below.
“Tower Heist” originated from the mind of Eddie Murphy, who is a big fan of classic heist pics
The long-in-development “Tower Heist” was originally the brainchild of Eddie Murphy. “My idea was just a bunch of disgruntled employees trying to knock off Donald Trump,” Murphy said. In its earliest stages, Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Tracy Morgan and Martin Lawrence were being eyed as potential stars, and while the ensemble changed as it made its way to the big screen, the heist element stayed intact. And as it turns out, comedy legend Murphy is a big fan of classic heist pics.
“The movies Eddie most turned me on to were ‘The Anderson Tapes’ and ‘The Hot Rock’ and ‘The Taking Of Pelham 1, 2, 3,’” said Ratner. And that passion for those kinds of movies even surprised Murphy’s castmates, with Matthew Broderick adding, “He was a big movie buff. Anytime I came in talking about an old movie, he would know it, and say, oh, they made another version of that fifteen years later, you should check it out.”
“Tower Heist” wasn’t meant to be topical
While the story of a bunch of working stiffs taking on a Bernie Madoff-like figure bears undeniable parallels to current events, that it turned out that way was more of happy coincidence. “It wasn’t our goal [to be topical],” said Ratner. “We wanted to make a story that was relevant in any era, like the Robin Hood story. We didn’t know the culture was going to catch up to it.”
He added, “It’s great to make a movie that says something, but at the end of the day I think what I’m most proud of is that I made a fun movie with characters that you want to win.” And for Murphy’s frequent producing partner Brian Grazer, he too connected with the David and Goliath style story. “Eddie and I did six movies together, and five of them, including this, came from his own ideas,” Grazer confirms. “But this is a story about underdogs. I’m drawn to this Horatio Alger-type story of these blue collar guys getting even with The Man.”
While there were rumors of Noah Baumbach having a hand in the script, screenwriters Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson say that isn’t the case
The script has gone through several permutations over the years, and a hot rumor at one point was that one of the last re-writes was in the hands of Noah Baumbach. Not so, say co-writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson. “There was never anyone else, no one else who had touched the script,” Nathanson said, before adding a caveat. “No writer is gonna stay for a movie for five years, especially when so much of it is gonna change. In this case, all I can say is that Ted and I are friends, and we’re just happy that the movie worked.”
The film is also fairly light, and heavy on the improv. As Affleck offered, “Brett has a very collaborative way of making a movie. There’s the script, it’s a blueprint, he gets the actors he wants and reshapes the script to suit them, there’s a lot of re-writing, of improvising, and then there’s a lot of shooting. It’s not like Clint Eastwood, where it’s just one take.”
Gabourey Sidibe overcame her anxiety of starring opposite Eddie Murphy by improvising one of the film’s funniest scenes
While most people found an easygoing rhythm working with Eddie Murphy on the set, it was most difficult for Gabourey Sidibe, who plays a West Indian maid who is drawn into the big job and is drawn to Murphy’s slick criminal Slide. And that attraction wasn’t just a part of her role. “I don’t know if you’ve seen him in ‘The Golden Child,’ but he wore a lot of leather suits,” she offered. “And there’s nothing sexier than a black man in a leather suit.”
When asked about romancing the megastar on screen, the actress revealed how she turned that fear into the one of the film’s most memorable moments, where she tosses a handful of double entendres his way. “It’s definitely intimidating, because Eddie Murphy is extremely funny. I don’t know that I’m really funny unless I’m in a scene with Eddie, where I have to be as funny as he is,” she said. “I was really scared until Brett said ‘Action,’ and that’s when I let it go and said, ‘Hmm, let’s see if I can bone Eddie Murphy.’ It was the only scene that wasn’t really written.”
Alan Alda reached for very personal inspiration to play his role
Alda, who plays the ruthless villain of the piece, reacted very differently to the source material, having been hoodwinked himself.
“I have met people who have taken money from people they had a responsibility to protect,” he says. “Actually, I had some money taken from me. I got put into a bad tax shelter once. They actually took most of what I had at the time. It was fraud. Investment fraud. And a lot of very well-known people got caught up in that. I was on the soundstage at the time and I got a phone call from the New York Times and they said, ‘How does it feel to have you and Walter Cronkite getting robbed like this?’ I was so stunned, I didn’t know where I was. It’s a terrible feeling.” He notably added that, unlike in “Tower Heist,” the perpetrator remains free to this day, $100 million dollars richer.
“Tower Heist” opens on Friday, November 4th.