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‘Zoolander’ Team Reveals Original Plan to Kill Derek and How They Avoided an R Rating

The studio refused to let "Zoolander" end in death.

ZOOLANDER, Ben Stiller, 2001. © Paramount Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

ZOOLANDER, Ben Stiller, 2001. © Paramount Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Zoolander” is officially 20 years old as of September 28, 2021. To celebrate two decades of Blue Steel references and more, director-actor-writer Ben Stiller joined Esquire magazine alongside stars Christine Taylor, Milla Jovovich, and more to look back at the comedy classic. One of the big revelations from the 20th anniversary interview arrives early: Jake Gyllenhaal auditioned for the role of male model Hansel, famously played by Owen Wilson in the final cut.

Stiller told Esquire that Wilson was always his top choice for Hansel, but there was a time when scheduling conflicts suggested the actor would not be available to film the movie. The studio forced Stiller to hold Hansel auditions, which is when a young Gyllenhaal entered the room.

“The only one that I remember clearly was a young Jake Gyllenhaal doing this wide-eyed version of Hansel that was really funny,” said Stiller, who also revealed that Andy Dick was supposed to play the villainous Mugatu before Will Ferrell joined.

“Zoolander” co-writer John Hamberg revealed that one ending that was pitched for the movie featured the death of Derek Zoolander. As reported by Esquire: “Hamburg recalls, ‘Ben was just reminding me that there was some ending where Zoolander died and went to heaven.’ Died! It was never actually filmed, but Stiller remembers that it was meant to take place on train tracks where a bullet train was zooming at Derek. ‘He has to shoot the ‘Blue Steel’ or ‘Magnum’ look at the train to stop it, and it doesn’t work,’ Stiller says. ‘The train plows and kills him, basically, and then he goes up to heaven.'”

The studio did not think killing off Derek was funny enough to end the film, so the writing team replaced it with the “feel-good ending” fans love (including the immortal “Center for Kids Who Don’t Read Good?”). The studio also found themselves facing a potential dilemma when the MPAA wanted to give “Zoolander” an R-rating for one scene in which Matilda (Christine Taylor) and Derek go to Hansel’s apartment and all three characters have a psychedelic trip.

“Ben went to the ratings board to say, ‘Listen, Would I ever put my wife in anything that would be questionable?’” Taylor said. “Because he got to use that as part of his argument, coupled with keeping it shorter and lessening the amount of characters that made it into that scene, [that] had to do with how it ended up getting rated [at PG-13].”

Head over to Esquire’s website to read more on the 20th anniversary of “Zoolander.”

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