Sometimes it’s hard to be professionally good-looking, as Ben Stiller discovered following the box office misstep of “Zoolander 2.”
While the 2016 sequel to the classic model mock-drama flopped, writer-director Stiller was free to pursue actual dramatic projects, like the Apple TV+ series “Severance” currently rolling out on the platform.
“If ‘Zoolander 2’ had been a huge hit, and then people were saying ‘Zoolander 3! Do this movie! That movie!'” Stiller told Esquire, admitting watching the film tank was “not a great experience.”
“That might have taken me off the road of having the space to work on developing [‘Escape From Dannemora’]. I might have gotten distracted by other bright shiny objects, but instead it opened a path where I could just do what I’d honestly wanted to do for years and years, which was: just direct something!” Stiller said. “To say, I’m just going to work on this project that I want to work on, because it takes a little time to get these things going, and if you don’t stick with it you don’t get there.”
Stiller’s limited series “Escape From Dannemora” landed 12 Emmy nominations, including a nod for Best Director, and a SAG win for star Patricia Arquette. His latest TV outing, “Severance,” reunites him with Arquette, with Stiller directing six of the nine episodes.
“People do ask me, ‘Why were you drawn to this? You’re not a guy who does these kinds of things,'” Stiller added about fans being baffled at his pivot to darker content. “I get asked that about ‘Severance,’ I heard it a lot about ‘Dannemora.’ ‘You’re funny. Be funny.’ I get it. But I don’t analyze it. In my mind, it made total sense.”
Stiller credits the “big effect” of watching a “wide range” of films growing up, like “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Jaws,” and “Planet of the Apes.”
“There was a human quality about all of them, but in a disconnected world,” Stiller said. “There are human desires and human emotions that are there no matter what, and people figure out a way to fight through barriers. People figure out a way to connect.”
Stiller continued, “As a kid who watched [Spielberg’s] movies and they made me want to make movies, working with him was as exciting as you’d think it would be. Growing up, any time he made a movie I would go and watch it, and I would read about it, and I’d watch the making-of, ‘The Jaws Log.’ I would drink that up.”
Now, Stiller is eying “Bag Man” as his next directorial feature, based on Rachel Maddow’s podcast about Spiro Agnew. A “Reality Bites” follow-up may also be underway, as Stiller is in talks with writer Helen Childress.
“It’s like a cousin of ‘Reality Bites.’ Like a distant sequel, even though it’s not,” Stiller noted.
There’s certainly no “Zoolander 3” in the mix, at least not for now.