Ben Stiller goes beyond laughter in 'Greenberg'
BY DENNIS KING
NEW YORK — As is often the case with larger-than-life, big-screen funnymen, Ben Stiller seems rather soft-spoken, serious and unassumingly human-scale in person.
But as shamelessly goofy as he can be on screen, Stiller also knows how to go for more than broad belly laughs, as he proves with fearless, misanthropic glee in “Greenberg,” a smart new comedy with dramatic overtones by that rising master of midlife angst, Noah Baumbach.
In this moody, understated character study, Stiller stars as the title character, Roger Greenberg, a single, 40-ish New Yorker who comes to house-sit his successful brother’s lush home in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills and is nagged by a past of failed expectations and a hefty case of middle-age depression.
“In my 20s, I felt like I had it much more figured out than I do now. And I think it’s that sort of blind sense of confidence that allows young people to take chances and do things,” Stiller, 44, said during a round of press interviews hosted by Focus Features. “But for Greenberg, it didn’t work out. And I think he also didn’t nurture friendships and relationships. He wasn’t thinking ahead; he was just thinking this is the way it is. And he’s been in that head space for the last 15 years.
“So Greenberg didn’t think that (his impulsive, youthful decision to turn down a recording contract for his college rock band) was a crossroads. And then as the years have gone by and as other opportunities didn’t happen, he found himself further and further away from what he thought he was going to be.”
In his 40s, Greenberg finds himself working as a carpenter and being out of touch with his old L.A. band buddies. Stiller said he can identify with the source of Greenberg’s dogged sense of discontent.
“I definitely have those regrets,” he said. “You know, there are two or three things where I think, ‘Wow, if I’d done that movie, if I hadn’t said that to that person, things would have been different.’ But I’m lucky to have other successes and other people in my life that don’t make those bad decisions as fateful to me. But I still regret them. If I didn’t have those things I have now, it would be much more painful. And I think that’s where Greenberg is at.”
Stiller said he jumped at the chance to work with fellow New Yorker Baumbach, whose writing in “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot at the Wedding” he deeply admires.
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