He is, according to a piece in The New Yorker (25 June 2012), “the put-upon Everyman striving for dignity as the mayhem escalates.”
Tad Friend’s article, entitled “Funny is Money: Ben Stiller and the dilemma of modern stardom”, running at more than 10,000 words and with unprecedented access to Stiller, surely provides one of the best contemporary insights into this talented performer/writer/director. Standing at a slight 5’7”, Stiller is a “whetstone, a generous actor who elicits his screen partners’ funniest and most unexpected work” – or, as Judd Apatow (the king of modern comedy, if there is one) is quoted by Friend – “ground zero for everything in modern comedy”.
Back in 2009, I wrote that Stiller was very willing “to play – again – a foolish character with smarts. Or is it the smart character who is really a fool?”
Fun fact about Stiller revealed by Friend: for many years, Stiller has wanted to make a film of the Budd Schulberg novel What Makes Sammy Run? (and surely Stiller would be ideal in the title role) – a book about a hard-driving (Jewish) movie mogul whose life becomes increasingly empty as he rises the ladder of success.
And not quite the last word on why we like Stiller. Friend writes:
A star, to the industry, is someone who can dependably get a film “open” – that is, can lure people to see it on opening weekend. A star, to the rest of us, is the person our eyes are always drawn to onscreen. A sirloin star like Brad Pitt is someone people long for, or long to be. A hamburger star like Ben Stiller is someone whose struggles and triumphs give us vicarious satisfaction.
Click here for my collection of writing about Ben Stiller.