Ben Stiller and Chris Rock Interview – MADAGASCAR Escape 2 Africa

     November 5, 2008

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Opening this weekend is the sequel to DreamWorks animated hit “Madagascar” and it’s called “Madagascar Escape 2 Africa”. In the sequel, Alex, Marty, Melman, Gloria, King Julien, Maurice and the penguins and the chimps find themselves marooned on the distant shores of Madagascar. In the face of this obstacle, the New Yorkers have hatched a plan so crazy it just might work. With military precision, the penguins have repaired an old crashed plane — sort of. Once aloft, this unlikely crew stays airborne just long enough to make it to the wildest place of all — the vast plains of Africa, where the members of our zoo-raised crew encounter species of their own kind for the very first time. Africa seems like a great place…but is it better than their Central Park home?

While some sequels are made just to just mint coin out of audiences, I have to say this sequel is infinitely better than the first film. Better story, funnier jokes, and I even enjoyed the characters…which didn’t work for me in the original. So if you were like me and didn’t think the first film was all that…you can visit a theater this weekend and know it’s going to be a much better experience.

Anyway, DreamWorks recently held a press day for “Madagascar Escape 2 Africa” and I was able to participate in a roundtable interview with Chris Rock and Ben Stiller. Both had a lot to say about what they’ve recently been working on and both talked about what they have coming up.

But the most interesting thing we learned was how Ben Stiller had only taken a meeting about directing “The Trail of the Chicago 7” and the Hollywood Reporter posted on page one that he’s in talks to direct. Here’s what Ben said, “Somebody leaked that story because there had been a meeting. One of those things – somebody wrote a story. Independent of whether I’m doing that movie, it is a really interesting story and I think it is relevant to what happened 40 years ago. That trial, the issues that it was dealing with, freedom of speech and counter culture and what the government did in that trial and how our government is acting today, I think that all of that is very relevant.”

If you’re a fan of either Ben Stiller or Chris Rock, this is a great interview. Hope you enjoy it.

Q: What was the most important thing about doing this second movie?

Chris Rock: It was getting back with Ben. We had fallen out and I just thought …

Ben Stiller: It would be nice to see each other in three years.

Q: Is he as good as they say?

CR: He’s better than they say.

BS: Honestly I was impressed with Chris because we did work together one day and I love him in the movie, outside of being a friend of his I find the character of Marty very entertaining. To watch Chris do his thing in the studio was fun. He riffs very well and has fun with it.

Q: Chris, do you censor yourself when you’re doing it?

CR: It is weird because I don’t really curse that much off stage. I throw a couple out there from time to time, but when I’m offstage I don’t – yeah it’s weird. When I get up there it’s “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” It is kind of what the people want though.

Q: They expect that from you.

CR: Yeah, it is a weird thing.

BS: I don’t think of that as your thing really.

CR: It is not my “thing.” I try to write some jokes in between the “fuck, fuck, fucks.” Sometimes my daughters are at gymnastics and people are commenting on how I’m not cursing. Like I would be cursing at gymnastics. “So what’s up mother fucker?” Like that’s how they expect me to be.

Q: Voice work is usually done by alone. Would you rather be with more people?

BS: At first I was like that on the first one and then you get used to the process and then you get used to the freedom of it and you can dictate the tempo and you can try things. If you want to go back you can go back and you get used to – because they keep the tape rolling so you just have a freedom there. It is good to have the interaction every once in awhile which is good, but I’ve sort of gotten used to how they do it but it is good because you have a lot of different options and you can try things and sort of go at your pace.

Q: How was your one day together? How freeing was that?

BS: It felt different.

CR: It felt different. He’s a funny guy. Ben’s funny. We are the same age and we have a lot of similarities in our lives so it wasn’t this big thing having to overcome. It wasn’t like two guys having to be overly polite to each other.

BS: We’ve known each other for a long time. I was a little bit like, “Oh shit, he’s coming up with more funny lines.” [laughter] I was like “Oh he’s got a run going now.”

Q: Was that in a particular scene in the movie?

BS: I think it is the scene where I mistake him for someone else. I get it wrong.

Q: That’s interesting because when we talk to people about improv – we were talking with Samuel Jackson last week for Soul Men and as a trained actor to be able to work with people who improv – I would think if you are working together, but separately the script would be more important in a way.

BS: They sort of set it up in a way so you never have to worry about that. I’m always encouraged to try things and then they sort it out based on what they need. So its not having the responsibility of having to put it together. Time and freedom and that makes it fun.

Q: You all had back stories this time. Did you like this turn in the script that we got to know you more as individuals?

CR: I think this is a better movie than the first one. We know the characters and now its let’s make a great story. The first one felt like the pilot and sometimes the pilot is clunky because you’ve got to get all these people in and all this information. Now we are just doing episodes.

Q: Jada mentioned the third one might be in India. What do you think?

BS: India? That would be interesting.

CR: India, the Bollywood version of “Move It, Move It.”

Q: They tape you when you’re recording. Where did you learn all the dance moves?

BS: They actually showed me some animation of that before we did it so I didn’t have to do any of it. Thank goodness, because I’m really not that great a dancer. The Fossi stuff we played around with that.

Q: Ben, there is a rumor that you might be directing the Chicago 10 movie, which might be a change of pace for you considering the low budget Tropic Thunder that you finished.

BS: Do I detect a note of sarcasm.

Q: Are you up for the challenge?

BS: Yeah, I’m interested in doing different types of movies for sure.

Q: Chris, will you be directing anything soon?

CR: I’m trying to get through this year without doing it, but you never know.

BS: The year’s almost over.

CR: Yeah, getting there.

Q: Ben is Chicago 7 something you are definitely interested in pursuing? Do you have a take on it?

BS: Somebody leaked that story because there had been a meeting. One of those things – somebody wrote a story. Independent of whether I’m doing that movie, it is a really interesting story and I think it is relevant to what happened 40 years ago. That trial, the issues that it was dealing with, freedom of speech and counter culture and what the government did in that trial and how our government is acting today, I think that all of that is very relevant.

Q: It has a lot of comedy in it, based on the transcripts from that trial. Would it drama and comedy?

BS: Yeah, I think there is a lot of comedy inherent in that story and it is also a very real story. Those guys were on trial and did spend time in jail.

Q: It must be very gratifying for you to be looked at as a director who can handle that kind of material having done mostly comedy.

BS: Yeah, sure it is great to be considered for something different than what you’ve done. For sure. Definitely.

Q: There is a lot of buzz about Robert Downey and the Oscar. Can you talk about what the awards mean and the fact that comedy is always overlooked.

CR: I think Robert Downey was as good as anybody was in any movie this year.

BS: I’m a little biased, but I agree. I see it as an opportunity for a comedic performance to be recognized in a way that most comedic performances don’t get recognized. There is a whole other level to it that what he’s doing in that movie relating to the seriousness of Oscar winning actors and what people do to win an Oscar that I find just sort of amusing in its own way. He is an incredibly talented actor who is very deserving and I would love to see it just in terms of a comedy role get recognized if there was one to recognize I think his deserves it and that is totally unbiased.

Q: Can you talk about what you are going to do on Nov. 5 if Obama wins.

CR: If he wins – you are always going to make fun of the president no matter what. You are a comedian, like “Oh black brother, I can’t tell jokes about this guy.” I loved Bill Clinton and I love Bill Clinton to this day, but when he slipped I was right there.

Q: If Obama slips would you take him out?

CR: I’ll take him out [laughs].

Q: How optimistic are you about the election?

CR: I wouldn’t be shocked if you we don’t know who the president is the night of the election. I wouldn’t be shocked.

Q: You recent had a very good special on HBO with some very interesting editing choices between two different performances. How did that come about?

CR: It was actually Rick Rubin’s idea. He called me up one day, paged me actually, and said “you should do your special in three or four countries and cut them as one.” That was it. I kind of thought it was crazy the first time I read it and then about three weeks later it was getting to that point that HBO was like “Want to do a special?” and I needed something to motivate me, because just doing it isn’t enough motivation. So it was like what could be different? Stand up can get so boring, we’ve seen the guy in front of the camera, the guy in front of the screen, whatever. I just needed a chance to fail, something to excite me and that idea definitely excited me.

Q: Why return to stand up? Is it because that’s where your roots are?

CR: It is because that’s what I do, if I was an actor in the theater I’m sure I would return to that from time to time. I’m a stand up comedian and the other things I get to do because I’m a stand up comedian. I just like doing it.

Q: Has your sense of humor changed as you’ve gotten older and now have a family?

CR: I don’t know. I’ve changed. I try to take breaks in between so I don’t – I never want to be one of those guys who is always doing gigs, there is a staleness to that. Like you’re in Vegas every week and you know the guy’s going to be there. I try to take breaks. I haven’t don it in – Zara was – my wife was pregnant with Zara so I hadn’t done it in four years. It is almost like I got all the jokes I could out of that guy. Let me go become another guy and then I will tell some more jokes.

Q: Was it a different process for you knowing you were going to be taping it like this – were you onstage thinking, “Fuck I didn’t say it the same way”?

CR: No, it was weird. Early on in the tour it was like, “Wow, people laugh at the same things in every country.” I couldn’t believe it. Lightening struck. Everything worked out.

BS: That’s what I found interesting, personally about that special that it shows you how people in South Africa get the same jokes as people in the states as people in England. It is pretty interesting.

Q: Ben, do you have interest in stand up?

BS: God no, it is the hardest thing you can do in show business. Get up on a stage by yourself and try to get people to laugh.

Q: You’ve done stage before.

BS: Acting in a play and working with a director and other actors.

CR: I did a play. It wasn’t even really a play it was a charity to do one play in a day. Like they write the play and you perform in the next day for some charity. So I had to do a play, a one act. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my whole life. I was so scared. Acting on the stage. We rehearsed one day, but doing stand up it is your words so nobody knows except you. Other actors…

Q: During the Tropic Thunder junket Robert Downey Jr. joked that he thinks the hardest thing in the world is doing those headache like Tylenol commercials.


Q: What are you going to be doing next?

CR: Circling ‘Tango and Cash’

BS: [Laughs] Looking at that, straight to DVD.

Q: What about Night at the Museum 2?

BS: We shot it, we finished it.

Q: You get to work with some pretty funny guys.

BS: Ricky Gervais is in it, Christopher Guest is in it, Amy Adams, Hank Azaria…

CR: No Dick Van Dyke?

BS: Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney make an appearance, Owen Wilson is back. It is a great amazing cast and we had an amazing time.

Q: Is that out this holiday season?

BS: No, Memorial Day.

Q: Ricky’s not intimidating to you?

BS: The first one we laughed so much, I’m a huge fan of his, but he’s the kind of guy that cracks up easier than anybody and he will crack himself up all the time. This time was worse than last time. We only had one scene that we did together and there was so much laughing at each other it was worse than the Carol Burnett show.

Q: Chris, you said you might direct something next year?

CR: I don’t know, I’m reading stuff. We’ll see.

Q: Ben, you do have such a great cast in Night at the Museum 2. If you want someone to join the cast do you just call them?

BS: On the first one, like with Ricky I had done a bit on Extras and so I emailed him and said, “Hey, I’m doing this other movie, would you want to come and do it?” He read the script and he liked it and came on board. That’s how that happened. This one so many people had seen the movie and who were reaching out and wanted to be a part of it, which is really awesome so that was great.

CR: Why don’t you tell everyone who you turned down.

BS: This one was exciting to have all these different people. Chris Guest to me …

Q: What’s next?

BS: I don’t know.

Q: If not the Chicago 7 then what?

BS: I’m always thinking about things.

Q: It’s just that there have been long breaks between your projects.

BS: You’re talking about directing? I hope it is not that long. I’m sure it won’t be that long before I direct something again. I had such a good time working on Tropic Thunder. Chris and I were talking today and I was saying I would like to do something a little smaller next time and have fun with whatever that is.

Q: Would you do a Tropic Thunder sequel?

BS: No, I think that is a one off idea.

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