The comedy film “Little Fockers” has an ensemble cast of big-name stars, but at the heart of the franchise is the tension between Greg Focker (played by Ben Stiller) and his father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (played Oscar winner Robert De Niro), a retired CIA operative who can’t completely approve of Greg. “Little Fockers” is the third film in the series that began with 2000’s “Meet the Parents” and continued with 2004’s “Meet the Fockers.”
In “Little Fockers,” Greg and his wife, Pam (Greg’s daughter, played by Teri Polo) have lost some of the spark in their love life due to the stresses of raising their twins, Samantha (played by Daisy Tahan) and Henry (played by Colin Baiocchi). It doesn’t help that Jack begins to suspect that Greg, a high-ranking nurse at a Chicago hospital, is having an affair with a sexy pharmaceutical rep named Andi Garcia (played by Jessica Alba), who is trying to recruit Greg to be a spokesman for a drug that cures erectile dysfunction.
At the New York City press junket for “Meet the Fockers,” De Niro (who is also a producer of the film) and Stiller sat down together for a press conference to tell behind-the-scenes stories about making the movie and what it was like to return to one of the highest-grossing comedy film franchises of all time. Before the press conference began, we all had a laugh as “Little Fockers” co-star Dustin Hoffman (who plays Bernie Focker, Greg’s father) came back in the room to share some of the grilled cheese sandwiches that he had ordered during his “Little Fockers” press conference for the movie. After De Niro and Stiller’s press conference officially ended, I had a chance to quickly ask Stiller for an update on the “Zoolander” sequel before he was whisked away for his next interview.
Would you say “Little Fockers” is like a road map for marriages that have bumps and curves down the road?
Stiller: I feel like it definitely related to reality. We tried to take all of our experiences and have them be a part of what the story was. That’s the idea of the movie: How do we tell a new story with these characters and where would they be 10 years down the road, and with kids, and how it affects the marriage? That was the core idea of the movie. And we wanted it to be organic and try to feel like that there was a reason to tell the story. I hope there are some relatable elements in there, in terms of juggling life and all the elements of life.
De Niro: I would say that’s why people like the film — I hope this one too — because of the story, the situation, the family dynamic, one family needed another. It’s like going into territory you have to deal with, and part of you is saying, “Why am I here?” But you have to be there. You’re with this other family, and you have to deal and so on. I think anybody can relate to that.
“Little Fockers” is the third movie in the series. What do you guys look forward to the most when you start a new “Fockers” movie? Is it new characters, seeing old friends?
Stiller: For me, it’s definitely getting to work with all the actors again. Getting the script to a place where it felt like this was a new situation. Jack and Greg’s relationship having evolved, and seeing a new dynamic where Greg has gotten a little more confident in himself, and then having to deal with this situation of Jack losing confidence in him and where he’s at and how he reacts differently. Just being able to see that play out, that was exciting for me. Basically, being able to come back and work with these actors and the team, I really enjoy these people. It’s always fun to have a chance to work with Bob.
De Niro: We have fun, I enjoy it a lot. When you’re doing comedy, I have less restrictions or constrictions. You can cut something out or the director — in this case, Paul Weitz — will say, “Try something else” or “That’s not working” or “It’s too broad.” There’s more room for just having fun.
With the fight scene between Greg Focker and Jack Byrnes, how much of that did you guys actually do? How much fun was it to punch each other in the face?
Stiller: We did a fair amount, but obviously it’s a movie fight. The ball pit stuff was all real. It’s a very strange environment to be smothered in, a ball pit, and to be smothered. They’re not very hygienic either. Ball pits are all giant Petri dishes. That stuff was all really fun, and the bouncy house was challenging. I pulled a muscle. I’m not going to say which muscle, but I pulled a muscle.
De Niro: I don’t know if it’s in the movie, but we did a takeoff on “The Wrestler” where I had to go down, and when you hit the bouncy floor, you have watch out for your back. It’s not as easy as it seems. So I did it from the short distance and the stunt guy did it from, you know.
Stiller: Yeah, it’s hard to get your equilibrium. Those are environments made for children, not older gentlemen like ourselves.
It’s so nice to see Harvey Keitel (who plays an unethical contractor) in “Little Fockers.” What was that scene like to do and how did he join the film?
De Niro: It seemed like a good thing for Harvey to be in it, everyone was OK with it. It was a lot of fun. When you have different people with different working styles sometimes you have to get around that stuff, and so we do that. Harvey is one of my oldest, dearest friends, so we had to get all that working. And it was good though. It was terrific.
Ben, you’ll be starring in a Broadway revival of the “The House of Blue Leaves,” as of April 2011. What’s it like coming back to Broadway, and what does that particular play means to your career and to your family?
Stiller: There’s a real history with my family, “House of Blue Leaves,” because my mother was in the original production in 1969. That’s where I first met John Guare, the playwright. And then it was the first job I ever got in ’85 or ’86, playing the son in the play. Now to come back and play the father, it’s kind of come full circle in that way. With my relationship with John has been so long, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s something I never really thought about doing until the idea got presented to me. I really am a fan of the director, David Cromer, and I’m excited to delve into it. It’s kind an unknown thing, but I’m looking forward to it.
How would you describe yourself as a son-in-law or father-in-law?
De Niro: Oh god!
Stiller: I think I try to be my best possible self with my father-in-law, and I think I’m OK at it, but it’s definitely one of those relationships where you’re always aware of the dynamic that’s there, but we’re pretty friendly. I think I’m OK. I’m pretty good at it. I think if you’re a good husband that makes you a good son-in-law.
De Niro: I feel the same way. I’m not like the [Jack Byrnes] character. I’m less stern about those things, but I still am watchful. Just making sure everything’s OK.
What’s the most painful thing you’ve done in any comedy, where you’ve literally suffered for your art?
Stiller: Like physical pain? Whatever you’re doing whenever you do it you do it and you don’t think about it. In a movie sometimes there’s a feeling that this isn’t real because it’s in a movie, even though it is real, it’s happening to you. I can’t thing of anything physically painful. There have been some lonely moments. A couple of scenes in “There’s Something About Mary” where I was like, “Wow, I’m just here doing this by myself.” I remember one scene in particular…
De Niro: Was that the one in the bathroom?
Stiller: Yeah, in the bathroom. I’m doing the scene — thanks for reminding me — and all of the sudden, nobody was around. They were all far away. And from far away [I heard], “Action!”
We’ll keep that in mind next time we watch the movie.
Stiller: Yeah, you can see the loneliness.
What do you think of the qualities laid out for being a Godfocker. Are those realistic qualities you would look for in a son-in-law? Is being a man just providing security and a house for your children enough or is there more to it?
De Niro: All kidding aside, those things are important for the security of your kids. There’s an element of truth to that, obviously … I haven’t told my children this, but I would if I could think of it, just look at the parents of the person you’re with and you’re interested in, and know that you’re not only getting into them, but how they behave and how you have to interact with them, hopefully for the rest of your life. So that’s something to think about. You’re not just marrying the person; you’re attaching yourself to the family, for better or for worse, as they say, which is kind of interesting.
Stiller: All those things that he says in the movie are all the things you have to do to be an adult or a responsible grown-up. Those are things that are what you have to do when you get older, especially if you have a family, like it or not, you have to deal with those realities in life. It can be a little daunting, but I think it’s also part of growing up, too.
How much improvisation did you get to do in “Little Fockers”? Is there anything that you improvised that you wish had made it into the final cut of the film?
Stiller: I think overall there probably wasn’t that much. “Improv” is sort of a catch-all phrase. Sometimes it’s just in the moment that something happens, but hopefully, the script is in a lace that its good enough where you can trust that. And then if you find something and you want to try some stuff, that’s good to have that.
Dustin just comes up with so much in the moment; he always has ideas. He’s always trying stuff and putting it out there. I don’t know how much improvisation he did in “Midnight Cowboy.” He’s hilarious. That’s the first thing I think when I see a movie: “Oh, they didn’t put that in or they cut that out,” because we’re actors, and you see it from your own character’s point of view.
[The “Little Fockers” script] evolved. The situations are the most important thing, the dynamic in the situations. That stuff was there. We were fortunate to have a really great writer and director there.
De Niro: Yeah, sometimes you have to be careful with improv. You have to make sure that you can shape them after if they go way off. The actors have to be aware of how much they can do. Otherwise, it loses its shape. Hopefully, if you can get it, you can bring it back, but still, there’s that fine line.
Stiller: Yeah, sometimes a scene is a very delicate thing where even though you can come up with something funny, it’s like getting away from the intention of the scene or the rhythm of the other actor. You’ve got to keep the reality going.
What new dynamic was director Paul Weitz able to bring to “Little Fockers” while still maintaining what director Jay Roach had developed on the previous two films in the series?
De Niro: Paul has his own feelings about things. He was good. It’s a hard thing to take over something like this, to stay within certain confines, service the material. It is like a franchise. It’s that kind of exercise, in a way. It’s important, at the end of the day, that those things are kept going.
Stiller: Paul is a parent and he’s really good writer, too. He and John [Hamburg, co-writer of the “Little Fockers” screenplay] worked together. [Paul Weitz] is a writer/director, so he brought this sense of his experience with his own kids and the marriage, and he was really aware of the dynamics and the underpinning of all of it. He’s not a guy who just does jokes. I think he saw it in that way and was very cognizant of the Jack and Greg relationship. The other thing is just having somebody outside the whole thing come in and have their point of view and freshen it up. It was a good thing.
One of the subplots in “Little Fockers” is about how Greg and Pam Focker try to get their twins into an exclusive, progressive school called the Early Human School. In real life, would you want your kids to go to a school like that?
Stiller: All of those scenes for me — and I think for Paul too — come out of the real life experience. If you’re taking your kid to a private school, that screening process can be really, really tough on the parents because you’re watching your children be evaluated.
I literally just went through that with my kids. It’s really hard. You’re sitting there wanting to, “Come on. Get it right,” and then at the same time resenting the people who are judging your kids, too. It’s just a tough situation to be in. And there are these schools that really talk about children’s development in ways that’s so scientific, and it can be really annoying, because at the end of the day, they’re just kids and it’s school.
Obviously, it’s something where if you want to go into that world, you deal with it. I find that at the end of the day, it makes you feel like, “You know what? School is school, and just let them be happy at this point in their lives.”
Ben, what can you say about the next “Zoolander” movie?
Stiller: We just finished the script, and hopefully, we’ll put it all together to shoot it next year.
For more info: “Little Fockers” website
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