It’s hard to believe that two of the most prominent figures in modern comedy — Eddie Murphy, 50, and Ben Stiller, 45 — have never crossed paths before their most recent release, the comedy-caper film “Tower Heist.” But not surprisingly, the two were anxious to work together for this movie, which was largely improvised.
“The comedy comes out of the characters so for me, I wasn’t looking to see how funny I could be,” Stiller says. “And then of course when you have Eddie Murphy in the movie, it takes a lot of the pressure off. I was really happy he was in the film. I never look to be funnier because that just doesn’t work.”
Stiller pauses in front of a packed room of journalists to mock himself with an imaginary headline. “Stiller: Not looking to be funnier. Maybe he should,” he says.
Murphy conceived of the original idea for “Tower Heist” many years ago, though it’s since been given a very timely twist. It centers around a Bernie Madoff-like businessman (played by Alan Alda) who swindles his employees out of their pensions. Angered by the fraud, some rogue vigilantes out of the group devise a plan to steal the money back. Given that the Occupy movement persists in many cities in the U.S. and elsewhere, Stiller noted the connection between the film and the headlines.
“I think there’s a lot of frustration out there that’s valid and that’s probably what the Occupy Wall Street is an expression of,” he says. “There’s a lot of frustration in terms of where we’re at in this economic situation and so I understand where it’s coming from.”
But don’t get them wrong. “Tower Heist” is no grim exploration of dire economic times. With the ensemble cast that includes Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena and Gabourey Sidibe, there were many spontaneously hilarious moments in the film. Murphy remembers — or perhaps fabricates? — filming a scene in which his character flirts with Sidibe’s.
“[Director Brett Ratner] whispered ‘dim the lights!’ And then, all of a sudden, Gabourey’s top is off,” he says. “And then it became a whole different type of scene. Ben was completely nude, just watching. I’m saying, ‘what’s happening?’ [Producer Brian Grazer] is like, ‘just go with it.’ We go with it for about 40 minutes. I’ve never been in a scene like that. You’ll have to get the DVD. We had to cut it out in order to get the PG-13 rating.”
Filming in New York City
Since this film centers around a prominent Central Park building, Stiller commented on the most noticeable contrasts between L.A. and New York.
“I think what you notice when you’re in L.A. is that you don’t have to deal with the elements. Jerry Seinfeld said to me recently, ‘I like living in New York because it’s harder.’ He likes that. He likes that you have to deal with the winter and life is a little bit tougher. It’s more in-your-face. I think that’s something that shapes who New Yorkers are. There’s a lot of people in one place and I think that’s a really good thing, too — where people have to interact with each other on a daily basis”