Ben Stiller had little trouble relating to his character in Greenberg — Noah Baumbach’s new film about a misanthropic failed musician adrift in Los Angeles after a nervous breakdown — but he insists that’s just because of a monumental birthday.
“I think a lot of people could identify with what he’s going through,” Stiller explains, tying Greenberg’s neuroses to turning 40. “For me it was a big birthday — it’s already a while ago. It’s a point in your life when you go, ‘Wow, I guess I don’t have more ahead of me than I have behind me.’”
Heavy stuff for a film that’s ostensibly a comedy, but it’s the warped worldview of the character that interested Stiller.
“It’s a classic midlife situation, but it can be very hard for somebody who hasn’t gotten to a place where they wanted to be,” he says. “I think you’d be a little callous or have a pretty big sense of yourself to think that anybody’s immune from that.”
Midlife crisis talk aside, Stiller was mostly just happy to get a chance with writer-director Baumbach.
“I’m a very big fan of his,” he says. “I would’ve done probably any role he sent me. Movies like that don’t come around that often.”
Certainly 44-year-old Stiller, with a thriving career as an actor, a writer and a director, doesn’t have to worry about relating to his character’s lack of success. Everyone has goals, Stiller says, but it’s important to not bog yourself down with them.
“I don’t think you can do that to yourself and be a happy person. I think you just have to have a sense of where you’re at,” he says. “To me, the biggest thing that I’m trying to get to is just to be OK in the moment, just be OK where I am right now. Because that’s the only place that I’ve ever found true happiness. Anything that’s result-oriented never ends up being that fulfilling because it’s not in the moment. That’s the lesson that I keep on getting taught and trying to learn.”