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Ben Stiller goes Mano-a-Mano with Robert De Niro

Meet the Parents: Little Fockers
22 December 2010

The simmering tensions between the hapless male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro), come to a boil in the third instalment of the “Meet the Parents” franchise. This time the gloves are off, quite literally. What follows is a classic fight scene – on a bouncy castle.

“Everything leads up to a party for Greg’s kids and by then Jack is convinced that I’m having an affair and he’s so upset with me that he punches me in the face,” explains Stiller. “And so we get into this fight that goes on and on – we shot it for about two weeks, full on “Raging Bull” style.”


Getting punched in the face by DeNiro is something of dream come true for Stiller. Stiller first got to realize that long held ambition of acting with his hero back in 2000 when he led a brilliant ensemble cast in “Meet The Parents,” with De Niro playing his girlfriend Pam’s (Teri Polo) overbearing father, the intimidating former CIA operative Jack Byrnes.

“As a kid I dreamed of working with Robert De Niro but did I ever imagine myself having a knock down, dragged out fight in a bouncy castle with Robert De Niro? No, I did not. But I have to say it was a lot of fun. It’s fun to do that stuff anyway but with Bob he’s just so good at it.”


Throughout the trilogy, Stiller and DeNiro have engaged in classic battles around a dinner table, in a swimming pool, and during a game of backyard football. But this boxing match scene took on an added significance given DeNiro’s history playing Jake LaMotta.

Throughout their three movies together, Stiller and DeNiro have done many of their own stunts, including this latest epic fight sequence.

“Bob is in incredible shape, he really is. I think in this movie he’s in better shape than he’s ever been,” said Stiller. “He came in and did all of his stunts and I was so impressed with how physically conditioned he was.”

“Meet the Parents” was a huge critical and box office success and four years later, the sequel, “Meet The Fockers,” introduced Greg’s eccentric, unconventional parents Roz and Bernie (played by Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman), into the highly combustible mix as two vastly different families tried to come to terms with the daunting prospect (especially for Jack) of being joined by marriage.


Now comes “Little Fockers,” the third, eagerly awaited instalment of one of the most successful film franchises in comedy history. Greg and Pam are now married and the proud parents of five year-old twins and at first, there’s an amiable truce between Greg and Jack but, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t last.

“At the beginning Greg and Jack are getting along well,” explains Stiller. “And a lot of that has to do with the fact that Greg and Pam are living in Chicago so there’s some space away from the grandparents, which I think always helps familial relationships. Greg has sort of earned Jack’s trust.”

It is, he says, a natural place to pick up on the story of a young couple and their extended families. “In the first film the relationship between Greg and Jack was obviously very tense and in the second it was about Greg having to introduce his parents into the mix.”

As a young married couple, Greg and Pam find themselves in a very familiar place – they’ve got kids, they’re trying to make ends meet financially, and they have the normal stress of married life to deal with and that’s affecting their relationship.

“In ‘Little Fockers’ Greg and Jack start out in a good place but events conspire to send them back to the positions they go to when they’re stressed out.”


This time around Jack is also worrying about his health. He’s suffered a mild heart attack but typically, for the secretive former spy, he’s kept that information from everybody in the family, except Greg.

“Jack starts to worry about whether he’s going to be around and who is going to oversee the family,” says Stiller. “He starts to question Greg a lot more because he wants to know if he is the one who can look after the family and be the ‘Godfocker’ and take care of everybody.”


With the two families gathering together to celebrate the young Focker twins’ birthday, the uneasy alliance between Jack and Greg is placed under heavy strain when the ever suspicious Jack suspects that his son-in-law, who now heads up the nursing department at the local hospital, might be having an affair with a beautiful young drugs rep, Andi Garcia – played by Jessica Alba, a newcomer to the films.

“Greg has moved up and gotten as far as you can go in the nursing world, and I meet this young, sexy drug rep who is selling an erectile dysfunction drug called Sustengo,” said Stiller. “It’s part of her job to be young and sexy and try to get people to buy the drugs and she sort of gets a thing for Greg – and you’re not quite sure if it’s genuine or she’s just being flirtatious to try and get him to buy the drugs.”


In actuality, Greg is just trying to work and she offers him the chance to sell the drugs to doctors and to give talks on the benefits of Sustengo for patients. Greg needs the extra money because they’ve got a new house and they’re doing renovations. 

“My character doesn’t want Jack to think that he is in trouble money wise so he doesn’t tell anybody about this sideline,” said Stiller. And Jack starts to suspect that there’s something going on between Greg and Andi. Greg is juggling a lot of things and let’s say complications sort of develop from that.”

Key to the success of the films is great comedy writing. John Hamburg has worked on all three movies and is the ‘keeper of the flame,’ says Stiller.

“John is at the creative core of the trilogy,” he says. “And he really the balance between the broader comedy and the subtler stuff. And also, he understands how the dynamic between Greg and Jack works. There’s no question, the movies don’t exist without him.”


Stiller is married to the actress Christine Taylor and asked her father permission to marry his daughter.

“I think it is about the father-in-law and son-in-law relationship and the idea of how you deal with that guy who is sort of giving his daughter over to you. Actually, I was going through it when I did the first film, literally asking my father-in-law permission.

“I mean, I was going to do it anyway,” he laughs. “But I did ask him if it was cool if I asked his daughter to marry me. And I think that dynamic is something that people around the world can identify with – you want to impress that person and from the other side, it’s about the feelings a father has when he is letting go of a daughter.”



At the heart of this continuing story is the often-fractious relationship between Greg and Jack. And like all good comedy, it’s based on truth – the awkward dynamic between a young man and his father-in-law is a scenario familiar all over the world.

“I honestly never know why any movie has a huge audience versus one that doesn’t,” said Stiller. “But if there is an audience for these movies it’s probably because people can relate to the situation and they relate to the characters. And with this one I think we’ve really tried to make it pretty realistic in terms of the issues that you deal with in a marriage and a family situation where you’ve got kids, grandparents, you’re trying to make ends meet and keep everything together.”


The comedy ingredients have to be blended perfectly, he says. There’s a balance between the subtle gags and the broader slapstick and both have a place in Little Fockers. For instance, the aforementioned erectile dysfunction drug is the key element in a very funny sequence in the film.

“It’s always a mix between the physical, slapstick stuff and the subtler comedy. I think this one gets a great balance,” Stiller continued. And yes, Jack has to deal with some issues with the Sustengo drug. He takes some and then let’s say he’s stuck with something for a few hours and I have to help him out.”


Returning to play Greg and working with the regular cast members for director Paul Weitz (“American Pie,” “About A Boy”) was a delight, he says, but understandably, it also led him to reflect on the ten years that have gone by since Meet The Parents.

“It’s been great fun,” Stiller offers. “But it was one of those things where you go ‘wow, 10 years have gone by!’ And five years since the second one. So it’s interesting to look at the past decade and go ‘we’re all still here, still alive.’ It’s nice. Coming back to do these films every five years is great – it’s kind of like those documentaries where they follow a family and come back every few years to see where they’re at.”


Stiller particularly relished the chance to work with his close friend Owen Wilson once again, who returns as “Kevin Rawley,” Pam’s former boyfriend and the man that Jack really wanted his daughter to marry.

“I loved the relationship with Kevin and Greg in the first movie,” says Stiller. “The idea of the ex boyfriend who is sort of the perfect guy who seems to have it all together – that’s a naturally intimidating thing for a new boyfriend to deal with, especially if the guy is still obsessed with her.”

“I was really excited about the idea of Kevin coming back into the picture. It’s years later but he’s still obsessed with Pam,” said Stiller. “At the beginning you think he’s moved on because he’s getting engaged but the minute that falls apart we realize that he’s never let go of Pam and in fact it’s worse than ever. And in Jack’s eyes, Kevin’s like a rock star and he can do no wrong.”

“Little Fockers” marks the tenth time Stiller and Wilson have worked together. The two have appeared together in an array of comedy hits “Zoolander,” “Night of the Museum,” and “The Royal Tennenbaums.”

“Working with Owen is always fun for me. We’ve done a lot of movies together and he’s a really genuinely funny person, a really smart writer and he gets who his character is and finds his little subtleties and nuances in terms of Kevin’s passive aggressiveness.”


Newcomers Jessica Alba, Laura Dern and Harvey Keitel join the regulars for Little Fockers and all, says Stiller, fit in perfectly.

“Laura Dern is an incredible actress, both dramatic and comedic,” said Stiller. “She plays the head of the school who has a real sense of herself, a real ego, and she talks in these very politically correct terms about educating little kids that sort of makes everybody else around her feel like they don’t know what they’re doing.”


And on acting legend Harvey Keitel, Stiller offered:

“He’s such a great actor. I’d never had the chance to work with Harvey Keitel before. And it was great to see Harvey and Bob (De Niro) together – it was like a little ‘Mean Streets’ reunion and they get a chance to kind of go at it with each other at one point.”


How have things changed in the ten years prior to stepping in the ring with De Niro? Stiller says they have become firm friends.

“Finally, after ten years I feel comfortable calling him Bob.”



Ben Stiller Photos | Little Fockers Film Page