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Tribeca: Ben Stiller, Jay Roach
Ben Stiller and Jay Roach at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival

On Sunday,  directors Jay Roach (“Game Change,” “Meet the Fockers”) and Ben Stiller (“Zoolander,” “Tropic of Thunder”) participated in a Tribeca Talks: Directors Series event. They discussed their craft and how to point a camera, but most interesting of all were their personal anecdotes.

Stiller talked about working with Steven Spielberg. Now 48, “The Zoolander” actor said one of his earliest roles was in Spielberg’s 1987 film “Empire of the Sun.” Spielberg, who didn’t ask Stiller to audition, cast him as a prisoner of war so he asked Stiller, who was already slim, to lose some weight. Stiller turned up on set 28 pounds lighter. Spielberg did a double take and asked him, alarmed. “Are you okay?” (The anecdote is much funnier in the video below).

From a question in the audience about critics and whether the directors read reviews of their films, Stiller brought up Roger Ebert and how sorry he was to hear of his death. Then he talked about the review Ebert wrote of “Zoolander,” which was released on Sept. 8, 2011, not the most opportune time for a movie about a dim-witted model.

Stiller said that in Ebert’s review of “Zoolander,” he wrote, “This is the reason why people hate America,” Stiller said. “And it seemed rather harsh to me.”

“About five or six years later, we were going on “The Tonight Show” and he (Ebert) said to me, ‘Hey, I just wanted to apologize to you for what I wrote about ‘Zoolander.’ I think it’s really really funny. Everything was a little crazy back then with  9/11,  and I just went overboard.”

“I said, thank you for telling me backstage on ‘The Tonight Show.'”

“For a few years, around the time of ‘Zoolander,’ I sort of stopped reading reviews,” Stiller said.  “You can’t get too wrapped up in it.”

Roach chimed in, “Harold & Maude,’ one of my favorite films, was totally panned.”

And for “Zoolander” fanboys – and they are legion – Stiller said “Zoolander 2” is definitely going to happen.

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