December 13, 2004
Meet the rowdy cast of the sequel to that comedy about in-laws. Know any of them?
Technically, Meet the Fockers is a sequel to the $166 million-grossing 2000 comedy Meet the Parents. Actually, it’s an excuse to watch some of America’s most iconic actors ply their craft as they get electrocuted, teach Tantric sex to senior citizens and rescue dogs from RV lavatories. (Imagine a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Meatballs, and you’re close.) Josh Tyrangiel sat down with the Fockers (Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand and Ben Stiller) and the Byrneses (Robert De Niro, Blythe Danner and Teri Polo) to discuss comedy, Cialis, the unexpected tenderness of Kevin Costner and, in De Niro’s case, to grunt quite a lot.
BARBRA, YOU HAD TO BE COURTED EXTENSIVELY TO DO THIS MOVIE. WHY WERE YOU SO RELUCTANT TO SIGN ON?
BARBRA STREISAND: I’m just lazy. It’s work when you go do a movie. You’ve got to get up early in the morning and put on make- up and have costume ﬁttings. It’s a pain in the neck.
TERI POLO: I remember having discussions with you on the set where you’d say, “Let’s go already. I wanna get home. I hate acting.” What ﬁnally convinced you to do it?
BLYTHE DANNER: A little begging never hurts.
STREISAND: It was nice to be wanted. It’s happened to me very few times. I don’t know what it is, whether people are frightened of me, intimidated or what. I once asked someone to direct a movie I was going to produce, and he said, “Are you going to tell me where to put the camera?” I thought, Oh, God. I don’t tell anybody where to put the camera. Sometimes I might suggest something [Much laughter] I also didn’t want to do a whole movie. I was asked to do White Oleander, to direct and play the part of the mother, but it seemed so overwhelming. I have to give two or three years of my life to this? This was much more like a fun experiment, to see what it’s like just to act.
HAVE YOU BEEN OFFERED OTHER ACTING ROLES OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS?
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Oh, yeah. They wanted her to do the Cameron Diaz part in There's Something About Mary, but she turned it down. Everything. J. Lo’s been offered, she could have had.
STREISAND: You know what’s nice about being older—
HOFFMAN: Sing something for us, Barbra.
STREISAND: Shush. When you’re older, there’s much more generosity when you act. It’s not competitive anymore. You want the other person in a scene to look good, and vice versa.
HOFFMAN: She promised if she looked good in this movie, she’d teach me how to sing.
DIDN'T YOU SING ON BROADWAY ONCE?
HOFFMAN: One song.
POLO: You did?
BEN STILLER: Was that in Death of a Salesman?
HOFFMAN: One song, in Jimmy Shine with Cleavon Little. It was a beautiful song. [Sings] “She’s a laaaaady.” Yuck. I can’t sing.
BANNER: Cleavon Little played my husband in the play in which I met my real husband Bruce.
DANNER: You remember the guy who farted a lot from Blazing Saddles? He was a lovely man.
STREISAND: You know I resent this thing about Hollywood and moral values—
HOFFMAN: Amazing. There she goes.
STREISAND: I just can’t stand it. What movies are out now that have questionable moral values? You know what I think has questionable moral values? The Cialis commercials.
POLO: I love that you’re just so blunt.
STILLER: Can we talk about my career, please?
HOFFMAN: There’s something I want to ask. Meet the Parents was a really good comedy. It had layers, and it hit some interesting notes. But with this thing, I don’t ever recall being in a movie that seemed to get this kind of steam going before it opened. I mean, it’s just a nice movie. Why do people seem so interested?
ROBERT DE NIRO: [Low primal grumble. ]
STILLER: Well, Bob just gave his opinion. How would you write that out?
HOFFMAN: “What do you think, Bob?” ‘Arrwarrrgh.”
DE NIRO: [Laughing and sniffling.] When I leave in 20 minutes, you write whatever you want.
LET'S RETURN TO COMEDY FOR A MOMENT. WHEN YOU'RE DOING A COMEDY THAT'S NOT FUNNY, DO YOU KNOW IT'S TANKING WHILE YOU'RE DOING IT?
STILLER: I do when I see it, but not when I’m in it. I feel like you can’t know because while you’re doing it, you have to be immersed in the process. If you’re pulling back and wondering, “Is this funny?” and judging it, then you can’t do what you need to do.
HOFFMAN: I loved the scene in this of Ben getting electrocuted. I saw him shooting it that day, and I went up to him and said, “That’s Keaton. That’s as good as Keaton.”
POLO: Yeah, Michael’s a good actor. [Laughter]
STILLER: I’d have taken Diane.
HOFFMAN: You know, something can be funny while you do it, and then you go to rushes [the unedited reels of ﬁlm that were shot that day], and it’s still amusing, but when they cut the movie together, it doesn’t work. Because the beats of comedy are in the cutting. If a director doesn’t know what he’s doing, a laugh can disappear. Most of the time, the laugh in a ﬁlm is the reaction someone gives to the supposedly funny moment.
POLO: [To Danner] In that case, you and I are brilliant in this movie.
HOFFMAN: You never know a movie’s going to work. You only know if there’s something wrong. I’m not just talking comedy. Any kind of movie. Usually when there’s something wrong, the director feels that it is working and is very happy and very satisfied, and you know it’s not. And you know before the first week is over.
DANNER: Do you ever go nose to nose with a director and say, “This isn’t working”?
HOFFMAN: You go to the producer. Always to the producer.
WHO HAD TO STRETCH THE LEAST TO PLAY THEIR CHARACTER IN THIS MOVIE?
HOFFMAN: Well, maybe. I think we’re all working off ourselves in this movie to some degree. Bob is a very shy, reticent, understated person, and he’s parodying a central quality about himself. And I think everybody’s kind of doing that.
STILLER: And yet Bob is deﬁnitely playing a character. Bob is not at all a Wasp, and yet you totally buy it.
STREISAND: Do you guys like to talk about acting?
DE NIRO: Depends.
DEPENDS ON WHAT?
DE NIRO: Well, it’s a different format if you’re talking to students about acting, or even that thing, uh, with the studio—
POLO: Inside the Actors Studio?
DE NIRO: Yeah, with that guy, uh, Lipton. That’s... [Grumble] Is it all right if I ... I ... arr... Yeah.
STREISAND: Honey, go to bed, and get some hot tea with a little liquor in it. Try to sweat it out.
DE NIRO: If you ... just ask Dustin what I would say. [De Niro leaves. ]
HE SEEMED TO HAVE A GOOD TIME.
POLO: Yeah, that was Bob enjoying himself. Dustin, you’re the first person I’ve ever heard say in front of Bob that he’s shy. But he really is. I mean, he’s intimidating, of course—he’s Robert De Niro. But he’s not standoffish or cold. Just shy.
STREISAND: You know I was never intimidated by anyone. Why is that?
DANNER: You have good self-esteem. You’re Barbra Streisand, for God’s sake.
STREISAND: Actually, yes, I was intimidated by one person. I sang at a fund raiser once with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Marlon Brando, and I did it basically to meet Brando, who was my idol from age 13. So I’m peeking from one side of the stage to try and get a glimpse of him when I feel someone kissing my back. I turn around, and it was Marlon. I said, “Oh, no! You’re ruining my fantasy. This is so real.”
STREISAND: I also got scared when I met—well, I wasn’t scared, but I guess I was very attracted to Kevin Costner. I wanted him to play Prince of Tides.
STILLER: You kind of have a type there.
STILLER: Oh no, not at all. Jim Brolin looks very Jewish in person. He’s much shorter than you think.
STREISAND: Kevin was amazing because I told him, “I’m a little nervous.” And he just took me in his arms and held me.
STILLER: I think he does that to a lot of women, actually.
STREISAND: Well, it worked. And then he held my hand for the whole time I talked to him. Four hours.
HOFFMAN: I’m sure he tried to move his hand to other places.
STREISAND: He said he would love to do Prince of Tides but he was making Dances with Wolves. And then I presented him with the Oscar for that.
STILLER: I don’t have any stories that end with me saying “And I presented him with the Oscar for that.”
STREISAND: Actually, now that I think of it, Ingmar Bergman hugged me too.
DOES CLINTON HUG YOU?
STREISAND: Oh, yeah. He’s a great hugger.
DANNER: You went to the opening of the Clinton library, right?
STREISAND: Sat for 2-1/2 hours in the rain.
DANNER: Did you sing?
STREISAND: No! I was down in the audience. How about how these media people on TV, the so-called liberal press—
HOFFMAN: You’re going to f_ing bury yourself.
STREISAND: [Laughter] This is why I never do press. I came out for you guys, for my family.
BARBRA AND DUSTIN, YOU GUYS WENT TO THE SAME ACTING SCHOOL IN THE EARLY ’6OS. DID YOU KNOW EACH OTHER WELL BACK THEN?
STREISAND: Dustin knew my husband Elliott Gould at the time. Both of them were friends with Walter—what was Walter’s last name?
POLO: Oh, dear.
STREISAND: So the three of them—I remember meeting Dustin one day, and he mooned me in the elevator.
STILLER: I also got mooned by Dustin Hoffman.
POLO: Who hasn’t been?
BEN, I WAS GOING TO ASK YOU ABOUT YOUR DE NIRO IMITATION.
STILLER: I’m really glad you didn’t get to it until after he left, because literally for the ﬁve years since we did the ﬁrst movie, I’ve never ever brought it up with him.
STREISAND: What did you do?
STILLER: On this sketch comedy show I did on Fox a long time ago, I did this takeoff on Cape Fear called Cape Munster where I was Eddie Munster as De Niro in Cape Fear.
STILLER: Yeah, it was just a bizarre sketch that, uh, I keep on meaning to mention to him. [Laughter] I don’t know if he knows about it. I don’t think it would be a big deal. He has a great sense of humor. But I’ve found that when you’ve done an impression of somebody, it doesn’t really behoove you to say to them, “Hey, I did an impression of you. Check it out, man!”
IN THE FIRST MOVIE, DE NIRO WENT OUT OF HIS WAY TO MAKE SURE YOU WERE UNCOMFORTABLE AROUND HIM. NOW THAT THE TWO OF YOU ARE FRIENDS, DID HE STILL TRY TO DISCOMFIT YOU?
STILLER: I don’t know that for sure. I know that Dustin went out of his way to make sure that I felt uncomfortable by invading my personal space.
HOFFMAN: I believe that actors should play to actors, not to their characters. So in this movie, I’m trying to dramatize smothering a kid. The best way to do that is to smother Ben. Not the character. Now Ben is a really warm, generous person, but he doesn’t like his space invaded. So I just felt that I was going to jump on him and kiss him a lot.
STILLER: It felt very real.
HOFFMAN: If he were a girl who said, “I really don’t want to get past ﬁrst base,” I made sure I got to second. Sing us a song! Right now, Barbra.
STREISAND: How much money have you got on you?
Related Page: Meet the Fockers
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