Stiller takes ‘exciting’ dramatic turn in upcoming ‘Greenberg’

“Life is wasted on ... people,” laments Roger Greenberg, the lead character in Noah Baumbach’s new film “Greenberg,” at the start of the film’s trailer.

Roger (Ben Stiller), or Greenberg as everyone calls him, is a single man in his 40s who is perplexed with life and aging. Asked to housesit for his brother in Los Angeles, Greenberg leaves his home of New York and, landlocked by his inability to drive, spends some time doing “nothing.”

This, it turns out, leads to “something” — specifically finding a connection with another lost soul, Florence (Greta Gerwig), the personal assistant to the Greenberg family.

Stiller, known more for his comedic roles, still cracks a few jokes in “Greenberg,” but this time, instead of playing an eccentric caricature, his role is more grounded in the awkward, uncomfortable circumstances of real life.

“I always wanted someone with a sense of humor to play this part, there’s a lot of humor in it, although, it’s not played for laughs,” Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote the film (with wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, who also acts in the film) and directed, said in a conference call with The State Press.

“Ben and I talked about this a lot — the more authentically portrayed, the funnier it would be. Obviously Ben is known for bigger comedies, but he’s done a lot of different stuff,” Baumbach said.”

“I never really saw it so much as a different role, it just seemed like Ben is the best person to play this.”

Stiller was glad Baumbach had him in mind.

“It was just the chance to work on something that was really just about the character, and to have the chance to work on something that goes that deep in terms of the specificity of the writing was really exciting for me,” he said in the conference call.

James Murphy, founding member of the band LCD Soundsystem, wrote the music for the film, his first attempt at scoring a movie.

Murphy felt the experience of scoring a film was much different than creating a studio album and didn’t want the music to overshadow Stiller and Baumbach’s work.

“It wasn’t any less about my emotions than anything else [that I have made], it was just, there was something you were looking at and reacting to,” Murphy said in the call.

“We didn’t try to make a soundtrack that always accented emotions. After seeing the first dailies, it was clear that the actors were doing their jobs amazingly well, and the stuff was there. It would be saccharine to just punch those things up,” he said.

“Instead [I just made] songs that work almost like a backdrop for what’s happening and let the emotions be done by the directing and the shooting and the acting,” Murphy said.

Baumbach greatly admired Murphy’s work.

“I so loved everything that James did that I kept trying to find places for it, which was good, because I used music more in this movie score more than I have been in previous movies,” Baumbach said.

He had an idea of what he wanted for the score, but gave Murphy full artistic freedom.

“I wanted James to do something that was going to work for the movie, but to interpret it himself, to come at it from a personal standpoint,” Baumbach said.

All three men seemed to share a deep camaraderie and a natural friendship, a sentiment that the entire crew of the film felt while shooting.

“Everybody was there because they wanted to be there, so it had a much warmer, intimate feeling that all came out of Noah and Jennifer and the atmosphere they set in the movie,” Stiller said. “... I’d love to work with Noah again, if he has anything.”

“Likewise,” Baumbach said.

“Greenberg” is set to release on March 26.

Reach the reporter at pmelbour@asu.edu


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