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Tropic Thunder in our magazines

THE MOVIE: Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller • Robert Downey Jr • Jack Black • Steve Coogan • Nick Nolte
DIRECTOR: Ben Stiller

Ready for war, or a movie… THE CONCEPT:
Tugg Speedman (Stiller), a pampered action superstar, Jeff Portnory (Black), the star of a popular gross-out comedy franchise called ‘The Fatties,’ and Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr) a quintessential ‘method’ actor who has won five Oscars, are the unlikely group of self-absorbed prima donnas who come together to film an epic war movie and unwittingly wind up in a real battle.

U.S. RELEASE: August 13 2008, Nationwide • Rated: R


Ben Stiller“I feel like the tone of the movie is its own thing. I think there are elements of satire, but I don’t think it should just be categorized just as that. There are elements of parody in it, but obviously, I don’t think it’s just that. It has a real story, but a lot of familiar stuff that we are playing off of. And it’s a genre that people know, and I wanted it to work as both something you could go, ‘Oh, that’s funny because I’ve seen that [in that movie],’ but it’s also funny if you hadn’t.”

ROBERT DOWNEY JR whose character goes to the extreme of having his skin surgically dyed to play an African-American sergeant:
Robert Downey Jr“The idea of doing a Ben Stiller movie [was great] and I read the script and thought that I was so funny, but then the idea of actually playing the actor who’s playing a black guy, it’s more of a fun read than it probably is a good idea of a thing to do in your career. If it goes well, maybe you open up the LA Times and it says that ‘Robert Downey Jr is flat out hilarious,’ like it did this morning [he laughs], or you’re vilified for having made a decision to do something that people thought was offensive.”

Jack Black“I was given the biggest gun, and I was a little bummed about that. I thought why am I carrying around a 40-pound gun, because once you get saddled with a prop at the beginning of a movie, you’re going to be in charge of that thing for months and months. I never got to the bottom of it, I think it’s just nobody wanted to carry the big fat gun. They called it ‘the pig,’ but I got used to it and it turned out to be pretty badass that I got to carry it, because when I shoot it, it makes me feel pretty strong and mucho.”

STEVE COOGAN (Damien Cockburn, the movie’s director):
Steve Coogan “What was difficult was I was playing the director and Ben was obviously the real director, and we had to improvise and he has to yell, ‘Cut!’ as the actor, and I say, ‘No, you’re not the director, I’m the director, so we’re not cutting and we’re still rolling.’ And he says, ‘Cut, cut,’ and then I started thinking, is Ben Stiller saying, ‘Cut,’ or is the actor he’s playing saying cut in the scene? And I said, ‘Ben, are you saying, ‘Cut?’ He said, ‘No, I’m just acting.’ So it was very confusing but it was a lot of fun. It was great working with such stalwart, seasoned professionals.”

“The whole vibe of the movie is we’re saying look at how ridiculous this world is of being an actor and being in big movies and the infrastructure around it. We wanted to have fun, because actors, I think, have a great sense of humor about themselves. Downey’s character, strangely, was never an issue, because I think he’s such a persona and the character is so well defined that people were always on board with it. We are not trying to do a guy in blackface. We are trying to do an actor who wrong-headedly thinks he can play a black guy in a movie and get away with it. That’s wrong. It’s going too far.”

“Kirk’s heart is in the right place. The way it’s portrayed is self-deprecating. He has literally gotten so into the role that he cannot get out of it, even when there’s no indication they’re making a movie anymore. Certain of us actors have gone that method route at times, but only up to a point. There’s professionalism and dedication; and there’s total narcissism.” [he laughs]

“When I read the script I was like this is hilarious because it’s so true. People are going to see this movie and go, ‘Oh that’s really funny, but it not like that, it’s not that bad.’ But it is, that’s exactly what happens. There’s something about the industry, you get pampered in such a way the first half hour of being famous you’re like, this is absurd, I don’t need all these things, and then you’re all of a sudden like, ‘I deserve them though, and now I demand them. There’s a transformation I don’t think it’s possible to avoid.”

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Feature © 2008 Visual Imagination.
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Film Review, #699, August 2008 cover

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