The other day I spent a half-hour with some of the greatest names in show business: Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevens, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and director Shawn Levy. I was invited as part of a group interview promoting their new film, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which I had screened the day before.
As expected, the group had a synergy and spirit for the film, including Wilson and Stevens, the newest cast members, proving how much they enjoyed making the film together. Upon meeting them, I immediately felt a tremendous need to vocalize how I felt about seeing Robin Williams for the last time on screen. His image on celluloid was humbling and surreal. I could only imagine how hard it must be to promote the film without him, so that was my first question about what it was like to work with him for the last time, and what it was like when they found out about this death. Director Shawn Levy said:
You know, we finished shooting this movie less than three months before he passed. And he did some voice work for me a month before his death. In fact, you know that little Garuda statue in the movie, that’s Robin. Robin saw that picture on my laptop. And he said that guy’s cute. What’s he? And I said, oh, he’s this statue in the British Museum. I want to bring him to life. And he goes, well, he looks kind of mischievous. Let me take a whack at that, huh? And it wasn’t his job, wasn’t planned. And he just recorded an entire language for that little Garuda.
That was kind of emblematic of this guy who was certainly a grown man, but very much still a boy with all the playful spirit of that. And so, it was a horrible day when we heard. And it’s been a rough few months since. And there’s kind of no positive spin on that.
I was hoping that the rest of the cast would chime in on how they felt about his death, but everyone seemed solemn and speechless. They were all possibly numb and still reeling from his death, particularly Ben Stiller, who has worked with Williams several times. As the lead character, the film delves into his relationship with his son, hence the next question about what that was like for him. Stiller said:
Definitely having kids you just take your own experience. And it becomes part of what the movie is for me as a parent. So, I’ve had kids over the course of making these movies. And they do grow up. And they become their own people. And even seeing my daughter at what she is now at 12 as being a young adult, there’s a certain bitter sweetness to the whole thing because you just see how quickly they are going off on their own and not being your little kids anymore.
This is the third film in the franchise for Stiller and Wilson, so the question was put forth about what made them decide to come on board, to which Wilson said:
I think it was important with this one, the third one, to kind of try to figure out a way to tell it in an interesting way that wouldn’t just be, okay, now we’re going to a new museum that’s dealing with kind of letting go and some of the more poignant themes that are in the movie, but also hopefully still entertaining people and people having a good time. And, yes, I think we did it.
I was eager to hear from Wilson and Stevens, two of my favorite actors currently. When asked what characteristic of her characters she liked best, Wilson answered:
I was going to say the hat that I got to wear. It’s like really cool. And I really loved it so much that I asked if I could buy it from the movie. And they only charged me $650 for that hat, which, I bought it because I loved it so much. It just really made the character I think, that particular style of British hat.
Stevens chimed in when asked about his favorite weekend activity with his kids by saying:
I take my kids to the museums. They’re five and two. They’re at the kind of perfect age for these kind of movies. My daughter loves the first two. When we go to the museum, she buys it. She believes that everything that we see there comes to life at night. And so, she’ll walk past a certain dinosaur and be like, well, I bet he’s naughty when he wakes up. It’s great for me because, you know, you get to walk around. And we pretty much have written Night at the Museum 4, 5, and 6 walking around the Natural History Museums ourselves. We just make up stories as we go past the woolly mammoth.
The film incorporates a lot of action scenes. The actors were asked which ones were their favorites to shoot. Stevens added:
I’ve been doing a lot of action recently, which is kind of new to me. But I’m really enjoying it. And it was made extra hard with the armor. The nine-headed snake dragon sequence, the battle that I had to do was pretty elaborate. Actually, the guy who trained me, Jeff, he was a real sword enthusiast. And in between training and learning all these moves and getting used to doing the moves with all the armor, we would watch some kind of old classic Hollywood sword fights, more kind of fencing actually. But to try and get some of that great kind of Hollywood flair that, like, Errol Flynn, Gene Kelly, and even in Princess Bride, you know the Cary Elwes sort of stuff into a kind of broadsword sequence, which I thought was really cool.
About the action scenes, Stiller added:
We had a flashlight swordfight in the second one with Hank Azaria. And I remember we had to work on it for a while. But I think basically like for me it’s just like coming in to the movie like prepared, knowing that there’s going to be a lot of physical stuff. So, you just try to feel like you’re physically ready for that. There was like another element to it. So, I tried to hang out with the cavemen more, the three cavemen. We bonded. And I tried to steal some of their tricks.
When asked how she feels about being a role model to tweens and young girls, as a result of her role in the hit film Pitch Perfect, Wilson replied:
I’m trying to represent for the girls this movie, which is good.I do notice I have a lot of young girls following, which is good. I really like that. I don’t know whether I am a role model. But I try to be good. And I try to bring a bit of girl power to everything that I do. And hopefully, a little bit of Tilly in this movie is good. And she does do a pretty cool stunt at the end of the movie. Ben trained for a lot of weeks to be able to lift me up like that. But it also required me to have a lot of core strength. So, Academy voters–but, no, but it was quite tricky to stay horizontal like that. I had to use a lot of core. But, no, I love it that I have so many girl fans. And I obviously love, love doing movies where I get to show that bit of girl power, you know.
Stiller grew up in NYC and used to spend a lot of time at the Museum of Natural History. He admitted cutting school and going there as a teenager, to which Levy replied:
When I first met Ben eight and a half years ago, and I mentioned this weird idea for a movie about a museum coming to life after dark, the first thing he said to me is, I grew up in that neighborhood. And when I would cut school, I’d go to that museum.
The cast was intrigued by the idea of actual sleepovers in museums, something I recently wrote about on MiniTime. My son has slept in a couple of NYC museums, including the Museum of Natural History and the New York Hall of Science. I suspect that we owe the whole fad to the Night at the Museum films.
Night At the Museum: Secret of the Tomb comes to theaters on December 19th. It stars Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Dick Van Dyke, Dan Stevens, Ricky Gervais, Ben Kingsley, Rebel Wilson, Mickey Rooney and Rami Malek.
Disclosure: I was invited to this interview courtesy of 20th Century Fox. I was not compensated for my participation.