Ben Stiller, Rebel Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Dan Stevens, Owen Wilson and Shawn Levy Come Alive with th
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Ben Stiller at the New York press day for “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.” Photo copyright 2014 Brad Balfour.
Ben Stiller, Rebel Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Dan Stevens, Owen Wilson and Shawn Levy
Director & Cast Come Alive with the Third Edition of Night at The Museum
by Brad Balfour
In the latest, most adventure-filled Night At the Museum edition (which hit theaters near the year’s end), security guard Larry Daley travels from New York to England – with animated crew in tow – to save the mystical artifact that animates these characters and several new ones. He embarks on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever so he has to unite the Egyptian Prince – who is in NYC – with his father the Pharaoh in the British Museum.
Though it sometimes goes beyond silly, verging on the ridiculous at times, these films have really funny moments. This edition – Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb – is no exception. If the Night at the Museum trilogy’s silly concept – a mystical force animates New York’s American Museum of Natural History’s displays after its closing hours – gets more kids to come to this great museum, then it deserves all the support it’s gotten.
As Daley (and his alter ego, the Neanderthal Laaa) Ben Stiller leads the ensemble through various twists and turns which take them from the New York Museum to the British Museum in London. And what a cast! Besides Stiller, it includes Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Dan Stevens, Ben Kingsley, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, and Rebel Wilson.
The successful series – based on the children’s book by Milan Trenc – transforms Manhattan’s Museum of Natural History into a nightly party for various diorama inhabitants, Neanderthals, dinosaurs, a Capuchin monkey named Dexter (played by a girl monkey named Crystal), a wax Theodore Roosevelt (Williams), and tiny cowboy Jedediah (Wilson) and Roman Centurion Octavius (Coogan).
When the story shifts to the London location, it adds British security guard Tilly (Rebel Wilson), errant knight Sir Lancelot (Stevens). Another denizen of the museum is Egyptian Pharaoh Merenkahre (Kingsley), who reconnects with the animated mummy of his son Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek). The effects are state-of-the-art and add a lot to the film’s overall impact.
This latest chapter is also endowed with a certain poignancy, because it offers the late Williams’ final screen appearance. Also, that of 93 year-old Mickey Rooney, who appears here in a cameo and died shortly after.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb ends a franchise that began in 2006 and had a 2009 sequel (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian). All three were helmed by director Shawn Levy, who has had quite a string of family oriented comic hits including Cheaper By The Dozen, The Pink Panther and Date Night.
Not only have the films celebrated the museum, it has spawned a trend there. In honor of the film, the museum has scheduled sleepovers occasionally for the kids and their parents.
In town to promote the film were cast members Stiller, both Wilsons, Gervais, Stevens (very slim and different looking from his Downton Abbey character) and director Levy. The following Q&A comes from a press conference held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel just before the film’s New York opening.
When you did the first Night at the Museum eight years ago, did you have any idea that the series would be so popular? Why do you think it is so popular with adults and children?
Shawn Levy: I don’t think you can ever go into making a movie and presume that it would ever be this popular. It’s some kind of fantasy that something you create will be embraced to this extent. So, no. We knew we had a really great idea at the core of this, but the way that it was embraced worldwide and to this extent was this incredibly fantastic surprise. As for why, I don’t know. Ben, what do you think?
Ben Stiller: I have no idea. You never know. You make movies. You do your best and you hope they connect. Every time you go out, you hope something’s going to connect. You have an idea of why you think it might connect. I thought when I read the movie, this is an idea I would love to see. Something that made me feel connected with my childhood and fantasies I had as a kid, of things coming to life. So it’s nice that that thought process actually connected with the rest of the world. It doesn’t always happen.
This third film in a way, comes full circle, with a father and son story at the heart of it.
Shawn Levy: That was a conscious decision. I remember years ago – it has been five years since our last movie – Ben and I talked and discussed wanting to centralize this father and son story. It grounds all the zany activity in something relatable. That was a very conscious decision to place that back at the heart of the story.
As for Rebel and Dan, you’re newcomers to the family here. What was it like jumping into the rhythm of this team that’s been doing this for quite a while?
Rebel Wilson: It was good once the hazing was over. That was quite brutal. Especially Ben. He just has a lot of weapons. No, I’m just kidding. I was a little bit intimidated to come in to such an amazing ensemble of actors. I was pretty scared before I had to do my first scene with you.
Ben Stiller: Really? I couldn’t tell.
Rebel Wilson: I tried to be super confident and be like, “Hey Ben…” But like really inside, I was like, “Oh, my God.”
Ben Stiller: I was actually amazed at how confident and self-assured you were on the set, not knowing you. Walking into that situation, taking it upon yourself to try things and feeling free to throw stuff out there. You seem to really have no problem with that.
Rebel Wilson: Even though it was like, below zero degrees, I just had no problem improvising for very long amounts of time.
And how about you, Dan?
Dan Stevens: It was obviously a little daunting stepping out there. But it’s also a wonderful thing to have two movies ahead of you. So, even if Lancelot didn’t know what world he was stepping into, I kind of did. I loved the first two movies, so I knew what world I was thrown into.
Ben, your doppelgänger – the Caveman Laaa – is hilarious.
Rebel Wilson: And sexy.
Very sexy! That’s a ringing endorsement… How long did it take you to get made up and do scenes with yourself?
Ricky Gervais: He’s made up now. He’s like that naturally! This is him. He’s been waiting to do that for ages. He just does that.
Ben Stiller: It was three hours the first time. It was fun, because there’s a freedom there. I loved the cavemen from the first two movies. It was fun to bond with them and hang out. Just learn from them a little bit.
Ricky Gervais: Who’s the guy without the teeth?
Ben Stiller: Jody!
Ricky Gervais: He’s amazing! He’s always in character! I just love how we were watching him jump around and we were going, “You’re amazing!” and he went, “I’m 48.” [Laughs]
Ben Stiller: That’s the funny thing. We all aged as actors, but the creatures are supposed to not age, so everybody gets frozen in time.
Rebel Wilson: If you look closely at Sacagawea [Mizuo Peck], you might notice a diff… No! She looks great.
Ben Stiller: It was great to have a chance to jump into that. Figure the scenes out. It’s a weird thing, where you have to figure out which character is doing more of the action in the scene. Then you do that character first. But Shawn is an actor too. I don’t know if you guys are aware that Shawn is an actor…
Shawn Levy: There is a reason why I switched to directing in my early 20s.
Ben Stiller: It’s the reason why YouTube is so much fun.
Ricky Gervais: Tell me the credits!
Shawn Levy: Zombie Nightmare.
Ricky Gervais: And what was it, Beverly Hills…
Shawn Levy: Beverly Hills 90210
Ricky Gervais: Oh, that’s amazing.
Shawn Levy: And Liberace: Behind the Music. Before Matt Damon!
Ben Stiller: Shawn can act and he enjoys getting that going. He’s always played off-camera creatures. That’s what we did with the Laaa scenes. He would be me and I would be Laaa. I’d be Laaa, he’d be whatever. And then we’d figure it out. It was really fun.
Do you all have memories of museums that are meaningful? What were your experiences and what did you discover when you were at the museums? You didn’t get to go to New York, but…
Rebel Wilson: Sadly, no. We just have a lot of bush in Australia. We actually don’t have any museums! We did have one theme park and then they closed that down.
Ricky Gervais: Good tourist poster, isn’t it? “Come to Australia, we have a bush.”
Besides your museum experiences Rebel, how was your kissing experience with whichever version of Ben Stiller you ended up with?
Rebel Wilson: When Shawn brought up the idea maybe I’d kiss Laaa in the movie, I was like “great.” So Shawn yells, “Action,” and I come in. I don’t know whether you remember this, Ben, but you pushed me away because you didn’t think it was a real take. You didn’t want me to ruin your prosthetics.
Really? Did you feel rejected in that moment?
Rebel Wilson: Yeah, I was like, really rejected. Then Shawn was like, “Yeah, that was a real take.” You thought it was just rehearsals. I went in very passionately.
Ben Stiller: I do remember! Well, there was so much energy there. I wanted to harness it on camera. I actually feel like we pushed the envelope in terms of…
Rebel Wilson: There were some very sexy outtakes. Too hot for PG.
Well, that kind of overshadows the museum question. It got lost in the depths of Rebel’s recollections….
Ricky Gervais: I love museums. I’ve always loved museums.
There’s a usable quote. Ricky Gervais: “I love museums.”
Ricky Gervais: Yeah, do that. Now you’ll have two.
Ben, could you describe working with Robin Williams on his last film.
Ben Stiller: I was always excited to work with Robin. I’ve always been a fan of his since I was a kid. Since I was about 12 when Mork & Mindy came on. So I never got over working with him on any of the movies. It was always such a thrill for me. He was amazing. For me, the thing that I take away from working with him is that he was so kind and generous to everybody. Every single person that would come up to him in any way. It was pretty amazing to watch. He set a really high bar for that. He was a really genuine person.
Shawn, did Robin Williams’ death affect your editing choices? Williams appears in more sequences than in the earlier films it seems.
Shawn Levy: I knew that the movie would have a layer of poignancy that was not anticipated. I didn’t want to compromise the movie because of its bitter-sweetness. Robin loved the emotionality of the franchise and in particular loved the emotionality of this movie. So I took out two sentences of dialogue that were a little too close to home. But the warm-hearted poignancy of these movies, and this movie in particular, it was arguably Robin’s favorite part. So I was not going to compromise that. I’m happy that audiences thus far have appreciated the love and the warmth and understand where it’s coming from, which is a very sincere love for this performer and this character he’d done.
Do all of you have a scene that you weren’t in that makes the film special to you? Something that you really like about the film.
Dan Stevens: I think the scene with Ben and Dexter at the end of the movie is quite… it’s one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in cinema, let alone in the movie. It’s one of the most special scenes between a man and an animal in cinematic history.
Ricky Gervais: The second kiss wasn’t even scripted. Ben didn’t have to go in for the second kiss, it wasn’t in the script. It felt right, didn’t it?
Rebel Wilson: That was really lip-on-lip.
Ben Stiller: Oh yeah. We both had our shots, so…
Are there plans in the works already for a fourth film? And Rebel, will you be back?
Ricky Gervais: We’re actually going straight to the fifth. The fourth is going to be awful, so we’re just going to do our fifth.
Rebel Wilson: We’re just going to do fifth and seventh. I’m just filling in between lengths at home.
Shawn Levy: Right now there is no such plan. We really felt like this movie is about letting go. It brings a certain closure for these characters. I suppose I can’t predict whether that resolution will change. Right now, I’ve just been focused on telling this final story as well as I possibly can. No plans for beyond.
Ben, when you did the first movie, the museum actually had overnights, which are pretty cool. Was that fun for you at the time, and are you doing it again for this one?
Ben Stiller: Yeah. I’ve never done it myself, but it seemed like a really fun and cool thing. I think that they – do they still do them?
Shawn Levy: They do them here and they do them all over the country now.
Ben Stiller: I met Martin Scorsese once and he said he did the overnight.
How come you didn’t do it?
Ben Stiller: Well, maybe I will if I can get a part in one of his movies, I don’t know.
Since this is, in fact, the last one, what you will miss the most about the monkey Crystal?
Shawn Levy: Crystal? Crystal, who plays Dexter? I’ve always marveled at the fact that even though these movies have the most insane cast of brilliant stars and talent, I have seen, men, women, and children push their way past the movie stars to get a selfie with Crystal. No one is immune. That monkey has a strange hold over people. I’ll miss how she seems to inspire grown adults to act like fools because they’re so smitten.
Owen Wilson: Well, you know there’s something about a monkey in little trousers that just kind of everyone’s a sucker for.
With so many great comedians together, do you challenge each other to make the other person crack? Who’s the worst one for breaking?
Ricky Gervais: That’s my job. That’s my job.
Shawn Levy: Is that not self-evident already?
Rebel Wilson: Ricky laughs really loud.
Ricky Gervais: If something’s funny, I laugh.
Owen Wilson: Sue me.
Ricky Gervais: And if I say the thing that’s funny, I laugh at that as well! My main job is to make other people laugh so it looks like they’ve ruined the take. I try and do stuff that maybe the director doesn’t see, just one little thing, and make them fall apart. Most of my scenes have been with Ben over the three movies. It’s a funny relationship between McPhee and Larry Daley. I’m the boss. I’m older. I’m meant to be the grown-up, but it’s reversed because I’m such an idiot. I’m such a child that he takes the role of adult. It’s such a lovely dynamic between us.
Ben Stiller: But he definitely tries to make people laugh. Me, in particular, when we do those scenes together. Actually, there’s a moment that for some reason isn’t in the final movie, where you say, “I’m an automaton,” and you start doing this like, robot character.
Ricky Gervais: The more ridiculous they get – I feel like I have to go big to make you laugh.
Ben Stiller: But the commitment to it and how long it would go on…
Ricky Gervais: It is ridiculous. What’s amazing about this job is, when I had normal jobs, if I mucked around and things like that, the boss said, “Stop muckin’ around.” Whereas the boss here says, “Brilliant, do it again.” It’s just the greatest job in the world for me.
Because it’s been eight years and there have been so many huge leaps in CGI, did that make doing this third film’s special effects easier or were there still challenges to made it the hardest one of the three films?
Shawn Levy: I wanted this movie to have more action and scale than the other two. And visual effects have evolved to a point where they can deliver on that. With every movie I make, every year you have to reeducate yourself on the technology because it changes. The MC Escher sequence, it was so, so hard to figure out. It took us five months to figure out how to do an action sequence in a three-gravity environment. It just became this great challenge. I had to reeducate myself on the “how.”
Ricky Gervais: Isn’t it even harder? Because everyone’s doing such great stuff that you have to keep raising the bar. It’s nearly impossible now to surprise people with effects.
Shawn Levy: That’s why I think for these movies, to the extent that they work, it’s that hybrid. It is a comedy. It’s also adventure. It’s also visual effects. We’re not going to be one thing. We’re going to be this strange alchemic blend of these things.
Ben Stiller: It’s harder, because you have to worry about that. When you’re doing those visual effects sequences or these action sequences, you wonder how much of it is going to hold the audiences’ attention. When they come to see a comedy, people have a very specific idea in their head that they want to laugh. So you can’t really go away from that for too long, or you lose the tone of the movie. That’s another element that Shawn always has to be thinking of.
Ricky Gervais: The most important thing is, wherever technology goes and how amazing it [gets], people want to be told a story. You’ll never lose that. You could be bored stiff with special effects, but a human interest story with two people sitting down and talking is always going to be around. This has got both.
Shawn Levy: That’s what brings you back to the heart [of the film], which is the father and son aspect.
Rebel, as the newcomer, and Ben, having been there from the beginning, what were the surprises or challenges that you faced doing the role?
Rebel Wilson: The biggest challenge in filming was the freezing temperatures because we were really outside in the snow filming. But for me, it’s just…
Ben Stiller: Where did you grow up?
Rebel Wilson: Australia.
[Laughter from all]
Ben Stiller: It’s wasn’t that cold. We were in London. It was like, kind of cold.
Rebel Wilson: I was wearing like, five layers of clothing in the movie. Which meant I couldn’t sit down properly, because it would gather here. You just couldn’t bend at a ninety degree angle. So I would kind of perch. But more in terms of coming into the ensemble and just knowing so many great and iconic comedians were part of it, I just felt a little bit of pressure. I wanted to do my best and represent a bit of girl power in the movie, so that was fun.
Ben Stiller: We were excited to have both Rebel and Dan and what they brought. Watching the process happen. Especially with Dan, watching you sort of find your way, it was really fun to see. Because the tone is so specific and not easy to define. He’s a real guy. He has a sense of humor and this irony about things but still playing it for real. It was fun to watch you do that and see your confidence grow.
Dan Stevens: I was nervous that first week. But actually, most of that first week was me on the horse in Trafalgar Square, so I had enough to worry about there. Then by the time we got up to Vancouver…
Shawn Levy: You have to share that anecdote about in Trafalgar Square with the trainers.
Dan Stevens: Oh yeah! So that night, it’s pouring with rain. It’s London, of course it is. I was anxious enough as it is. Trafalgar Square has a lot of marble floor. The trainer came round, checked the bridle and said, “Everything’s fine. It is raining, it’s wet underfoot. If you fall, you will break your neck.” And, “Action!” So yeah, there’s a lot to be scared about. That particularly. But my confidence did grow. Learning to improvise like that with world-class improvisers. Learning to be more playful. I think by the last week Shawn couldn’t really shut me up. At the beginning I stuck to the script.
Shawn Levy: You soon learned that in this franchise there is such little respect for the script.
Dan Stevens: So little respect for the script and the director! [laughs] In that sense, play is really, really encouraged on the set. It was wonderful to see. I hadn’t really been on a set like that.
Do you guys relate to your characters in any way?
Ricky Gervais: Definitely. I love McPhee [the museum director]. I like him because we’re all a bit socially awkward deep down. I like the fact that like all of us, he wishes he was a bit cleverer than he is. A bit more articulate. He wishes he was witty. He tries too hard. All he wants is a bit of a hug. I’ve always liked those sort of characters. You want to go, “You all right? Just chill out.” And he’d go, “Yeah?” He’s alright. I like him.
Ben Stiller: As a dad, I can relate to Larry. Just being a father and especially over the eight or nine years that we’ve been doing the movies and watching my kids get older. There’s that protective feeling you have. Also, Larry’s relationship with all the creatures in the museum is sort of a fatherly one, too. For me, the reason I did the movie was because when I read the script I thought this was the coolest thing ever. If I was ten years old I would love this. I actually love it as an adult. I grew up going to museums, so for me it’s always been a real thing.
And what about Laaa?