Interview: Kristen Wiig talks ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

Although she’s experienced amazing success on TV with “Saturday Night Live” and the big screen with the 2011 blockbuster comedy “Bridesmaids,” Kristen Wiig said doesn’t take anything for granted as she continues to savor every step in her ever-burgeoning career.

Following a voice role in the summer smash “Despicable Me 2″ and a hilarious turn as Brick Tamland’s (Steve Carell) love interest in “Anchorman 2,” the latest and greatest opportunity to come Wiig’s way is a starring role opposite Ben Stiller in the actor-director’s fantastical dramedy “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Wiig told me in an interview that the biggest thrill of her latest big-screen adventure is the fact that the film doesn’t rely on her comedic skills. The film has laughs, to be sure, but it’s also loaded with heartfelt moments that lets the actress, 40, show that she’s capable of engaging audiences in a much different way.

“I was extremely flattered when Ben thought of me for the role because I knew he wasn’t going for a broad comedy,” Wiig recalled. “I love to have the opportunities to do other things and in this past year, I worked on three smaller films that are much more dramatic in tone. You have to be given the chance to do that and prove that you can do it or at least try.”

Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in 'Walter Mitty'
Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (photo — 20th Century Fox).

That’s not to say Wiig spurns her work as a comedic actor. In fact, she’s very grateful for it. But having great success at it can work against a performer, too.

“I think it’s natural for people to associate you with the work that you’re known for, and that makes complete sense to me,” Wiig said. “I had been on ‘SNL’ for seven years and did a handful of movies, all of which were comedies, so I totally understand why people think that’s all I do. So for Ben to think of me in this role, which I really wouldn’t say is comedic even though it has funny moments, is great. For the most part, it’s pretty subdued and subtle, and I was really excited for the opportunity.”

New on Blu-ray and DVD (Fox Home Entertainment) “Walter Mitty” follows the title character, a longtime photo editor at Life magazine who spends his time daydreaming of an extraordinary life, including ways he can inspire a romance with his relatively new co-worker, Cheryl Melhoff (Wiig).

But when word comes down that the company is ceasing its print edition and he’s responsible for a big part of the final issue, Walter finally finds a way to connect with Cheryl, who is pivotal in helping him embark on an amazing trek across the globe that’s more extraordinary than anything he could have envisioned.

Based on James Thurber’s classic New Yorker story from 1939, Stiller’s version of “Walter Mitty,” written by Steve Conrad, is an updated tale for modern times — and the inclusion of Wiig’s character is a big part of it.

“The short story is very different in that regard, but in this movie, Walter really needed that relationship,” Wiig explained. “He needed a person to be supportive. The way that Steve wrote it, Cheryl is a huge inspiration for Walter. She’s really the only person that understands him and propels him into this journey, which is very different for him.”

Despite the updates, Wiig assured that fans of the original work shouldn’t worry about the story losing its essence.

“What Steve did when he wrote the script was really special and brilliant in he took what we love about the character of Walter and modernized him in a way that we can all relate to,” Wiig said.”I think that’s one of the reasons that the story is so timeless, because we can all relate to Walter. We’re all a little bit of Walter in that we have a fantasy life and we all daydream. We all imagine our lives to be different.”

In “Walter Mitty,” Wiig definitely got the chance to live the life of a rock star, where in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, she strums a guitar and sings David Bowie’s classic song “Space Oddity.”

But while we get to hear Wiig singing Bowie’s famous lyrics, including “Ground control to Major Tom,” she admits the rest of what you see involves a bit of movie magic.

“The actual guitar you’re hearing is not me, but I did take guitar lessons so it looked like I was playing the chords as we filmed it,” Wiig said. “Of course, as we were shooting it, everything went out of my brain and I don’t even know if I was moving my fingers.”

Since Wiig’s rendition of “Space Oddity” morphs into Bowie’s original version in the film, I suggested to her that she say she’s actually done a duet with the rock icon.

“That’s what I do say,” Wiig said with a huge laugh. “People are like, ‘Wait, you sang with him?’ and I’m like, ‘No, not really.’ But I pretend that that’s what happened.”

Reviews: Tim Lammers talks ‘Transcendence,’ ‘A Haunted House 2’ on KARE-TV

Johnny Depp in 'Transcendence' (photo -- Warner Bros)

Tim reviews the techno-thriller “Transcendence” on KARE 11 TV (NBC) in Minneapolis.  See the review of the film, starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Morgan Freeman, below, as well as a review of the horror spoof “A Haunted House 2” (print version on

More: Radio review of “Transcendence” on WOC 1420 Radio below:

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Q&A: Actor-filmmaker Marlon Wayans talks ‘Haunted House 2,’ embracing success, failure

Marlon Wayans is doing double-time. On the road most of March and April, the comedy actor and third of five Wayans brothers  — he’s wedged in between Dwayne and Keenan Ivory, and Damon and Shawn – has not only been previewing his mid-April horror movie spoof “A Haunted House 2” in markets stretching from San Francisco, Dallas, New Orleans, Minneapolis  and New York; he’s been doing a Q&A session with fans that often times feels like a stand-up act.

The comedy routine certainly isn’t by accident. After all, Wayans is in the running for the coveted role of Richard Pryor in an upcoming biopic about the iconic funnyman. Until then, it’s his resolve to be as outrageous as he can be on the big-screen with his “Haunted House” sequel, mocking such horror movie hits as “The Possession” and The Conjuring. The latter especially takes a beating from Wayans, given that he has an outrageous sex scene with a creepy-looking doll that’s a dead-ringer for the menacing “Conjuring” plaything Annabelle.

Wayans,  41, recently called me to talk about everything from the creative use of male body parts in his films and the perceived fallout over the “Scary Movie” franchise, to how he gets serious with his preview audiences and his not-meant-to-be follow-up role for “Noah” director Darren Aronofsky. He even takes a shot at embattled Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Tim Lammers:  Congratulations on “A Haunted House 2.” You do realize you’ve created a new awards category with this movie, right?

Marlon Wayans: (laughs) Best Sex Scene With an Inanimate Object?

TL: I was thinking more of Best Performance of Sex Acts on a Demon Doll, but your category works. I know it’s parody, but did you have to get permission from Warner Bros. to use the likeness of the doll?

DW: Nah, you don’t need to get permission. We knew as long at the doll didn’t look exactly like the doll in “The Conjuring,” the laws of parody would allow us to do that. We had to change her name, too, so instead of Annabelle, it’s Abigail. Plus, I think our doll is a little cuter.

TL:  Plus you reveal a little bit more with your doll. The dress stayed on her in “The Conjuring.”

MW: I loved the stuff I did with Abigail, how she turned into the crazy girl that you date. It was a pretty fun spin.

Marlon Wayans in 'A Haunted House 2'
Marlon Wayans and “Abigail”  in “A Haunted House 2” (photo: Open Road Films).

TL:  There are horror films ripe for parody coming out all the time. How many different versions of the script are there before you settle on one, or is it an evolving process?

MW: It’s an evolving thing. You pick one, and we talk about the story line and beat out the ideas

before you start writing it down on the page. We had a pretty good idea once we saw “The Conjuring” and “The Amityville Horror,” “The Possession” and “Insidious” that we knew where were going.

TL: Plus you leave plenty of room from improvisation.

MW: That’s how it happened with the doll scene. It was completely improv. I just looked at it and went, “Hmmm,” and everybody on the set went, “Noooo.” So I just went there. We didn’t write the scene for it. We take it to weird places.

TL: I’ll never get out of my mind the image from the first “Scary Movie” where Shawn gets stabbed through the ear with a penis while in a bathroom stall.

MW: Yep, that was Shawn. Shawn was a dickhead.

TL: Now with “A Haunted House 2” you have a male appendage popping up in a scene reminiscent of “The Possession.” How tough is it to get –

MW:  To get somebody to show their dick?

TL:  (laughs) Actually that wasn’t what I was going to ask!

MW: It was a real actor! No, it was actually CGI, so we had to get somebody to create a penis.

TL: (laughs) That must be a very awkward request.

MW: And expensive. Doing 3D appendages is very expensive.

TL: So the MPAA is weird with how they allow full-frontal nudity for females, but with males it’s a different story. Even though it’s a CGI appendage, how tough is it to get the images past the ratings board?

MW: Since our movie is R it was a lot easier to have it in there. But there is a number of seconds you can have it in there that they will allow.

TL: How many seconds?

MW: I’m not sure. But we followed their lead because I didn’t want an NC-17 movie. That’s irresponsible. R is crazy enough.

TL: I love how at the Q&A you brought up what people might perceive as failure. But I’m impressed with the way you’ve handled it. You noted how you shouldn’t hold grudges and how missed opportunities aren’t bad things, necessarily, but things that led to more opportunities. That’s some really important stuff for people to hear.

MW: Thank you – because I honestly do believe it. If something doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen for a reason. If one door closes, a thousand others open up. You can look at it as a loss or as an opportunity, and to me it’s always an opportunity. You don’t let anything beat you down, you let it build you up. You don’t place blame, you accept blame and you grow. I don’t say, “This person did this and that,” I say to myself, “OK, how can I get better? How do I prevent this from happening again? What things can I create that can’t be taken from me and I can’t be written out of?”  I try to grab onto the positive and leave the negative behind.

TL: Sounds like what you’re saying is based on what happened with you and Harvey and Bob Weinstein with the “Scary Movie” franchise. It’s so interesting how you ran into Bob Weinstein years after the franchise was wrestled away from you guys, and he said something to effect that he thought you’d still be pissed at him.

MW: Bob thought I’d be pissed or we were pissed at each other, or we had some sort of war going on. I said, “No, not at all. It’s quite the opposite. I actually appreciate everything I’ve been through with you guys. I learned a lot and made a lot of money, and it was a great experience. There’s no need for bad blood, because we went to war together and were victorious together. Why turn the guns on each other?” Instead, we sat back and laughed about some of the old war stories we had and enjoyed the success we had together.

TL: You’ve also had some of would-be moments, like when Tim Burton cast you as Robin for what would have been his third “Batman” film, but it all fell apart when Joel Schumacher took over the franchise.

MW: I’m the guy who always would have been a huge star (laughs). I’ve always been a step away and something else happens . Some would think that anyway, and I just go, “You know, it just gives me more time to prepare for what’s to come.” I think I’m growing and maturing, and as a man, I’m able to articulate things a lot better. I came in as a child and I get the business and I get the industry, I got my emotions intact and learned a skill set. I know how to write and produce, and I know how to edit and put together a film. There’s so much that I’ve learned that’s going to help me in the first 25 years that I’ve learned, that’s going to really propel me that’s going to propel me to the next 25 years and allow me to sustain a certain level. It’s not about success, it’s when I have failures and going back and assessing them. You have to go back and look at them as failures, but steps backward to regain momentum and take a huge leap forward. I believe in alchemy. I read (Paulo Coelho’s) “The Alchemist” and I think it’s a wonderful book, and the reality of success is that there’s no destination called “success.” Success is just a road that you travel on, and as long as you walk on it every day, you are being successful. I’ve been blessed being successful and taking care of my family while doing what I love. I can’t ask God for nothing better than what I have.

TL: Besides, success at a very young age can be a very destructive thing.

MW: I would have done so much crack (had I been successful when I was younger). I would have been the Jim Irsay of moviemakers. (laughs). I’m glad it didn’t happen. Thinking of success now, I’m an adult man in his 40s and I still look young. I think I understand success and the responsibilities that come along with it. I’m much more prepped the level of stardom that is destined for me, whatever that means. I’m not saying, “I’m going to be the biggest star in the world!” I just mean that whatever level of success I attain, I’m going to be prepared for it.

TL:  Is there a chance that success will include playing  Richard Pryor?

MW:  I filmed a great Richard Pryor screen test. If it materializes great. I’ve been doing stand-up for three and a-half years preparing for it. If it happens I’ll embrace it and work my ass off.

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Interview: Ivan Reitman talks suspense of ‘Draft Day’

Sure, Major League Baseball just got underway, but don’t be surprised if prolific director Ivan Reitman’s new sports drama “Draft Day” gets you thinking fall the minute the clock starts ticking down toward the film’s climactic No. 1 pick.

Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Draft Day” comes about a month before the real NFL draft day, where general managers from across the league will be under intense deadlines, hoping their strategies and draft analyses of the hottest players in college football pan out come September. Thanks to Reitman’s innovative filmmaking and an all-star cast including Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella and Ellen Burstyn — as well as the infusion of real-life NFL stars and personnel into the fray — “Draft Day” feels so real that it could almost best be deemed a docu-drama rather than a work of fiction.

In a recent interview, Reitman told me that he feels the film extends far beyond the sports drama genre.

“I actually describe it as a suspense movie — just as the draft works against the clock — this whole movie does,” Reitman said. “There are a lot of things that contribute to the tension and the pressure that our main character is under.”

Ivan Reitman on the set of "Draft Day"
Ivan Reitman on the set of “Draft Day” (photo — Summit Entertainment).

“Draft Day” stars Costner as Sonny Weaver Jr., the son of longtime and recently deceased coach of the Cleveland Browns. Living in the shadow of his beloved father, Sonny is under pressure by the team’s owner (Langella) to make a splashy pick in the first round of the NFL draft in a bid to turn the long-struggling franchise around — even if it means going against his better judgment. Adding to the tension is the revelation that his fellow Browns executive and girlfriend, Ali (Garner) is pregnant, and a heap of backlash from the likes of the team’s new coach (Leary) and the Browns’ organization and fans when Sonny starts making risky and questionable moves in the hours leading up to the draft.

Reitman said in addition to the suspense, it was the human drama of “Draft Day” that engaged him in the project.

“There’s every kind of human drama in the film,” Reitman explained. “His relationship with his potential rookies is a very important part of the film. He’s just lost his own father, and now he’s contemplating this mock fatherhood with one of three potential players he’s thinking of drafting. He has to be the head of the family of this sports organization, and he’s about to be an actual father, too, with Ali, who he’s been secretly seeing. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on that resonates.”

At the heart of “Draft Day,” though, is the actual draft itself, and the virtual roll of the dice general managers have to take when picking up top prospects and paying them millions of dollars in the hope that they’ll be their team’s big savior.  In much in the same way “Moneyball” chronicled the inner-workings of Major League Baseball, “Draft Day” also delves into the intangibles, examining things like a player’s character and his relationship with fellow college teammates, and how things may potentially affect the long-term outcome with their new, professional team and the people around them.

“One of my favorite scenes in the movie is a speech given by Jennifer Garner near the end of the film, where she talks about Ryan Leaf and Tom Brady — with Ryan going at No. 2 in the draft with no career whatsoever, and Tom being one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, who was drafted 199th,” Reitman said. “It’s a film about important decisions, and nobody really knows anything for sure. They have statistics from the combines, and statistics from their college histories, but it doesn’t necessarily track.”

Reitman, who has produced such classics as “Animal House” and “Stripes,” and directed the blockbuster “Ghostbusters” films and “Dave,” said “Draft Day” has already been screened by a huge number of professional and college coaches and players. Time after time, he said, one element sticks out to them.

“What they love about the movie apart from how realistic it is, is how it emphasizes character as a defining thing for those players who actually do well in the professional league – it’s as important as skill,” Reitman, 67, said. “Of course, luck plays a big part of it, too.”

Ironically, it’s luck — specifically Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck — who plays an unseen role in the film, as the textbook example of a “sure thing” in the draft. Now, it’s Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), touted as the best quarterback prospect since Luck who is viewed as the overwhelming choice as the No. 1 pick in the draft; but a player whose swagger and character comes under suspicion by Sonny despite Bo’s winning ways.

In some ways, Reitman said, Callahan is a representation of Johnny Manziel, a.k.a. “Johnny Football,” the Texas A&M quarterback who may or may not be a top pick in next month’s NFL draft.

“We had him see the movie and I was wondering if he was going to be insulted by it, but he and his manager really liked it,” Reitman said with a laugh. “I was waiting for that call where they were going to suggest we were insulting him. He certainly could be good stand-in for the Callahan character, at least for the fears that everyone has about him — that he’s all flash and not enough character — never mind the issues that he’s too small or whatever. That’s what’s so great about football and the draft itself, is this sort of conversation that’s going on around the country. Every single fantasy football player is acting like a general manager himself right now, having to deal with some of these questions.”

Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers