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Why Stiller’s giddy over MacLaine’s role in ‘Mitty’

AFI Lifetime Achievement Award: Shirley MacLaine

Ben Stiller took a break from filming “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” to talk about one of the pic’s stars, who just happens to be this year’s AFI lifetime honoree.

“Shirley MacLaine was the first choice, so I reached out to her,” Stiller says of the role of Walter Mitty’s mother. “There was a tone with this character that I felt — the mother in the original is a bit overbearing and Walter has all these women who are down on him — and in this he has a great relationship with his mother and she has a presence that is like Shirley, the sense of a semi-awareness of life being more than what’s going on in the moment. A soulfulness. But she’s also restrained as an actress to be both funny and real, and that was, I felt, like the character.”

Stiller, who plays Mitty, screened “The Apartment” and “Being There” for the cast and crew. “She wasn’t there,” he says of MacLaine. “I’ve always been a fan of hers … and those two performances are so amazing. You feel very connected to her even if you don’t know her. Her gift onscreen is to allow you in and you know her. Very few people can do that (with) a great sense of humor. Her comedy comes from very real intuitive place. She had that from a young age — that awareness, an innocence but a sense of herself as a woman. As an actor, there’s something in her eyes, I don’t want to call it a twinkle because I think that doesn’t give enough credit, but there’s so much there. I found it attractive, but she’s my mom in the film so I don’t want it to be too attractive.”

AFI Life Achievement Award: Shirley MacLaine
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