The comedy franchise started in 2000 with Meet the Parents. Now the second sequel to it, Little Fockers, is now showing in cinemas. Once again, Ben Stiller stars as Greg Focker, who after eight years of marriage is still trying to impress his father-in-law, Jack Byrnes [Robert De Niro]. With two ‘little fockers’ added to his family, dad Greg takes on a job moonlighting for a drug company with a sex co-worker, which ignites Jack’s suspicions.
This is the third film, what do you look forward to most when you start a new Fockers’ movie? Is it seeing old friends or is it reinhabiting the character of Greg?
For me, it’s definitely getting to work with all the actors again and getting the script to a place where it felt like, ‘Okay, this is a new situation.’ I felt like seeing Jack and Greg, their relationship having evolved, and seeing a new dynamic where Greg’s gotten to the point where he’s a little more confident in himself.
But basically, just being able to come back and work with all these actors who I really [admire], and the team, I really enjoy those people. It’s always fun to have the chance to work with Bob. I finally feel comfortable call him Bob after ten years!
With the fight scene in the ball pit, how much of that did you and Bob actually do? And what was it like to punch Robert De Niro in the face?
We did a fair amount, but it’s obviously a movie fight. The ball pit stuff was all real, it’s a very strange environment to be in a ball pit to fight, and to be smothered in, it’s not very hygienic either.
That stuff was all fun but the bouncy house was challenging. I pulled a muscle; I’m not going to say which muscle! Those are environments that are made for children, not older gentlemen like me and Robert.
In real life, how would you describe yourself as a son-in-law?
I try to be my best possible self with my father-in-law, and I think I’m okay at it. But it’s definitely one of those relationships where you’re always just aware of the dynamic that’s there. But we’re pretty friendly. I think if you are a good husband then that makes you a good son-in-law.
You keep bringing Owen Wilson back to the franchise as Kevin.
Yes, I’ve loved the tense relationship between Kevin and Greg since Meet the Parents. The idea of the perfect ex-boyfriend who has this history with your [wife] is intimidating to deal with, especially if it’s a guy who’s so obsessed with her. It was fun to have that show up again in Little Fockers. That was one of the reasons I was so excited about the idea of Kevin coming back into the picture. It’s almost eight years later, and despite appearances, he’s still obsessed with her.
Working with Owen is fun for me. He’s a genuinely funny person and a smart writer. Whatever the role, he gets who his character is and finds those subtleties and nuances so well that when he’s filming, he’s able to try and go for different versions of how Kevin would play a scene.
Were there a lot of improv moments in the film?
I think overall there wasn’t that much. Improv is kind of a catchall phrase. Sometimes it’s in the moment, something that happens or a line or two. But hopefully the script is in a place where it’s good enough that you can trust that and then if you find something or you want to try some stuff. It’s good to have that.
Dustin [Hoffman] just comes up with so much in the moment, he always has ideas. He’s always trying stuff and putting it out there. He’s hilarious. But the dynamics of the situations were the most important thing.
What new dynamic was director Paul Weitz able to bring to the franchise?
Paul is a parent and is a really good writer too, so he brought this sense of his experience with his own kids, and the marriage, and he was really aware of the dynamics, the emotional underpinning of all of it.
He’s not a guy that just goes for jokes, so I think he saw it in that way and really was very cognizant of the Jack and Greg relationship. And the other thing was just having somebody outside of the [franchise] to come in and have their point-of-view, which I think freshened it up too. It was a good thing.
Can you talk about your return to Broadway and what that particular play means to you?
Yeah, there’s a real history with my family. The play is The House of Blue Leaves, because my mother [Anne Meara] was in the original production in 1969. And then it was the first job I really got in 1985, playing the son in the play.
So now to come back and play the father, it’s come full circle in that way. I’m looking forward to it, it’s something I never really thought about doing until the idea got presented to me and I’m excited to delve into it.