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The New Night Guard
Right off the bat, the filmmakers knew they wanted to cast Ben Stiller in lead role of the hapless, yet ultimately heroic, new night guard Larry Daley. Not only is Stiller one of today's most popular comedic stars, but in films ranging from There's Something About Mary to Meet The Parénts, Stiller has established a reputation for embodying characters facing circumstances that are outrageously stacked against them. His skill at depicting both the humor and heartbreak of the ultimate common man who must break the mold made him a perfect match for Larry Daley.

"Larry is a guy who never really got his act together, who is continually coming up with another get-rich-quick idea that just doesn't work,” explains Stiller. "He's also worried about losing his connection to his son because his wife is about to get re-married. Everything is kind of coming to head and now, right before Christmas, he has to try to find a job. Of course, there's just one job available: night guard at the Natural History Museum. He thinks it's going to be the worst job imaginable but it turns out to be the most incredible thing that's ever happened to him.”

From the minute he read the script, Stiller knew he wanted to be part of Larry's grand adventure. "I just loved the ideas behind it,” he says. "I grew up about five blocks from the Natural History Museum and as a kid it had this really magical aura about it. It's not just paintings on the wall but it's where you can see all the very coolest things that ever existed -- lions and whales and Egyptians and dinosaurs – in one place. So the concept of everything coming to life in there at night couldn't have been more appealing and exciting. It was something I felt I'd love to see.”

It was also something new for Stiller, whose comedy has never strayed into such a magical zone before. "I've never had a chance to work in a movie that was this fantastical before, where you have to sort of turn up the ‘fantastical meter,'” he notes. "But seriously, in order to make the fantasy work, I think you have to keep it very real so that there's always an emotional connection to the characters. It's that reality that allows you to believe in the magic of Larry getting to encounter all these characters and creatures from the long ago past. For me, the key was to just jump into the story and commit completely to the idea that this is really happening.”

To help Stiller dive head-first into Larry's implausible reality, especially in scenes where he would be interacting with wholly digital creations, director Shawn Levy did what he could to contribute – often by pretending he himself was some of the museum's inanimate creatures come to life! "There's literally embarrassing, humiliating footage of me with fake Tyrannosaurus talons saying "Ra-ahh” and chasing Ben down a hallway to get a realistic reaction,” Levy admits. "Then they'd erase me in the computer and put in the dinosaur. And that's how we spent our days on this film.”

Adds Stiller: "I don't know if Shawn worked in a dance troupe or a mime company or an animal training facility, but he seemed to have a real affinity for playing off-camera animals – he had me quite scared!”

Indeed, there were myriad physical challenges for Stiller, many of which unfolded during his various and increasingly hilarious forms of running for his life. "Running was huge in Ben's role but he did wind up in great shape,” laughs Levy. But whether Stiller was running from lions, Huns and miniature soldiers, or confessing his existential angst to Robin Williams's Teddy Roosevelt, or hoping to show his son just how cool his new job could be, Levy found that the comic star was constantly pushing the bar – and the humor level. "The thing about Ben, and I really admire this,” says the director, "is that he is always looking for something better: a better perform

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