Ben Stiller wishes he could sever any memory of auditioning for one 1992 comedy.
The Emmy-nominated “Severance” director revealed during a Q&A panel for the AppleTV+ series that he tried out for “My Cousin Vinny” in a role that went to Ralph Macchio. (It was revealed earlier this year in a Rolling Stone oral history of the film that Stiller was considered for Macchio’s role.)
“I tanked my third callback for ‘My Cousin Vinny’ to play the friend,” Stiller said. “It still bothers me. You go in as an actor and you do your thing and you sometimes feel really good about it and it just doesn’t work.” The conversation was moderated by Kumail Nanjiani.
“My Cousin Vinny” landed Marisa Tomei an Oscar win for starring opposite Joe Pesci in the Jonathan Lynn-helmed film. Macchio starred as the defendant on trial, who is the cousin of Vinny (Pesci).
Stiller got his start on “Saturday Night Live” before leading his own sitcom series in 1992, the same year “My Cousin Vinny” was released. The “There’s Something About Mary” actor made his feature directorial debut with “Reality Bites” and went on to direct “The Cable Guy” and “Zoolander” before branching into TV dramas like “Escape at Dannemora” and “Severance.”
“If ‘Zoolander 2’ had been a huge hit, and then people were saying ‘Zoolander 3! Do this movie! That movie!’” Stiller told Esquire, admitting watching the film tank (much like his “My Cousin Vinny” audition) was “not a great experience.”
“That might have taken me off the road of having the space to work on developing [‘Escape From Dannemora’]. I might have gotten distracted by other bright shiny objects, but instead it opened a path where I could just do what I’d honestly wanted to do for years and years, which was: just direct something!” Stiller said. “To say, I’m just going to work on this project that I want to work on, because it takes a little time to get these things going, and if you don’t stick with it you don’t get there.”
And none other than Steven Spielberg inspired Stiller to get behind the camera.
“As a kid who watched [Spielberg’s] movies and they made me want to make movies, working with him was as exciting as you’d think it would be,” Stiller continued. “Growing up, any time he made a movie I would go and watch it, and I would read about it, and I’d watch the making-of, ‘The Jaws Log.’ I would drink that up.”
Plus, Stiller’s other botched audition for Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” also set him on his comedic path from the start. When given a single line in the 1987 film, which marked a breakout for then-child star Christian Bale, Stiller bungled his script and then yelled “cut” as though he was helming the film.
“I just hear, from out where the monitors are, ‘What?’” Stiller previously recalled. “[I said] ‘I screwed up my line.’ And then I hear Steven Spielberg say, ‘You never yell cut!’”
Now, of course, it’s Stiller’s job to do just that.
Marcus Jones contributed reporting.