By Cheryl Felicia Rhoads
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: THE BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN premiered at The National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC to a glittering array of celebrities and political figures on Thursday May 14th.
Director Shawn Levy revealed at a press conference held the morning after the world premiere that this latest museum saga was inspired by Amelia Earhart’s book FOR THE FUN OF IT. He said that the title of her book inspired the movie’s message that the “key to happiness” is “to do what you love with people you love.”
Along with cast members, Ben Stiller (Larry Daley), Owen Wilson (Jedediah), Robin Williams (Teddy Roosevelt), Amy Adams (Amelia Earhart), Ricky Gervais (Dr. McPhee), Hank Azaria (Kahmunrah), Alain Chabat and the writers, Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (who also portrayed The Wright Brothers), Levy fielded questions from an enthused Washington DC press corp.
Among so many comedians, like Stiller, Williams, Gervais, and Azaria, the other filmmakers often just sat back and laughed as the lightning quick funnymen around them spun off topic and provided a separate entertainment all on their own.
Azaria demanded he get equal time to pontificate after British comedian Ricky Gervaise and the irrepressible Robin Williams often went off topic into their usual zany commentary. Then, Gervaise teased him unmercifully, declaring Azaria to be “the greatest actor who ever lived” and over the top glowing praise of his cast mate in an attempt to keep him from complaining about his inability to get a word in edgewise. No such luck as Azaria finally replied, “And now it is my turn to talk!”
In a serious moment, Gervais offered that he “loves America,” and he wanted to take the American flag home with him from the Smithsonian. He also indicated that he wanted to be adopted by an American family.
Williams characteristically spun off into a parody of a public service announcement with a plea to “Please adopt Ricky Gervais! Angelina Jolie, our lines are open!”
With so many lightning quick comedic minds in one film, never mind one panel, Director Levy commented that there was so much great improvisational material that it was hard to know what to edit.
Ben Stiller interjected one such instance involved a scene between Stiller and the actor who played a security guard named Brandon who insisted his name was pronounced “Brundon.” If Levy had his way, the scene would have gone on eleven minutes, which Stiller pointed out would have been far too long for such a small scene. However, even lines that were hilarious needed to be sacrificed in order to move the plot along.
When asked who made the decision to cast them as aviators and siblings Orville and Wilbur Wright, the screenwriters Garant and Lennon spun off into an improvisation of their own. Claiming that they had envisioned “a dream ballet as the Wright Brothers that would be a fifteen minute interlude,” they showed that they were indeed a fit with many of the more well-known comic-actor panelists. The two finally came back to earth as they admitted it was Shawn Levy’s idea to use them. But, at least they got to join the general free-for-all that passed for a press conference, as it was clear with this group, these guys were lucky if any of their original script was used at all!
Meanwhile, fellow performers Owen Wilson and Amy Adams played the interview fairly straight as they were truly the ones who (unlike Hank Azaria’s put on snit) rarely got a chance to say anything. However, it was clear that Adams was having the time of her life, and she commented that she was “really enjoying” her career right now. (Indeed and with this gang - who wouldn’t?)
Finally, in discussing favorite moments while filming in the nation’s capitol, Ben Stiller was asked what he would remember most about the experience.
Stiller reflected that at one point at night he and Adams were shooting a chase scene near The Lincoln Memorial. He gazed at the actors dressed up as the Streltsy Russian guards for Christopher Guest’s “Ivan The Terrible” character who, chase the hero and heroine around the museums. As these Russian versions of the Musketeers searched the grounds with lanterns looking for their quarry, Stiller was awed by the contrast.
“Here were these ancient Russian soldiers, with a backdrop of The Lincoln Memorial! It was so cool!”
Apparently, the scene stuck in his mind long after the shoot was done. Ironically, the night before, this reporter had in fact attended the Red Carpet premiere accompanied by one of the said Russian guards (although sans any lantern. That actor friend explained to me that the plural of Streltsy is. . . Streltsy. So, it must have been quite a sight as Stiller marveled at the Streltsy, as he had viewed six of these ancient warriors in all, juxtaposed in a modern day Washington DC late spring night.
From the laughter and enthusiasm in evidence that morning in the Castle building of the Smithsonian complex, it would appear that Shawn Levy and his cast were indeed doing what they loved. And, if they were not doing it with people they necessarily love, they certainly seemed to be enjoying each other’s company.
As Amy Adams reflected, they are most likely “very much enjoying” their careers right now!