Ben Stiller Comes Clean About Sammy's Unfinished Business
Ben Stiller has a few regrets. So does Jerry Stahl, the writer and ex-junkie Stiller portrayed in Permanent Midnight, and with whom Stiller attempted to adapt the late Budd Schulberg's seminal Hollywood novel What Makes Sammy Run? for the screen over a decade ago. Schulberg's death last month prompted the duo to sit down this week for a bittersweet, self-effacing mock interview with themselves -- a must-read rumination on failure, regrets and the town's enduring quantities of "unfinished business."
The Big Picture passed the chat along Monday, starting with Stiller's recounting of the "movie jail" he was sentenced to after The Cable Guy bombed. While he and Stahl waited for the Permanent Midnight financing to come through, a couple of Warner Bros. execs urged Stiller to have a crack at the famously unadaptable movie-industry screed Sammy. He fell in love with it -- as did Stahl, though the latter foresaw some problems: "Ben Stiller, fresh off Cable Guy, Jerry Stahl, fresh off a park bench in MacArthur Park," Stahl writes. "In retrospect, I can imagine how thrilled Budd Schulberg, the man who wrote On The Waterfront, must have been to have a couple of giants adapting the greatest work of his lifetime."
Schulberg got over it (mostly; he was hugely irate that Stiller and Stahl's first draft neglected to mention it was an adaptation of his novel). Stiller, not so much:
We stayed in touch, years after there was any real talk of mounting the movie. Whenever I'd re-connect with Budd, he'd look at me with those alarmingly blue eyes. "Well...?" And I'd just sigh... "Not yet, Budd, not yet." I had to get over the feeling that every time we saw each other we were both reminding ourselves of the unfinished business between us, and the frustration we both felt. I don't know if I ever did.
I gave him an award a couple of years back at some makeshift film festival in Culver City. I dropped it off the podium, of course, and Budd just laughed. At some point he really could have just said, "Enough of you, Stiller, and your pseudo Sammy crusade. You had my baby, and you didn't get it done." It would have been easy, even expected. But he didn't. Never. He always asked how my dad was, or how the project I was working on was going.