Ben Stiller (born November 30, 1965) is an American actor, comedian, film producer, film director, and writer.
He was born on November 30, 1965 in New York City and raised on the Upper West Side. His father, comedian and actor Jerry Stiller, was from a Jewish family that emigrated from Poland and Galicia in Central Europe. His mother, actress and comedian Anne Meara, who was from an Irish Catholic background, converted to Reform Judaism after marrying his father. While they "were never a very religious family", they celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas, and Stiller had a Bar Mitzvah. His parents frequently took him on the sets of their appearances, including The Mike Douglas Show when he was 6. He considered his childhood unusual, stating: "In some ways, it was a show-business upbringing—a lot of traveling, a lot of late nights—not what you'd call traditional." His family has appeared in many of his productions.
Stiller displayed an early interest in filmmaking and made Super 8 movies with his sister and friends. At age 9, Stiller made his acting debut as a guest on his mother's short-lived television series, Kate McShane. In the late 1970s, he performed with the New York City troupe NYC's First All Children's Theater, playing several roles, including the title role in Clever Jack and the Magic Beanstalk. After being inspired by the television show Second City Television while in high school, Stiller realized that he wanted to get involved with sketch comedy. Stiller attended The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine and graduated from the Calhoun School in New York in 1983. During his high school years, he was also the drummer of the post-punk band Capital Punishment.
When he was approximately 15, Stiller obtained a small part with one line on the television soap opera Guiding Light, although in an interview he characterized his performance as poor.
In 1983 he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, but he dropped it after nine months, Stiller left school to move back to New York City. He made his way through acting classes, auditioning and trying to find an agent.
After working as an intern at the Actors Studio in New York City, he landed a role in the Broadway premiere(1986) of John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves and subsequently reprised it when the play was adapted for television(1987).
During its run, Stiller produced a satirical mockumentary whose principal was fellow actor John Mahoney. Stiller's comedic work was well received by the cast and crew of the play, and he followed up with a 10-minute short titled The Hustler of Money, a parody of the Martin Scorsese film The Color of Money. The film featured him in a send-up of Tom Cruise's character and Mahoney in the Paul Newman role, only this time as a bowling hustler instead of a pool shark. The short got the attention of Saturday Night Live, which aired it in 1987 and two years later offered Stiller a spot as a writer. In the meantime, he had a bit role in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun.
In 1989 Stiller wrote and appeared on Saturday Night Live as a featured performer. However, since the show did not want him to make more short films, he left after four episodes. He then put together Elvis Stories, a short film about a fictitious tabloid focused on recent sightings of Elvis Presley. The film starred friends and co-stars John Cusack, Jeremy Piven, Mike Myers, Andy Dick, and Jeff Kahn. The film was considered a success, and led him to develop the short film Going Back to Brooklyn for MTV; it was a music video starring comedian Colin Quinn that parodied LL Cool J's recent hit "Going Back to Cali"
In 1990 Stiller debuted his own sketch series, The Ben Stiller Show, on MTV. Although the show was cancelled within months, a revived version aired on the Fox network in 1992–93. Featuring a young ensemble cast, :The Ben Stiller Show" lampooned popular culture in an anarchically spirited fashion, and its writing staff (which, besides Stiller, included Judd Apatow) earned an Emmy Award. After the show was again cancelled, Stiller directed and acted in the dramedy Reality Bites in 1994, a portrait of disaffected, media-saturated young adults that was considered a defining representation of Generation X. He stepped behind the camera again for The Cable Guy in 1996, a dark comedy starring Jim Carrey, but the film was poorly received.
In 1996, MTV invited Stiller to host the VH1 Fashion Awards. Along with SNL writer Drake Sather, Stiller developed a short film for the awards about a male model known as Derek Zoolander. It was so well received that he developed another short film about the character for the 1997 VH1 Fashion Awards and finally remade the skit into a film and sequel.
Stiller won praise for his lead role in the art-house picaresque Flirting with Disaster in 1996, but it was his performance as a lovelorn nebbish in wildly popular comedy There’s Something About Mary in 1998, that made him a big-screen star. After demonstrating his versatility with such roles as a heroin-addicted screenwriter in the drama Permanent Midnight(1998), Stiller elicited laughs in Meet the Parents(2000) as a man whose awkward attempts to impress his prospective father-in-law invariably go awry. The film was a box-office hit and led to equally farcical sequels in 2004 and 2010.
In 1999 he starred in three films, including "Mystery Men", where he played a superhero wannabe called Mr. Furious. He returned to directing with a new spoof television series for Fox titled Heat Vision and Jack, starring Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Christine Taylor; however, the show was not picked up by Fox after its pilot episode and the series was cancelled.
He next starred as a dim-witted fashion model Derek Zoolander in the madcap Zoolander in 2001, which he also cowrote and directed. The film featured multiple cameos from a variety of celebrities, including Donald Trump, Paris Hilton, Lenny Kravitz, Heidi Klum, and David Bowie, among others. The film was banned in Malaysia (as the plot centered on an assassination attempt of a Malaysian prime minister), while shots of the World Trade Center were digitally removed and hidden for the film's release after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
He joining the ensemble of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001, alongside with Owen Wilson.
Stiller found continued commercial success, if not critical acclaim, with a string of films in 2004, including the romantic comedy Along Came Polly, the sports-movie spoof Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and the cop-show adaptation Starsky & Hutch—one of several films in his career in which his tightly wound persona provided an amusing foil for the easygoing charm of costar Owen Wilson. Two years later Stiller starred in the highly popular family-oriented adventure Night at the Museum, in which museum displays magically come to life. Sequels followed in 2009 and 2014. He also provided the voice of Alex, a wisecracking lion in the animated Madagascar series(2005, 2008, 2012).
In Tropic Thunder(2008), his next project as actor, screenwriter, and director, Stiller depicted the comically disastrous production of a Hollywood film about the Vietnam War. As a satire of the entertainment industry, the movie echoed themes that ran through Zoolander and some of his television work. Stiller sensitively personified an aging misanthrope in the relationship-focused Greenberg(2010) before returning to big-budget fare with the caper Tower Heist(2011) and the sci-fi farce The Watch(2012). In 2013 he directed and starred in the melancholy and fantastical The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was adapted from a short story by James Thurber. The film chronicles the reveries and real-life encounters of a floundering photograph editor. Stiller then evoked the angst of a stultified documentary filmmaker in Noah Baumbach’s dark comedy While We’re Young in 2014.
In 2016 Stiller reprised his Derek Zoolander role in a sequel, which he also directed and cowrote. The next year he appeared as Brad Sloan in "Brad’s Status", playing a father who begins to question his life choices when he takes his son on a tour of prospective colleges, and as Matthew, an estranged son of a sculptor in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).
Stiller then took a gritty turn by directing Escape at Dannemora(2018), a miniseries about the 2015 jailbreak of two convicted murderers from a maximum-security prison and the manhunt that followed. This riveting recounting of actual events, shot on location in upstate New York, has garnered numerous accolades. He won the 2019 Directors Guild Award for “Best TV Movie or Limited Series” and was nominated for a 2019 Producers Guild Awards for “David L. Wolper Award for Limited Series Television.” The show also garnered five Critics’ Choice Awards nominations and two Golden Globe Awards nominations, both including nominations for “Best Limited Series,” and two “Best Actress in a Limited Series” wins for Patricia Arquette’s captivating performance as Tilly Mitchell.
In Red Hour Films, the production company Stiller launched and operates alongside Nicky Weinstock, producing a wide range of film and television projects in collaboration with major studios and networks including Netflix, Disney, Apple, Amazon, NBC and YouTube, to name a few. As a vanguard in the industry, Stiller founded Red Hour in 2001 as an incubator for emerging writers and filmmakers, with an emphasis on embracing new platforms. His recent credits under the Red Hour banner include Netflix coming-of-age comedy ALEX STRANGELOVE; the Emmy-nominated digital series BURNING LOVE; the R-rated Netflix hit movie THE PACKAGE; the hit 20thCentury Fox release WHY HIM?, starring Bryan Cranston and James Franco; THE POLKA KING for Netflix, starring Jack Black; IFC’s THE BIRTHDAY BOYS; Comedy Central’s THE MELT DOWN WITH JONAH AND KUMAIL, BIG TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, FL and ANOTHER PERIOD; plus its growing film catalog, including the BAFTA-nominated SUBMARINE and worldwide box office hits BLADES OF GLORY, DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY, and STARSKY & HUTCH, among others. Upcoming film projects include independent romantic comedy PLUS ONE, directed by Andrew Rhymer and Jeff Chan and financed by Studio 71; ensemble comedy FRIENDSGIVING, written and directed by Nicol Paone and starring Malin Akerman, Kat Dennings, Jane Seymour and Chelsea Peretti; and punk rock indie comedy DINNER IN AMERICA, written and directed by Adam Rehmeier.
For his remarkable career—both onscreen and behind the camera—Stiller received BAFTA’s Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy in 2011; and an American Cinematheque Tribute in 2012, which cited him as a “comedy icon whose wide-ranging talents include acting, directing, writing and producing.”
In May 2000, Stiller married actress Christine Taylor at an oceanfront ceremony in Kauai, Hawaii. They met while filming a never-broadcast television pilot for the Fox Broadcasting network called "Heat Vision and Jack". The couple appeared onscreen together in "Zoolander", "DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story", "Tropic Thunder", Zoolander 2, "Curb Your Enthusiasm", and "Arrested Development". They live in Westchester County, New York and have a daughter Ella Olivia (b. 2002) and a son Quinlin Dempsey "Quinn" Stiller (b. 2005). Both adopted a vegetarian diet for health reasons. After 17 years of marriage, Taylor and Stiller separated in 2017. The couple later reconciled, after living together during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
Stiller was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2010. He believes he contracted the illness while visiting Nantucket, Massachusetts. He also was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2014 and was declared cancer-free in September 2014 following the surgical removal of his prostate.
Stiller supports such charities as Declare Yourself, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation. Stiller is actively involved in support of animal rights. In 2010, Stiller, together with Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Robin Williams, and others, starred in The Cove PSA: My Friend is... , in an effort to stop the slaughter of dolphins. He was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR on July 2, 2018.
Stiller frequently impersonates such performers as Bono, Tom Cruise, Bruce Springsteen, and David Blaine. In an interview with Parade, he commented that Robert Klein, George Carlin, and Jimmie Walker were inspirations for his comedy career.
Stiller is also a self-professed Trekkie and appeared in the television special Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond to express his love of the show, as well as a comedy roast for William Shatner. He frequently references the show in his work, and named his production company Red Hour Productions after a time of day in the original Star Trek episode, "The Return of the Archons".