Ben Stiller: I was blindsided by Zoolander 2 flopping

<span>‘I thought everybody wanted this’ … (from left) Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Penélope Cruz in Zoolander 2.</span><span>Photograph: Scott Rud/REX/Shutterstock</span>
‘I thought everybody wanted this’ … (from left) Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Penélope Cruz in Zoolander 2.Photograph: Scott Rud/REX/Shutterstock

Ben Stiller has said that he was “blindsided” by the failure of his 2016 sequel to Zoolander, the much-loved male model comedy from 2001.

Speaking to David Duchovny on the latter’s podcast, Fail Better, Stiller said he was surprised by the critical and commercial scorn with which the movie was received.

“I thought everybody wanted this,” he said. “And then it’s like, ‘Wow, I must have really fucked this up. Everybody didn’t go to it. And it’s gotten these horrible reviews.”

The film, which was set in Italy a decade after the events of the first film, barely made back its $50m budget at the global box office and was met with audience apathy and disappointed reviews.

Said Stiller: “It really freaked me out because I was like, ‘I didn’t know, was that bad?’ What scared me the most on that one was I’m losing what I think what’s funny, the questioning yourself … on Zoolander 2, it was definitely blindsiding to me. And it definitely affected me for a long time.”

Two years ago, Stiller told Esquire that watching the film flop was “not a great experience”.

As with the original, Stiller directed, wrote, produced and starred in the film, about clueless yet well-meaning runway star Derek Zoolander and his bromance with Owen Wilson’s rival model Hansel.

Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig co-starred in the sequel, along with a host of celebrities who cameoed, including Naomi Campbell and Justin Bieber. Benedict Cumberbatch played a transgender model named AII, a character which met with considerable backlash at the time.

In 2022, Cumberbatch said that he would decline the role if it were offered to him today.

Stiller reflected that the failure of the film had led him down a different career path.

“The wonderful thing that came out of that for me,” he told Duchovny, “was just having space where, if that had been a hit, and they said ‘Make Zoolander 3 right now,’ or offered some other movie, I would have just probably jumped in and done that.

“But I had this space to kind of sit with myself and have to deal with it and other projects that I had been working on – not comedies, some of them – I have the time to actually just work on and develop.

“Even if somebody said, ‘Well, why don’t you go do another comedy or do this?’ I probably could have figured out something to do. But I just didn’t want to,” Stiller continued.

In 2018, Stiller directed TV crime drama Escape at Dannemora, for which he won a Directors Guild of America award, followed in 2022 by the thriller Severance.

He is currently shooting David Gordon Green’s Nutcrackers, in which he plays a workaholic who must travel to rural Ohio to look after his recently orphaned nephews.