He's With Him

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MICHAEL GRECCO FOR TIME

Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller

It's hard to be funny alone. First, who's going to laugh at the jokes? But it's also just not natural; comedy is inherently competitive and interactive. And although the idea of comedy duos seems antiquated — from the black-and-whiteness of Laurel and Hardy to the '60s snobbery of Elaine May and Mike Nichols — Ben Stiller, 38, and Owen Wilson, 35, have resuscitated the concept, playing off each other in a series of six simultaneously smart and stupid films, including The Royal Tenenbaums, Zoolander and Meet the Parents. Stiller, whose parents Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were a comedy team in the '60s and '70s, updates Lou Costello with an agitated everyman, while Wilson does the smartest dumb guy ever, thanks to a slacker knowingness.

For their new film, a campy remake of the campy '70s cop show Starsky & Hutch, Stiller and Wilson play their set roles broadly. They sat down with TIME for a chat about the film, the pressures of being a comedy duo and hitting on women. The suitable-for-a-family-magazine parts appear below:


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STILLER: I wanted to ask if we might have a cover shot with this.

TIME: No.

WILSON: You did a Miami Vice cover: COOL COPS, HOT SHOW. I loved that show.

STILLER: I was on a Miami Vice episodelate in the series, when they were saying Crockett wouldn't come on the set until Tubbs was on the set.

TIME: Do you guys do that?

WILSON: I like to keep things loose when I perform. Ben has a really different approach.

STILLER: I read the script. Owen likes to use the call sheet as a starting point as to when to show up on the set.

TIME: This is good. You have tension.

Wilson: We're both up-and-down personalities. We've been friends for a long time, and we have a similar sense of humor, but [to Stiller] you're pretty sensitive to stuff. Sensitive to me. On the Zoolander DVD commentary, they start slamming the way I look, saying "What's the deal with his nose?" And I could hear Ben try to defend me.

STILLER: People are obsessed with your nose. I don't get questions about my nose, and I have a huge nose.

WILSON: This whole story was about your sensitivity to me, and now you're talking about my nose?

TIME: When did you figure out that you were a comedy duo?

WILSON: People ask if we have chemistry. You have to wait to see what the public says.

STILLER: I think that's a weird thing anyway, chemistry.

WILSON: Every movie I've been in, they say, "You have great chemistry," whoever I've been with. Sort of the way I've never worked on a movie where the dailies haven't been "incredible." And I always fall for it.

STILLER: Owen describes us as Hope and Crosby without the huge following.

WILSON: Martin and Lewis without the fans. That makes us more authentic, I think. Or more committed to being a duo.

STILLER: I think there are certain similarities to Bob Hope as far as his onscreen persona.

TIME: The nose.

STILLER: Well, the nose. But Owen does that lovably, rascally coward type of guy.

WILSON: Let me refer you to a movie called Behind Enemy Lines. There's a guy who had the chance to run and jump on the helicopter but chose to go back into a hail of bullets.

STILLER: That's when I realized we were a comedy duo, when I saw Behind Enemy Lines. I realized Owen should never be alone.

TIME: Why'd you let Ben drive the car in the movie? He grew up in Manhattan.

WILSON: I was disappointed to show up on-set and see that Ben was doing all the driving.

STILLER: Again, if you read the script, you can see what is actually going to happen in the movie.

WILSON: It was three weeks into the movie before I found out we weren't doing Dukes of Hazzard.

TIME: As kids, when we played Starsky and Hutch, we always fought over who had to be Hutch.

WILSON: I don't know if this is a controversy, but I liked Starsky as a kid.

STILLER: We can't dis David Soul, though. I think they're a duo. When those guys came out to do the movie, they went right back into it.

TIME: Maybe that's because they haven't done other characters since then.

STILLER: Starsky is a director.

TIME: And David Soul made that beautiful song you sing in the movie.

WILSON: Don't Give Up on Us, Baby.

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