Ben Stiller casts 'Walter Mitty' from imagination into life

Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:36pm EST
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Human disconnect, social isolation and the transition to an increasingly digital era come crashing together in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," actor-director Ben Stiller's personal take on a classic story.

"Walter Mitty," out in theaters on Christmas Day, finds Stiller not just reimagining the character made famous from author James Thurber's 1939 short story of the same name in The New Yorker magazine, but redefining what Walter Mitty has come to represent in popular culture.

Walter Mitty is described by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "a commonplace unadventurous person who seeks escape from reality through daydreaming," and is often used to describe people who imagine themselves greater than they are in reality.

Stiller's Walter Mitty is different. A middle-aged man trapped by financial responsibility, Walter is a photo archivist at the dwindling Life magazine, a job that is being replaced by machines. Shy, sheltered and reserved, he is isolated from the environment around him.

"(He's not) some kind of an oddball or loner or nerd, but just a regular guy who has a lot of potential and hadn't figured out a way to unlock it," Stiller told Reuters.

The movie blurs in and out of Walter's imagination as his daydreams take him into new worlds and personas, be it the rugged explorer seducing his crush Cheryl, played by Kristen Wiig, or jumping into a fiery apartment to save trapped residents. But as he breaks out of social isolation and makes real human connections, Walter finds himself living a real life far greater than his imagination could conjure up.

Stiller, 48, who has built up a body of directorial works from 1994's dark comedy "Reality Bites," 2001's goofball modeling parody "Zoolander," and 2008's farcical action-movie send-up, "Tropic Thunder," said "Mitty" marks a new chapter in his catalog of works, and one that resonates closer to home.

"It was more of an experience that I have been feeling in my life, maybe generationally, having grown up and experienced the world pre-computers," Stiller said.   Continued...

Actor Ben Stiller poses for a portrait in advance of his movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" in New York December 7, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri