Ben Stiller Says He Was 'Shook' by Negative 'Zoolander 2' Reviews: 'Makes You Question' Things

The 2016 sequel was released over a decade after the first film premiered in 2001

ZOOLANDER 2, Ben Stiller, 2016
Ben Stiller in Zoolander 2. Photo: Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Ben Stiller was proud of Zoolander 2!

During a recent roundtable discussion with five other TV producers for The Hollywood Reporter, Stiller, 56, talked about how he responded to criticism of 2016's Zoolander sequel.

During the conversation, This is Us' Dan Fogelman shared how he handled the "cataclysmic" reviews he received for his 2018 film, Life Itself — a project he said he felt great pride for.

"...It was the most proud I ever was of anything I've ever worked on," he recalled. "It failed in every way that you can fail. The reviews were so cataclysmic, and it bombed so badly. Every headline about it was about what a disaster it was. For me, it was like when you're a hypochondriac and then you get the cancer diagnosis. Well, OK, the thing has happened …"

Stiller chimed in to say he had that "exact experience" when it came to Zoolander 2.

"It makes you question your own sense of what you think is good. That was the thing that shook me the most," said the Severance director and executive producer. "The worst happened, but I want to keep doing this, so I'm going to."

Earlier this year, Benedict Cumberbatch reflected on the controversy surrounding his role in the 2016 film while speaking with Penélope Cruz for Variety's "Actors on Actors" series. Cruz, 48, also starred in the film opposite Stiller and Owen Wilson.

Ben Stiller
Frazer Harrison/Getty

Cumberbatch, 45, addressed backlash to being cast as a nonbinary character named All in the Stiller-directed sequel. Cumberbatch admitted he would not be put in the role today.

"There was a lot of contention around the role, understandably now. And I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor," said Cumberbatch. "But I remember at the time not thinking of it necessarily in that regard, and it being more about two dinosaurs, two heteronormative clichés not understanding this new diverse world."

"But it backfired a little bit. But it was lovely to meet you in that brief moment and to work with Ben and Owen," he told Cruz.

When a trailer for Zoolander 2 debuted back in November 2015, a petition from LGBTQ activists spoke out about the character and the jokes surrounding their gender, calling for a boycott.

Justin Theroux, who co-wrote the movie, responded to the trailer backlash at the time, saying the moment was out of context.

"I don't even know what to make of it, because it hurts my feelings in a way," Theroux , 50, told The Wrap about the boycott at the time. "I take great care in the jokes I write, and the umbrage being taken is out of the context of the scene. I wish people would see the movie first. Satire is a thing that points out the idiots, and we went through it on Tropic Thunder with the 'R' word."

"The goal was not to mock or be cruel to the mentally challenged, but exalt in the stupidity of people who use that word. I'm all for letting words be ugly when the target is correct," he added about his 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder. "With social media and all the rest of it, people's issues need to be heard … at the end of the day people are looking for bandwidth. People are looking for places to inject their voice. But our target is not, and never was, to disenfranchise anyone."

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