Fifteen years on and fashion’s fiercest duo Derek Zoolander and Hansel are back to reclaim their rightful place on the catwalk. So is there more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking? GEMMA DUNN meets Hollywood double act Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson to find out
In fashion, you’re either hot or you’re not - and right now, Zoolander is having one helluva moment.
From closing the Valentino catwalk at Paris Fashion Week in 2015 to more recently posing as store mannequins in Rome, immortalised models Derek Zoolander and Hansel (creations brought to life by comedy duo Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson) are showing the industry how it’s done.
But, Stiller points out, it’s his glossy cover shoot that trumped all else.
“GQ eat your heart out; it’s Vogue for Derek!
“It was a childhood dream of mine to grace the cover of Vogue,” he adds, teasing a smile.
But for the proponent of the now-famed ‘Blue Steel’ pouting pose, the road back to magazine spreads and catwalks has been a long time in the making.
Of the 15-year hiatus between the first Zoolander movie in 2001 and this second instalment, Stiller explains: “We probably would have made a sequel the year after the movie came out, but nobody came to see the first one in the theatre really, so no one wanted it.”
And the seasoned US actor is not simply playing the modest card: released in the same month as the harrowing 9/11 attacks, Zoolander underwhelmed at the box-office, only to later become a cult classic during its DVD years.
Wilson, Stiller’s co-star and long-time collaborator, quotes the film’s outlandish tone as the key to its global status.
“Comedies don’t always translate cross-culturally, but the characters of Derek and Hansel have a level of ridiculousness I think people appreciate,” says the 47-year-old.
Stiller, who co-wrote, directed and stars in both instalments, adds: “We wanted to make a movie that would try to live up to the first one and the expectations of people who loved it. I feel very fortunate that there are people that loved the movie that much, and I didn’t want to let them down.
“But we can’t judge this movie for another 10 years,” adds the 50-year-old star. “The first one came out, critics didn’t like it, nobody went and then they finally found it 10 years later, so I’ll say it’ll be a classic in 10 years.”
The long gestation process for Zoolander 2 did offer Stiller and his creative team - including writers John Hambur, Nicholas Stoller and Justin Theroux, who also has a role in the film - the chance to grow the story in a way that would honour the spirit of the first. But as the Hollywood talent states, strong casting is at the forefront of its success.
“People connect with characters,” says Stiller. “When someone tells me that they love Zoolander, to me that means they love the characters and Derek, Hansel and Mugatu, because they make it what it is.”
Of course, Mugatu, played by Will Ferrell, a villainous fashionista with a penance for outrageous outfits, small dogs and latte-throwing, had to feature in the new movie. There are some newcomers too though, including sexy, Latin police agent Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz) and fashion magnate and walking art installation Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig).
All renowned for their work in comedy, it seems only viable that Stiller’s direction left room for improvisation?
“Ben sets the tone,” reveals Wilson, who’s starred alongside Stiller in a range of films, including The Cable Guy, Starsky & Hutch and each of the Night At The Museum trilogy. “The script was really funny, but we’re also encouraged to try new stuff and play around.”
“You want to go in with a script that works, and with a movie like this, there are specific scenes where you can’t really go off on a tangent, but there are alternate lines we come up with,” adds Stiller. “Sometimes we’ll work on them the night before and say, ‘OK, here’s three of four different things we could try’, as opposed to it just coming off the top of your head.”
He admits that portraying such unconventional characters “takes a little bit” after such an extensive break.
“I watched the first movie again just to try to work on the voice and stuff, but after a while - when Owen and I started working together - it felt familiar.”
In the prestigious ranks of one-name icons, Wilson agrees it was initially daunting to re-discover his inner Hansel.
“I’m always nervous on the first couple of days of filming, and I remember getting the direction from Ben to ‘be more Hansel’. I didn’t know what that meant; I just kept doing what I was doing and I eventually said, ‘Did you see more Hansel?’, and he was like, ‘Yeah, perfect’. I didn’t even know what I was doing,” he adds in a whisper, hands masking his mouth.
Amused, Stiller retorts: “It was fun for me to watch. The first week, Owen was doing a scene where he was looking off into the desert and he found the Hansel pursed-lip squint, and there was no looking back.”
Dressed in a conservative suit and tie today, Stiller’s off-screen demeanour is far from that of his alter ego; in fact, the actor, famed for his string of hit comedies, appears pensive and quiet in comparison to an amiable - and casually dressed - Wilson.
Understandably, Stiller winces as he recalls some of Derek’s questionable fashion choices.
“The costumes? Yeah they’re not always... easy.”
“You can see what I’m wearing right there!” chimes Wilson, pointing at the promotional poster which has him kitted out in a green silk get up, complete with a voluminous fluffy collar.
“That was something that I brought over from my personal collection. I wanted to be a little more... subtle, so I used some of my own clothes.”
“Comfortable,” adds Stiller, po-faced. “Derek is packed into stuff; he’s a little more formal.”
For those in need of a little Zoolander recap, when we last saw Derek and Hansel, they were enjoying the wonders of the Derek Zoolander Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too, and Mugatu was behind bars. However, the peace has since been broken when an unforeseen catastrophe hit, killing many, including Derek’s wife Matilda.
Fifteen age-defying years later and a still-shamed Derek (who has since lost custody of his son Derek Jr.) and Hansel remain in isolation - until they each receive an invitation to star in a major world fashion event in Rome.
Unable to deny the allure of returning to the spotlight, they make their way back to civilisation, only to find fashion has drastically changed; they struggle to find relevance in this strange new world of blogging, vlogging and anti-fashion fashion.
Along the way, they’re recruited to help stop a calculated and deadly plot that if not stopped, would destroy hopes for the industry to return to its former glory forever. Only Derek and Hansel have the power to save fashion...
But have years of seclusion changed them for the better? There’s only one way to find out, and it’s via their famed conundrum: Is there more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?
“If there is, I’m yet to figure it out,” retorts Wilson. “It’s a step in the right direction, it doesn’t hurt...”
“It really does help!” agrees a straight-faced Stiller.
lZoolander 2 is out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 12.