Posted on Monday, December 23rd, 2013 by Germain Lussier
One of the biggest Hollywood releases this Christmas is Ben Stiller‘s remake The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a family-friendly tale of a lonely man whose day dreams inspire him to go on a globe trotting adventure. In the end, he’ll try to become the best possible version of himself.
When you see it, you’ll realize not only did Stiller (who directed and stars) have a lot of story to tell, he had a ton of different tones to balance, which is an incredibly difficult thing for any director. To manage the task, he was forced to cut an entire alternate opening of the film. At a recent Q&A presented by Film Independent at LACMA, he explained what the scene entailed and why he cut it. It’s a pretty awesome look inside the directorial mind of a man best known for being a humorous actor.
The final film, which hits theaters December 25, stars with Walter Mitty (Stiller) sitting at his kitchen table, balancing his check book. Here’s what Stiller said about the original opening:
We used to have an opening to the movie I ended up cutting. A little montage at the beginning of the movie of Walter’s morning routine. And it started out with him on this exercise bike – I like talking about this because I miss it – the first image was the LED screen on his exercise bike was in the shape of a mountain and he’s biking up this mountain and eventually he ends up going up this mountain. But it’s him on this exercise bike and I thought it showed him as a guy who took care of himself, was ready to go, but was having a real life and is on a fake bike. That idea is, to me, very important that he’s not somebody that’s sort of odd or weird. He’s just a guy who, like a lot of people, isn’t quite the full version of what he wanted to be.
Throughout editing the movie I was really having to balance the pacing of the movie and I felt that, ultimately, it was a nice, kind o,f artful little sequence that was maybe too much of that. My producing partner said it was celebrating the movie too much. Ultimately, the reason I cut it was it made him feel a little more lonely then I wanted him to feel in the beginning. And also the movie is about a guy just trying to get through everyday life, so to open with a guy trying to balance his check book is more to the point. And it’s also what Steve [Conrad] wrote in the script. I came up with this whole sequence, we shot it, sort of fell in love with it and then ultimately I ended up cutting it. Then when I looked back at a draft of the script and said ‘Oh [the check book] is what Steve wrote.’
Stiller also talked about another scene/storyline that got cut involving Walter’s sister, played by Kathryn Hahn. Minor spoilers follow.
There was a storyline we ended up cutting out that his sister really starts to see Walter for the first time. I had to cut it for pacing and focusing the story. There was a scene that was really good. Kathryn Hahn, who I’m a big fan of – I saw her and Adam Scott in Step Brothers and became obsessed with that movie. So Kathryn meets Walter when he comes back from the airport from Iceland and he’s all sort of torn up from the shark fight and they go to the impound lot because she was in charge of the piano and the piano got towed. And so they have to get the piano from the impound lot and she looks at him and says ‘What happened to you?’ And he said ‘I got into a fight with a shark, whatever it was for work,’ and she’s like ‘You got into a shark fight?’ He’s like ‘Yeah I’m okay whatever,’ and then she sort of sees for the first time that he’s, wow, like doing stuff. And she says ‘You know what? I’ll take care of this. I got this. Go do whatever you have to do.’ So it’s this subtle shift in her that, you know, was a little bit of a progression for her character and unfortunately the movie couldn’t bear it but that family dynamic was important.