Ben Stiller gets serious in Berlin film fest contender

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The Independent Culture

Hollywood actor Ben Stiller abandons his familiar funny man persona to play a lost soul in Los Angeles in the new drama "Greenberg" which joined the competition Sunday at the Berlin Film Festival.

Stiller, best known as the hapless comic lead in movies such as "There's Something About Mary" and "Meet The Parents", dropped 15 pounds (seven kilogrammes) and his penchant for easy laughs to play the man-child Greenberg.

The film, directed by Brooklyn-born Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"), sees Stiller play a New Yorker in his early 40s who has suffered a nervous breakdown.

After his release from a psychiatric clinic, Greenberg goes to stay at his brother's Hollywood villa to decompress while he and his family are on holiday in Vietnam.

At the house, he meets his brother's personal assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), a 25-year-old with a nurturing spirit who begins a stop-and-start affair with him as she attempts to recover from a breakup.

Greenberg also seeks out old friends in Los Angeles including a former bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), as he seeks to right old wrongs and work out when his life went off track. But they have moved on as his life has stagnated.

Stiller told reporters after a press preview, which drew a mixed response, that he had been drawn to a darker role as a change of pace and for the chance to work with Baumbach.

"I'm a big fan of Noah and it was a big opportunity to work on a film that is not that other kind of film," he said, referring to his hit comedies.

"To be funny all the time is a hard thing."

Baumbach, one of Hollywood's hottest screenwriters who penned the Oscar-nominated "Fantastic Mr Fox", developed the premise for "Greenberg" with his wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who also has a small role in the film.

The director said he had kept Stiller on a tight leash during the filming, not allowing him to stray from the carefully crafted script.

"Somebody would say you're a total idiot to hire Ben Stiller and not let him improvise," he said.

Baumbach said he had given a lot of attention to the film's quirky soundtrack, which features tracks from acts ranging from LCD Soundsystem to the Steve Miller Band.

"I'm always interested in characters and their taste and how their taste defines them, or they think it defines them," he said.

"Greenberg" is one of 20 films vying for Berlin's Golden Bear top prize, which will be awarded February 20.