Ben Stiller's 'world was shattered' when Gene Hackman told him 'The Poseidon Adventure' was a 'money job'

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
Gene Hackman & Ben Stiller during "The Royal Tenenbaums" Los Angeles Premiere at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Gene Hackman & Ben Stiller during "The Royal Tenenbaums" Los Angeles Premiere at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)

Turns out Ben Stiller is a really, really, really big fan of The Poseidon Adventure, the campy 1972 thriller about a capsized luxury liner and the rebel preacher (Gene Hackman) who attempts to lead a small group of survivors to safety.

The multi-hyphenate best known for his comedic roles in films like There’s Something About Mary and Zoolander credits the disaster film with sparking his interest in movies in the first place, having seen it about 10 times a child in the theater, according to a new interview with Vanity Fair.

Stiller was promoting The Towering Disaster, a satirical script he co-wrote with David Cross and Robert Cohen in the early ‘90s that is finally seeing the light of day in the form of a star-studded virtual live read this weekend, when he revealed a hilarious exchange about one of his all-time favorite films with the now-retired Hackman. The pair co-starred in the 2001 Wes Anderson favorite The Royal Tenenbaums.

“It was a dream come true for me,” Stiller recalled. “The whole shoot, I was waiting to get up the nerve –because he’s an intimidating guy – to tell him how much Poseidon Adventure meant to me. So, two days before the shoot was over, finally, there’s this quiet moment. I said, ‘Gene, I just want to say it’s just been amazing working with you – and I didn’t say this before, but really for me, Poseidon Adventure is probably one of the most important movies for me, ever, because it really made me want to be a filmmaker, to be in movies, and I saw it multiple times and it just really, really changed my life.”

Hackman took a moment, then looked at Stiller. “Oh yeah. Money job,” he told the superfan.

“Then he got up and he walked away. My world was shattered,” Stiller said. “Even if it was a money job for Hackman, it was the most incredible money-job performance I’ve ever seen.”

'The Royal Tenenbaums' (Touchstone Pictures)
'The Royal Tenenbaums' (Touchstone Pictures)

It’s understandable why Hackman would consider the 1972 over-the-top actioner among his lesser fare: It came smack dab in the middle of some of his best work, flanked by filmography gems The French Connection (1971) and The Conversation (1974). Now 90, Hackman also appeared in classics like Young Frankenstein (1974), Superman (1978), Hoosiers (1986) and Unforgiven (1992) before quitting acting after 2004’s Welcome to Mooseport.

Along with films like Airport (1970), Earthquake (1974) and The Towering Inferno (1974), The Poseidon Adventure was among a slew of popular disaster films (many shepherded and produced by Irwin Allen) to wreak havoc on movie screens in the ‘70s. The Poseidon Adventure, which co-starred Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters and Red Buttons, was one of the best received of the bunch, earning eight Oscar nominations and two wins, for Best Original Song and a special achievement award for visual effects.

Little Ben was hardly alone in contributing to the film’s ticket sales: It was also the highest-grossing movie of 1972.

After watching – or re-watching, in Stiller’s case – the film over an Italian dinner one night in the early ‘90s, Stiller, Cross and Cohen concocted the idea for the ‘70s disaster homage The Towering Disaster, which was eventually set up at Disney’s Hollywood Pictures, with Stiller set to direct.

“For whatever reason, it never got made… It was probably just too insane,” Stiller said of the project, in which he was going to play a radical preacher, natch, on board a high-rise hotel built in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on top of an active undersea volcano, on a night that is New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve and Hanukkah all at once.

The Towering Disaster
The Towering Disaster

Stiller and Cross will be joined by a supporting cast including Michael Cera, Don Cheadle, Will Forte, Regina Hall, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Wiig and Henry Winkler (as well as a surprise guest, Stiller teases, which we pray is Hackman) for the live read, a pay-per-view affair that will benefit the Equal Justice Initiative and Direct Relief.

“This is my chance to, somehow... I don’t know, I have to live it out somehow. I have to make it right,” Stiller says. “It’s not a money job for me.”

The Towering Disaster streams live Sat. July 25 at 8 PM ET/ 5 PM PT. Get tickets here.

Related: Ben Stiller explains how 'Seinfeld' changed his late father's life

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