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In the upcoming movie Tower Heist, featuring a standout comic cast led by Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, humor will naturally punctuate a storyline complemented by action.
For many of the main actors, the film gave longtime friends an opportunity to work together once again. Ben Stiller, Alan Alda and Téa Leoni reunited for the first time since co-starring in David O’Russell’s critically acclaimed 1996 indie Flirting With Disaster. Leoni had previously collaborated with director Brett Ratner on The Family Man, and Stiller directed Matthew Broderick in 1996’s dark comedy The Cable Guy.
International financier Arthur Shaw, played by veteran Alda, is the quintessential champagne villain whose polished veneer belies a shrewd con man. For many years Shaw demanded a quiet respect from Stiller’s character Josh, who feels a kinship with one of the high rise’s most beloved residents. Josh aspires to live in this world and has been hopeful that his fellow chess player would shepherd him there.
When faced with an unimaginable betrayal, however, Josh makes it his personal mission to reclaim his crew’s money from Shaw. Stiller explains: “Josh and Shaw have a good rapport. Josh is very good at understanding what Shaw needs, but he misinterprets the relationship early on by thinking that Shaw would never do anything to intentionally hurt the people who work in the building.”
In Alan Alda, Ratner and the producers found an actor who could sell a likeable billionaire whom we learn is more comfortable stealing from blue-collar workers than from his elite clients. But Alda clears up a misconception about Shaw. “Shaw is sometimes described as a Bernie Madoff-like character. I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone has ever operated on the scale that Madoff did. And I don’t know if what Shaw did technically qualifies as a Ponzi scheme.
But in that Shaw was willing to steal money from people who really needed it — who really couldn’t afford to lose it — and willing to take everything they had…yes, he’s in Bernie territory, with both feet.” It’s Special Agent Claire Denham who clues in Josh about Shaw’s fraudulent history and does so with swift efficiency.
Leoni, whose FBI Special Agent Claire Denham knows the truth about Shaw, is the one who has to explain the cold, hard reality of the situation to Josh after he thwarts what he believes is an attempted kidnapping of The Tower’s favorite resident. Téa Leoni credits her interaction with FBI technical advisor Anne C. Beagan with putting the distinctive touches on her tough-as-nails agent who has to convince Josh that Shaw is a bad guy.
The actress laughs: “Agent Denham is your standard-issue, ball-breaking FBI agent. She’s certainly a very tough lady, and it’s not my first waltz with this type of character. However, I was able to spend some time with Anne, a great technical advisor we had on set. She’s got this steely gaze that is terrifying, but what’s underneath that is a very interesting lady. Beyond the technical aspects of the job, she provided so much more for me to use.”
The actress was equally impressed by her cohorts. “We had a table read in Los Angeles and as I was sitting around with this cast and listening to these strong actors who, with a minimal amount of effort, brought such a distinguished flavor to their characters, I thought, ‘We could have just shot the table read.’”
Stiller returns the compliment to his leading lady: “Téa is very believable as an FBI agent because she’s smart and aggressive and has a great sense of humor. But she’s also very much a New Yorker, and a lot of what this movie is about is New Yorkers and their attitudes toward life. She was a great choice for the role, and it was fun to work with her again because it had been a long time since we’d done so.”
Tower Heist is in cinemas on November 4.