Ben Stiller says Chicago goes easy on the envy

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Ben Stiller and Jenna Fischer in a scene from their new film, “Brad’s Status.” | Jonathan Wenk/Amazon Studios

TORONTO — The whole point of Ben Stiller’snew film “Brad’s Status,” the actor said, is how many of us spend “way too much time worrying about being less successful than our peer group.

“You can be happily driving down the street or something, and if you’re an actor — especially in Hollywood where they have those huge billboards up on Sunset Boulevard — you can be easily hit in the face with a huge one-upmanship comparison. You look up and see that huge billboard for someone’s latest film, and think, ‘What?! What’s that?! How did he get that? Nobody told me about that!’ ”

The entertainment business is rife with people making those kinds of comparisons, he said, but “no matter what you do, I know people are comparing their lives and levels of success to others, whether they be lawyers, hedge-fund guys, retailers or salesmen.”

However, as Stiller sees it, those kinds of things are less prevalent “in Chicago or other parts of the Midwest that I’ve been to. I’m sure ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is going on in Chicago and in your area, but based on my own professional experiences — or even just privately — whenever I come to Chicago I don’t hear people expressing the kind of jealous emotions that I do see so often in L.A. or New York.”

Stiller’s basis of comparison “actually goes back to 1988, when I shot ‘Next of Kin’ in Chicago with Patrick Swayze. I spent four months there one very cold winter. I remember vividly riding on the back of Patrick’s ‘hog’ to go up to Kingston Mines one night to hear some great blues. … I also shot a little bit of ‘The Little Fockers’ in Chicago, but though many years had passed in between those two shooting experiences, my perception of Chicago people has stayed the same. As I said: Not a lot of comparison with others.”

In “Brad’s Status,” Stiller plays the title character, a guy who is happily married and living in Sacramento with his wife (played by Jenna Fischer) and their only child Troy (Austin Abrams) a brilliant high school senior who is also a talented musician. Brad runs a tiny not-for-profit foundation, but he’s unhappy because — in his mind — his college pals all have become wildly famous, extremely wealthy and far more successful than he.

Fischer’s character is very satisfied both with her marriage and career as a government civil servant. As for the theme of status comparisons, the actress said she felt writer-director Mike White’s point was to “dissect the anxiety that we have over getting those ‘likes’ on social media, or discovering where are we in comparison to others. It’s all about how we compare and contrast our lives with other people’s lives — and he brilliantly focuses on our idea of other people’s lives and how they are doing.”

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