Shawn Levy

Shawn Levy

Night at The Museum was a massive box office success when it was released back in 2006. And this summer saw Ben Stiller and co all return under the watchful gaze of filmmaker Shawn Levy.

And more success followed for Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian as it took over $411 million at the global box office.

I caught up with Shawn as he promoted the DVD to talk about the success of the franchise, what made him return for a second movie and if there would be more.

- The second Night At The Museum movie is about to be released on DVD here in the UK so for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet can you tell me a little bit about it?

The sequel has our characters travelling to the Smithsonian in Washington DC, whereas the first movie was a lot of spectacle and wonder this movie retains that scale but adds more characters, a love story and a more complex narrative. So I think the sequel is loyal to fans of the first but it definitely goes to a new place.

- The story was all nicely tied up at the end of the first film so what made you want to come back to these characters?

Ben Stiller and I were astounded by the goodwill that we received from audiences there’s a love for this franchise that really blew us away and once we realised how much people felt affection toward Ben’s character and these museum characters, and the wish fulfillment of this premise, it felt worth exploring what the next adventure would be.

- So what challenges did you face doing a sequel?

I think that the challenge with any sequel is making it more than simply bigger and louder which is why we added an antagonist in the brilliant Hank Azaria and a romantic comedy narrative via Amy Adams and her portrayal of Amelia Earhart. So hopefully this movie isn’t just bigger and cooler but it’s also got more layers and more to enjoy.

 - Well that leads me into my next question really a new movie means new characters so why Amelia Earhart and Kahmunrah in particular?

I think Kahmunrah was created by the writers as this selfish pharaoh who was on one hand scary and a legitimate threat but also so absurd and therefore funny, so he struck us a great engine for comedy.

As far as Amelia Earhart goes, as the father of there daughters, I saw the impact of the first movie and the way that it sparked an interest in history amongst our young audience so the idea of  sparking interest in this formidable female historical character was very appealing.

Having daughters of my own I could see how they were drawn to Sacagawea and wanting to learn all about Sacagawea after the first film and I expected for Amelia Earhart.

- Ben Stiller’s Larry remains the central character so how has his character developed and moved on over the course of the two movies?

Well in the first movie this was character who was a regular guy dealing with extraordinary circumstances the second movie finds Larry almost numb to the wonder of the museum and successful in a new venture as a gadget inventor and salesman.

So Larry has really found success but lost his joy and this movie is about finding his way back, literally and figuratively, to his home and to his sense of fun and the irony is it’s Amelia Earhart, who was famous for getting lost who in fact guides Larry home to his better self.

- And how keen were the cast to return?

Very keen not only because it’s always fun to make a big hit but this movie is so fun to make it brings out a real childlike sense of joy in all of us.

Also it’s such a high end pedigree of comedic talent when you are asking people to not only come to work but get a chance to improvise with Christopher Guest, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Hank Azaria and Ricky Gervais, the list is absurdly long, and it’s filled with not just full of funny performers but the high end of smart funny performers.

- And there’s a very sweet line in the film ’Happiness is doing what you love with the people that you love’ how far do you go to endorse that and was that a factor behind making the film?

Yeah I have actually said that and that’s how I feel about my career and it was a very natural step to make that the theme of my movie, I get to come to work and have fun every day with people that I adore. My greatest hope for my kids is that they find the same bliss so I wanted to make a movie about that theme. 

 - So you have got the likes of Stiller, Robin Williams, Hank Azaria and Ricky Gervais so how did you find working with them all as well as keeping them all under control?

Well the key is you don’t try to keep them totally under control, when you have a cast like that you want the free flowing atmosphere of improvisation because we had a very funny script but nothing is as funny as the combustion that happens with that bunch of comics. So you keep them mildly under control but you keep it fluid and you find happy surprises.

- How about casting the new roles, particularly bringing in Amy Adams?

We were so spoilt by the first movie, the first movie has such a great cast, and I knew going into the sequel that I wanted an even better cast so every new actor that we added had to be high end and brilliant in their own right.

Amy Adams has a charm and intelligence and range, perhaps most notably the last point, that’s practically unrivalled amongst actors of her generation so she can inhabit Amelia completely and do so winningly and so entertaining.

- Bringing her in with all these comedy characters, not really being know as a comedy actress, is quite a big risk but having said that she is incredibly funny how shocked or surprised were you by her performance?

Having seen enchanted I knew that she had the comedic charm, Enchanted really illustrated Amy’s range and her ability to do comedy, I didn’t consider Amy a risk I was thrilled to have her say yes and she did the brilliant job that I expected of her.

- Obviously CGI plays a huge part in the movie so how difficult is it working with characters that aren’t there? And what issues do you face in making sure that the effects don’t overshadow the actors?

To answer the first part it’s imperative that everything be crystal clear inside my head so that I can be very very specific and clear with my actors and crew, so I make sure that I see every image clearly before we start shooting.

The unusual thing about this franchise is there is a lot of improvisation within the visual effects scenes and we always screen the movie for audiences with no visual effects and we make sure that the movie works without relying on those effects that way we know that when they are added it will sing even more.

- As a father yourself how great is it to be able to make a movie like this?

It’s been one of the privileges of my life to make a movie that is not only loved by family audiences worldwide but one that has a real world impact on museum attendance and actually catalyses interest in history and museums amongst kids that’s a something that I’m really proud of.

- You say that you were surprised by the success of the first movie so how do you feel now having done it a second time, because this movie was just as successful?

I’m thrilled, I’m really thrilled. I think that there is a real love for these characters and again the premise of this franchise has tapped into something universal, some magical what if, and I credit the success of the franchise to that and it’s been executed in a way that’s educating for young audiences but is also smart, unexpected and funny for adults. 

- The movie was a success so would you do a third film and if so where would you go with it?

Ben and I are beginning to have those conversations so I think that it’s definitely a possibility. I wouldn’t be surprised to find us on European soil for the next instalment, and that’s all I will say right now.

- And you have the likes of Night at the Museum, Just Married and Cheaper by the Dozen under your belt as a filmmaker so what is it about the comedy genre that you enjoy so much?

There is something great that happens in a dark theatre, with hundred of strangers connected in something as primal as a really great laugh and as a filmmaker when you have had a taste of that, that wave of laughter that connects all these strangers in the dark, it’s an insanely good feeling and it’s hard to not crave more.

- Finally what’s next for you?

Date Night which is an action comedy starring Steve Carell, Tina Fey, James Franco and Mark Wahlberg and it’s a action comedy about a married couple whose regular weekly date night goes terribly, but fortuitously, awry.

Night At The Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is released 9th November

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw

Night at The Museum was a massive box office success when it was released back in 2006. And this summer saw Ben Stiller and co all return under the watchful gaze of filmmaker Shawn Levy.

And more success followed for Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian as it took over $411 million at the global box office.

I caught up with Shawn as he promoted the DVD to talk about the success of the franchise, what made him return for a second movie and if there would be more.

- The second Night At The Museum movie is about to be released on DVD here in the UK so for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet can you tell me a little bit about it?

The sequel has our characters travelling to the Smithsonian in Washington DC, whereas the first movie was a lot of spectacle and wonder this movie retains that scale but adds more characters, a love story and a more complex narrative. So I think the sequel is loyal to fans of the first but it definitely goes to a new place.

- The story was all nicely tied up at the end of the first film so what made you want to come back to these characters?

Ben Stiller and I were astounded by the goodwill that we received from audiences there’s a love for this franchise that really blew us away and once we realised how much people felt affection toward Ben’s character and these museum characters, and the wish fulfillment of this premise, it felt worth exploring what the next adventure would be.

- So what challenges did you face doing a sequel?

I think that the challenge with any sequel is making it more than simply bigger and louder which is why we added an antagonist in the brilliant Hank Azaria and a romantic comedy narrative via Amy Adams and her portrayal of Amelia Earhart. So hopefully this movie isn’t just bigger and cooler but it’s also got more layers and more to enjoy.

 - Well that leads me into my next question really a new movie means new characters so why Amelia Earhart and Kahmunrah in particular?

I think Kahmunrah was created by the writers as this selfish pharaoh who was on one hand scary and a legitimate threat but also so absurd and therefore funny, so he struck us a great engine for comedy.

As far as Amelia Earhart goes, as the father of there daughters, I saw the impact of the first movie and the way that it sparked an interest in history amongst our young audience so the idea of  sparking interest in this formidable female historical character was very appealing.

Having daughters of my own I could see how they were drawn to Sacagawea and wanting to learn all about Sacagawea after the first film and I expected for Amelia Earhart.

- Ben Stiller’s Larry remains the central character so how has his character developed and moved on over the course of the two movies?

Well in the first movie this was character who was a regular guy dealing with extraordinary circumstances the second movie finds Larry almost numb to the wonder of the museum and successful in a new venture as a gadget inventor and salesman.

So Larry has really found success but lost his joy and this movie is about finding his way back, literally and figuratively, to his home and to his sense of fun and the irony is it’s Amelia Earhart, who was famous for getting lost who in fact guides Larry home to his better self.

- And how keen were the cast to return?

Very keen not only because it’s always fun to make a big hit but this movie is so fun to make it brings out a real childlike sense of joy in all of us.

Also it’s such a high end pedigree of comedic talent when you are asking people to not only come to work but get a chance to improvise with Christopher Guest, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Hank Azaria and Ricky Gervais, the list is absurdly long, and it’s filled with not just full of funny performers but the high end of smart funny performers.


by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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