Ben Stiller on stage returns to familiar play

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NEW YORK (AP) - When most successful actors thank their moms for helping their careers, few are as literal as Ben Stiller.

Back as a 20-year-old wannabe actor just starting out in New York in the mid-1980s, Stiller was auditioning with various degrees of failure when he heard about a new production of the play “The House of Blue Leaves.”

Try as he might, Stiller couldn’t arrange an audition. “The casting director had seen me in something and didn’t think I was right,” he recalls. “So I asked my mom _ the only time I asked my mom to help me.”

Stiller’s mother, Ann Meara, was the right person to call. She had been in the first ever production of “The House of Blue Leaves” off-Broadway in 1971. She knew the playwright, John Guare, and called him up.

“That’s the last thing you want to do in the world as an actor. You know the deck is stacked against you and that it’s a favor,” Stiller says. “But I really, really wanted the opportunity on it.”

The phone call worked: Stiller auditioned for the first time while the other actors were in final callbacks and yet managed to win the small but rich part of Ronnie Shaughnessy, a troubled young man to say the least.

He stayed with the show when it made the jump to Broadway and used it as a launching pad for a career in film and TV that has veered from the adult “Greenberg” to the kiddie “Night at the Museum.”

How grateful is he to his mom?

“I owe my parents everything,” Stiller says, smiling.

Flash-forward a quarter century: Stiller is back on Broadway in the very same play. This time, he’s playing the father of his old character, alongside Jennifer Jason Leigh and Edie Falco.

And he didn’t need his mother’s help this time.

“I feel very lucky to have had this play in my life,” he says at a bar near Times Square. “How often do you have something like that? It’s such a rare thing to have a touchstone like that.”

Stiller, whose father is the actor Jerry Stiller, had no intention of ever revisiting “The House of Blue Leaves,” a black comedy about a group of desperate strivers in Queens enthralled by the idea of being famous.

“It was something I had never thought about,” he says. “It was such a great experience the first time around on a lot of different levels _ it was my first job, it was great cast, a great production, and it was very successful and ran a long time.”

But he had been toying with the idea of another play since he appeared opposite Amanda Peet and Jeffrey Wright in 2005’s “This Is How It Goes” at the Public Theater. This winter, getting back on stage became even more likely when he moved his family to New York after 20 years in Los Angeles.

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