Studio exec Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), one of the film's most memorable characters, wasn't even intended to be in the movie. Cruise was originally slated for a cameo as Stiller's character's agent. Instead, Cruise suggested creating a studio head position and it was reworked into the script. Stiller and Cruise worked together to create the middle-age character that required a fat suit, fake large, hairy hands and a bald head.
Grossman will likely be remembered by audiences for his dance scene to the hip-hop hit "Low" by Flo Rida, which was improvised by Cruise.
"We were doing a makeup test and he said, 'I feel like I wanna move as this guy,' and he started doing this weird little motion thing," Stiller said. "I said, 'Keep doing that,' and filmed it. Then I got in the editing room, put some music on it, and he was dancing in perfect time to this hip-hop song that wasn't even playing."
"Tropic Thunder" has already caused a storm of controversy in the disability advocacy community.
A Web site for "Simple Jack," a faux film exhibited in the movie where Stiller's character plays an intellectually challenged man, was pulled Aug. 4 amid several groups' concerns about its portrayal of mental retardation, called "intellectual disabilities" by disability advocacy groups.
"Within the context of the movie, I think it's really clear that what we're mocking are actors who play characters like this in order to further their careers," Stiller said. "It's a disability, and it's sort of common knowledge that's what you have to do to be taken seriously. I think there's something in that, that irony that is funny. And that was really the point in Robert's character, too, and that's sort of the lens we focused everything through when we were writing the script and we felt we were pretty clear about that.
"Overall, I think actors have a sense that there's a ridiculous nature to the whole thing," he said. "I felt that as long as we were clear about what our point of view was and we weren't making fun of people just to make fun, but making fun of ourselves."
For Stiller, filmmaking came at an early age from his parents, veteran comedians Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. "I just saw that they were really committed to their work, and it was exciting to me," he said.
His first major encounter with the film world came when his father took him to the set of 1974's "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three," where his father filmed a scene with Walter Matthau over and over again.
"I saw the movie, and the scene was maybe eight seconds in the movie," he said. "I was like, 'They were there all night doing that scene and it's only eight seconds.' And there was something about it that I was just really drawn to."
That experience gave the younger Stiller a taste of the life, and he began filming Super 8 movies around the house. His famous father starred in his amateur production of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which he was chopped up and buried alive.
Stiller's interest in film certainly didn't end there. His groundbreaking television comedy "The Ben Stiller Show" was picked up by Fox in 1992, and although it aired for only one season, it gained a large cult following.