‘What Have You Done?': Ben Stiller Remembers ‘The Cable Guy”s First Screening
UCR: Movies and Culture
By the mid-'90s, Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey had become two of Hollywood's brightest young stars. But then the two came together to make 1996's The Cable Guy, a critical and relative commercial failure. On the newest episode of Bill Simmons' podcast, Stiller said that its reception had less to do with the quality of the movie and more with how it was marketed.
As you can hear below, Stiller had just come off the moderate success of his directorial debut, 1994's Reality Bites, while Carrey had exploded that same year with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber. Carrey was in a position to choose a project that gave him the opportunity to stretch out from the manic slapstick of those films and went with Judd Apatow's darkly comedic tale about a cable technician who stalks one of his customers (Matthew Broderick).
Then came the premiere, which Stiller can laugh at now, but back then it was the first time he had seen a negative reaction to anything he had done. "It was at the Chinese Theatre and, like, the lights came up," he remembered. "I think it was the director of, maybe it was Ace Ventura, looking at me kinda like, 'What have you done?' There was a look in his eye like, 'What was that? You've taken our beautiful Jim and what have you done to him?' Because it was weird and it was dark."
Simmons said that, over the past 23 years, "people belatedly came around to it." Stiller added that both he and its star still think of it in good terms.
"Jim loves it to this day," he continued. "I had the best time making it. Up until the movie opened, it was the best experience. And then when the movie opened and I remember reading the New York Times review and seeing, 'The first disaster movie of the summer's come out. It's called The Cable Guy.'"
As part of the promotion of the movie, Columbia Pictures revealed that Carrey had been paid $20 million to star in it. Simmons suggested that the studio's boasting meant that the knives were out for it from the start, and Stiller added that another problem was that its June 1996 release brought with it the expectation of lightweight summer fun.
"It just should not have been a summer movie," Stiller said. "We didn't even know what the hell we were doing in terms of marketing or caring about marketing. I think if I had known more I probably would have fought more to not have it be a summer movie. But I didn't know and I also probably would not have made that movie."