Page last updated at 07:18 GMT, Wednesday, 17 September 2008 08:18 UK

Stars downplay Tropic controversy

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News


Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr meet and greet fans

The stars of hit US comedy Tropic Thunder have played down the controversy surrounding the movie for its alleged insensitivity towards minority groups.

Demonstrators protested at the film's Los Angeles premiere last month over its frequent use of the word "retard" to describe people with intellectual disabilities.

Directed by its star Ben Stiller, the comedy also features a white character played by Robert Downey Jr who "blacks up" to play an African-American soldier.

Robert Downey Jr, Ben Stiller and Jack Black
Downey Jr, Stiller and Black attended the film's UK premiere on Tuesday

Speaking ahead of his film's UK release, though, Stiller insisted his intention had been to mock actors who "do wrong-headed things in their quest to be taken seriously".

"Everybody's entitled to their opinion of a movie like this where the comedy is a little bit edgy and out there," the 42-year-old told the BBC News website.

"But I feel that, once people see the film, it's pretty clear where the humour's coming from."

"You never know who's going to get offended and why," said Downey Jr, seen earlier this summer in superhero blockbuster Iron Man.

According to the 43-year-old actor, though, "some things by their nature are meant to be offensive".

'Equal opportunity'

Jack Black, who appears as a drug-addicted star of coarse comedies attempting to broaden his range, admits he was surprised Stiller's film has been criticised for its treatment of the disabled.

"I thought, if anything, Robert would get the heat mostly because what he does seems to be the most sensitive taboo," he told the BBC News website.

Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder
Downey Jr (right) plays an actor who has had his skin artificially pigmented
"You're not supposed to portray characters of that particular tone," he continued.

"I guess you never know where sensitivity will crop up."

As far as the star of Kung Fu Panda is concerned, however, Tropic Thunder's satirical script "makes fun of the whole world".

"I think we were pretty equal opportunity," he said, adding he hoped audiences would "cut us some slack".

That certainly seems to be the case in North America, where the film topped the US box office chart for three weeks and has so far made more than $100m (56m).

Part of its appeal might be down to seeing Tom Cruise in the atypical role of a balding, paunchy and foul-mouthed movie producer.


"I think it was just a fun thing for him to do," reveals Stiller. "He was really able to let loose."

For Jack Black, however, it was the notion of satirising Hollywood's excesses that made the project irresistible.

Protesters at Tropic Thunder's US premiere
Protesters took to the streets outside Tropic Thunder's US premiere
"What made this appealing was the chance to make fun of the movie industry," he said. "Ben and his friends got it right on the money.

"What I loved about the script was that it was so irreverent and fearless," he continued.

"The bravery of some of the jokes was what made me laugh the hardest."

"Making movies is a crazy world sometimes," said Stiller, who claims that the film's outlandish plot - which involves a group of actors who get caught up in a real conflict while shooting a war movie - is "all based on reality".

He did admit, though, that the specifics had been "maybe tweaked a little bit."

Tropic Thunder is out in the UK on Friday.

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