Ben Stiller on Embracing Your Inner Walter Mitty

The star of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" opens up about midlife crises, owning up to failure and living in a Jimmy Buffett song.

Can grown-ups rediscover their many possible lives? I hope so. I think that is one of the main themes of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It is about a guy who is in midlife and realizes that the life he imagines in his head is actually holding him back from the real life he dreamed. It is about being able to look at where we are in the moment and say: “This is it, this is my life. And even though it has been a series of events up to now that have led me here, it doesn’t mean that this is where I have to end up.” In a lot of ways, it takes much more courage to do this later in life when the options aren’t as wide open. But there is also a sense you get when you are at a certain age that the time is now, and the moment is all we really have. Is there a case for giving up competence in order to grow? Well, I don’t know. I think there is a case for not knowing what you are doing and owning that. I don’t think any of us really knows what is happening in terms of why we’re here and what life is all about. A lot of us pretend to, but I think that is just really fear or ignorance. And maybe ignorance is bliss, not worrying about those larger questions. What other lives could you have envisioned for yourself? At one point when I was a kid, I wanted to be a historian or archaeologist. I loved, and still love, reading history. The idea of going into the past always fascinated me. That’s one reason I love movies—you can go into an entirely different world. I also could envision having become a scuba diving instructor, and living in the Caribbean in a sort of a Jimmy Buffett song way. But that probably was not going to ever be a reality for me. I am not a big drinker and margaritas give me a bad hangover. Photos: Wilson Webb