The Secret Life of Rockefeller Center

Photographs by Mark Peterson

In his best onscreen roles, Ben Stiller seems a little bit befuddled by life. ­Derek Zoolander is clueless; Greg ­Focker is hapless; Ted, in There’s Something About Mary, finds himself in one screwup after another. And now there is Walter Mitty, the tiny king of being blown sideways by circumstance, the little man whose name has become synonymous with an escapist inner life. James Thurber’s 1939 short (very short) story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” has already been a film and a Broadway show, and the remake has been through a labyrinthine, decadelong path of attached and detached stars and directors. Principal filming is finally under way, however, and last week Stiller and his crew set forth on their Mittyish warplanes (or at least Town Cars), going ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa into Rockefeller Center.

Stiller as director, says Mark Peterson, who shot these photos for New York, is anything but a dreamy escapist. On the set, “because he was the director as well as the star, he was more formal than maybe you’d think him to be, ­because he was very, very busy,” Peterson explains. “After every take, he’d have to switch to director mode and review it on an iPad. It wasn’t like he could relax and laugh. At one point, though, he was addressing the crowd across the street—maybe twenty fans with cameras—and he joked with them.” Part of the attention, he says, came simply because it was a warm, ­sunny day in midtown, packed with tourists. “I heard a German accent, a French accent, an Italian accent—and then Ben Stiller’s voice.”

Stiller (with applied cuts and scrapes) and co-star Adam Scott (with eccentric facial hair). Photo: Mark Peterson

Stiller and Scott fight over a Stretch Armstrong doll. Photo: Mark Peterson

The dénouement of a chase sequence. Photo: Mark Peterson

The Secret Life of Rockefeller Center