‘What is This? A Center for Ants?’: 22 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Zoolander’ for Its 22nd Anniversary

Let’s talk about Jacobim Mugatu’s hair
‘What is This? A Center for Ants?’: 22 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Zoolander’ for Its 22nd Anniversary

The movie about fashion models who crave attention as much as they do Orange Mocha Frappuccino’s was the first big comedy released in American theaters following 9/11. This may explain why people didn’t really like Zoolander at the time. Still, the absurd comedy featuring the glammed-out pair of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson going up against Will Ferrell with poodle hair became a home video comedy classic. 

For its 22nd anniversary, we invite you to relax, pull out your best look and read on about the movie that’s like The Manchurian Candidate, only with really, really, ridiculously good-looking people...

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Derek Zoolander Was Created in the 1990s

Late comedian and SNL writer Drake Sather created Derek Zoolander for a 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards sketch and asked Stiller to play the model. The character was reprised the following year, leading to Sather co-writing Zoolander with Stiller and John Hamburg. “I may’ve played the part,” Stiller told Esquire, “but he’s the guy who had the idea, came up with the name and wrote the first sketches.” Stiller dedicated Zoolander 2 to Sather.

Alexander Skarsgård’s Cameo

The future True Blood and Succession star appeared in Zoolander as Meekus, one of Derek’s model roommates. Skarsgård, who was only acting in Sweden at the time, was visiting his father, Stellan, in the States when Stellan’s Hollywood manager asked Skarsgård if he wanted to audition for a movie. “I was like, that could be a good story to tell my friends,” the younger Skarsgård remembers.

The Alternative Face of Hansel

Stiller knew he wanted Wilson to play the aloof model, Hansel, from the get-go. However, it looked like a scheduling conflict would prevent Wilson from taking the role, forcing Stiller to do auditions. “The only one that I remember clearly was a young Jake Gyllenhaal doing this wide-eyed version of Hansel that was really funny,” Stiller said for the movie’s 20th anniversary. Of course, Wilson became available, while Gyllenhaal would go on to star in the 2001 movie that gave him instant cult status, Donnie Darko.

The Movie Was Almost More ‘Austin Powers’

At one point, Stiller was also going to play both Maury Ballstein (instead of his father, Jerry Stiller) and one of Derek’s brothers. Also, said brother was initially going to be a Springsteen impersonator instead of a coal miner.

In Fact, Stiller Was Inspired by the Mike Myers Franchise

“Honestly, for me, it was watching what Mike Myers did with Austin Powers,” Stiller said during a Vanity Fair oral history of the movie. “I was a big fan of that movie, and seeing how he created this really over-the-top character that is sustained for a whole movie made me think that (his VH1 Zoolander sketches) could be a movie.”

How Milla Jovovich Approached the Role

Jovovich wanted to go against type — she’s an actual model, after all — saying she didn’t mind looking super strange playing the role of Katinka in the movie. “I was very into her always looking like she just smelled something,” she told Esquire.

The Origin of Mugatu’s Name

Stiller revealed during the movie’s commentary that Mugatu’s name was originally McQuicken — a reference to the late British designer Alexander McQueen, who made clothes for stars like David Bowie and Björk. They later changed the name to Mugatu, a reference to one of Stiller’s favorite Star Trek characters.

Zoolander Became the First Ever Male Model to Grace the American Cover of ‘Vogue’

While six men had seen their faces on the cover of Vogue prior to Stiller/Zoolander, none of them were models. Though fictional, Derek Zoolander was the first male model to have the honor of gracing the cover (alongside his Zoolander 2 co-star, Penélope Cruz) in 2016.


How Stiller Argued Against an R-Rating

The MPAA wanted to give Zoolander an R-rating based on the famous psychedelic romp scene involving a goat, but Stiller argued them down to a PG-13. “Ben went to the ratings board to say, ‘Listen, Would I ever put my wife in anything that would be questionable?’” Christine Taylor, who played Matilda, told Esquire. “Because he got to use that as part of his argument, coupled with keeping it shorter and lessening the amount of characters that made it into that scene, (that) had to do with how it ended up getting rated (PG-13).”

Alternate Faces of Matilda

Taylor (who married Stiller in 2000) didn’t want to audition for Zoolander because she lost out to Meet the Parents a year prior and didn’t want things to get awkward. Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson were both offered the part of Matilda, but neither ended up working out, and Paramount said that Taylor should get on board.

About Will Ferrell’s Hair…

It turns out that Ferrell dyed his actual hair to make it look like that in the movie. “I was doing Saturday Night Live, and I hadn’t started the season yet, and Lorne Michaels was going to kill me, but I thought, ‘Let’s do it anyway,’” Ferrell told Empire Magazine about his idea and decision to peroxide his hair for the role of Mugatu. “That’s commitment. I’d never do it again.”

How the Name Came About

“Joel would come to me to say, ‘Who’s a famous male model?’ And I said, ‘Mark Vanderloo is probably the most famous male model right now,’” fashion stills producer Gabé Doppelt explained in the Vanity Fair oral history. “And they thought that was funny and named him Derek Zoolander based on Mark Vanderloo’s name.”

Maury Ballstein Was Based on One of Stiller’s Sketches

Another tidbit the film’s commentary track revealed is that Maury Ballstein was based on “The Do It Guy” from The Ben Stiller Show.

The Twin Towers Were Digitally Removed From the Movie

The film was shot in New York, and Stiller opted to digitally remove the towers following 9/11. As he explained in an op-ed in The New York Times, Stiller “felt that people who chose to see the movie as escapist entertainment were not looking for another reminder of tragedy. In hindsight, it turns out that to some the omission of the towers was disconcerting. I make no claim that mine was the right decision; I only assert that I was trying to do the right thing in a circumstance for which there was no precedent.”

Andy Dick Was Considered for Jacobim Mugatu

Dick, however, was busy filming the sitcom Go Fish, and Ferrell was ultimately cast as the villainous fashion mogul. Still, Dick did a cameo as Olga, the massage therapist. “I’m so mad at myself that I stupidly did that. I should’ve listened to goddamn Ben,” Dick told Vanity Fair about his decision to do the failed sitcom instead. “He (Stiller) said, ‘Just walk away from Go Fish.’ And I should’ve. It got canceled after five episodes. Go Fish can go fuck itself.”

All of Owen Wilson’s Doubles

Hansel is a multi-talented model who can get physical whenever he wants to show off. This led to Wilson having various stunt doubles, including a breakdancer, scooter rider and a world champion yo-yo double.

Countries Banned the Movie

Both Malaysia and Singapore banned Zoolander for showing violence against the Prime Minister of Malaysia. 

David Duchovny Asked to Be in the Movie

“I think the script came to Téa (Leoni), my wife at the time,” Duchovny, who plays J.P. Prewitt, told Vanity Fair. “I saw it in the house, and I was like, ‘What’s this?’ She said it was Ben’s movie. And I’m like, ‘How come I don’t have a part in it? I should have a part in it.’ She said, ‘Look at it.’ And I think I called my agent and said, ‘Call Ben and say I want to be in this film.’ And then Ben got back to my agent and said, ‘Ask him to choose one of these three parts.’ Prewitt, the hand model, was one, and I think his brother was another. And there was another part at some point. I thought the hand model was the most fun for me to try.”

Duchovny’s Look Was Based on Gene Hackman

Or, more specifically, Hackman in Enemy of the State. According to the commentary track, he wore a bald cap with a wig on top to give his hair that thinning look, while his conspiracy theory speech in the scene up top was a nod to his role on The X-Files.

The Plagiarism Allegation

Four years after Zoolander was released, Bret Easton Ellis reportedly threatened to sue the filmmakers, claiming they plagiarized his book, Glamorama. The novel concerns a male model who gets involved with international terrorists recruiting from inside the fashion industry. Ellis later claimed they settled out of court. 

The Origin of Blue Steel

Paramount Pictures

“That look came out of me in the mirror at home when I brush my hair or whatever,” Stiller told Entertainment Tonight. “I guess with the selfie culture, it’s just a natural extension. Did I have any idea that it would live on? No.”

Derek Almost Died at the End of the Movie

We’d probably never have gotten the Zoolander sequel if the original ending had remained. As Stiller explained to Esquire, Derek was supposed to die by train: “He has to shoot the ‘Blue Steel’ or ‘Magnum’ look at the train to stop it, and it doesn’t work. The train plows and kills him, basically, and then he goes up to heaven.” 

The studio didn’t dig it and wanted a happier ending, and that is how we got the “Center for Kids Who Don’t Read Good.”


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