Ben Stiller Hilariously Forget His Line in ‘Zoolander’ and It Led to a Classic Phrase

Ben Stiller was already a big name when Zoolander premiered in 2001. But the film has become one of his most successful movies of all time. The saga of Derek Zoolander is still a fan favorite to this day, almost 20 years later.

Stiller has a gift for comedy, and in Zoolander, it shows. But it may surprise fans to learn that one of the funniest lines in the movie wasn’t written into the script. It happened when Stiller had his own Zoolander moment, and forgot his lines, making him seem as ditzy as his character

“But why male models?” one of the funniest lines in ‘Zoolander’

Ben Stiller wearing a headband in a scene from the film 'Zoolander', 2001.
Ben Stiller wearing a headband in a scene from the film ‘Zoolander’, 2001. | Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

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In the movie, Derek Zoolander, a successful male model, uncovers an evil plot. One of the biggest names in fashion, Mugatu, is plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

He is going to use male models, specifically Zoolander, to do it. Derek learns the truth about how Mugatu is controlling the minds of male models from a hand model played by David Duchovny. They meet late at night, and Duchovny lays out Mugatu’s evil plot. Zoolander asks: “But why male models?”

Duchovny’s character explains that male models are in top physical shape, and trained to obey orders. Derek listens to the entire speech, and even flashes back on his own experiences as a male model.

Then, at the end of Duchovny’s explanation, Derek asks again “But why male models?” again, as if he’s forgotten everything he just heard. Duchovny looks totally confused, and it turns out the look was genuine. 

Ben Stiller wasn’t supposed to repeat the line 

Maybe Stiller was using the method acting technique when this scene of Zoolander was filmed. Forgetting what he was supposed to say seems exactly like something Derek Zoolander himself would do.

The line wasn’t supposed to be repeated. Stiller just forgot his line, and so repeated again, “But why male models?”

Duchovny’s look of confusion was genuine, because Stiller was going off script. But the line worked so well, and was so in-character for Derek Zoolander, that the director decided to keep it. The line has become a standout in a movie full of great lines, which is saying something. 

‘Zoolander’ is known for its meme-ability 

There are a lot of great lines that have come out of Zoolander. People still reference Derek Zoolander’s signature looks, like Blue Steel. Mugatu, played by Will Ferrell, has one of the most quoted and memeified lines in the movie.

He’s the only one in the movie who acknowledges what the audience is all thinking, that Derek Zoolander’s looks all look the same. When no one else seems to see it, he says “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

The line is often repeated or used online as a meme, but it might not be the most quoted line in the film. That honor probably goes to one of Stiller’s. Derek Zoolander is trying to use his fame for good by building a school.

When he’s shown an architectural model of what the building will look like, he’s incensed. He says “What is this? A center for ants? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can’t even fit inside the building?” 

The comedy of the scene is amplified by the name Derek has picked for his school: “Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.” The line has actually become part of cultural vernacular in the US.

People generally refer to small things as “for ants,” and there’s even a group on Reddit dedicated to looking at smaller versions of little things and asking if they’re for ants, referencing the iconic line.