When Jessica Chastain, the up-and-coming actress who stars opposite Brad Pitt in “The Tree of Life,” had a meeting with Ben Stiller a few years ago, the actor caught her off guard with an unexpected request: “Tell Terry I said hi,” Stiller told her, referring to “Tree” director Terrence Malick.

Chastain assumed that Stiller was kidding. How on Earth would the star of comedies like “Dodgeball” and “Meet the Fockers” be on such casual terms with a reclusive, enigmatic auteur like Malick?

But he wasn’t joking. It turns out Malick is a huge fan of “Zoolander,” Stiller’s 2001 send-up of fashion fabulousness — so much so that for Malick’s birthday one year, Stiller dressed up as the character Derek Zoolander, made a personalized video card and sent it to the director. “I think ‘Zoolander’ is one of Terry’s favorite movies ever,” said Jack Fisk, Malick’s longtime production designer, who has known him for nearly 40 years. “He watches it all the time, and he likes quoting it.”

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