With three new movies in the last six months, Steve Carell takes time out to talk to Paul Byrne about being famous, being funny, and how being boring launched his career.
Steve Carell knew very early on that he didn’t have a leading man’s face. Not the sort of leading man’s face that would always get the girl, that is.
“You have to work with what you’re given,” smiles the star of such movies as ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Get Smart’, along with the US adaptation of the British TV hit ‘The Office’. “I think you learn that particular rule during your schooldays. If the cheerleaders ain’t coming to you, you have to go to them. With something impressive. Like making ’em laugh.”
Steve Carell has been making a lot of people laugh since he almost stole the show from Jim Carrey in ‘Bruce Almighty’, playing a mean-spirited, career-climbing anchorman to the rubber-faced comedian’s roving reporter. It was ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’ though that finally proved that, although he may not possess a leading man’s face, Steve Carell can certainly deliver a major box-office hit. As a leading man. Who makes everyone laugh.
“Do you know what I realised early on?,” says Carell. “If you play it straight, it’s so much funnier. I think that’s something I learnt about my face. If I keep it stony-faced – give nothing away – people read all sorts of ideas into what is going on inside my head.
“It’s all about being boring really – once I tapped into that, there was no looking back. Just straight ahead. With a blank expression.”
Like a dog who’s just been shown a card trick. To quote the late, great Bill Hicks.
“That’s the key to my success right there! I have the face of a dog. Who’s bewildered.”
Having recently announced his farewell to The Office, Carell let everyone know just why this year – in the last six months, he’s given us ‘Date Night’, ‘Dinner For Schmucks’ and now ‘Despicable Me’. All three have hit the coveted no.1 spot in the US. Which is nice.
“It is nice, yeah,” nods Carell. “I’d recommend it for anyone getting involved in big-budget Hollywood movies. Aim for the no.1 spot. It means you’ve made more money that week than any other movie. Which, you know, makes good business sense.”
In his latest outing, we get to hear Carell as the voice of the rather despicable Gru in the aptly-titled ‘Despicable Me’, out to steal the moon until three young orphan girls point out the error of his ways. And, you know, save the day. And Gru’s soul.
PAUL BYRNE: It’s your third hit this year – why do you think audiences responded to ‘Despicable Me’? There’s a new animated wonder out every third day…
STEVE CARELL: I think they mainly responded because I’m in it. It’s that simple. No, I think the character has a lot to do with it. Gru just looks a little different, and the fact that he’s the baddie of the piece, yet the lead, that’s something kids haven’t seen too much of.
How did Steve Carell prepare for his title role as the selfish, uncaring, unsharing Gru? Hang out with a bunch of lawyers? Real estate agents? Hollywood studio execs?
No, just fellow actors. Actually, there’s something inherently selfish about this profession, and once you’ve had any degree of success, it can be all too easy to become uncaring and unsharing. So much is done for you. You don’t have to go get your morning coffee, or that salad you’re suddenly peckish for. There are people who are paid to anticipate your every whim and desire, and that feels like a treat the first few times, but then you begin to feel, well, a little despicable.
So, no, it wasn’t too much of a challenge, playing the lead role in a movie called ‘Despicable Me’. I’m just surprised no one’s asked me to play such a role sooner.
This particular big-screen has given you your third hit in the US this year – how does Steve Carell handle a flop. Such as the far-from-mighty ‘Evan Almighty’?
It wasn’t easy. You work with so many people on a movie, and you feel somewhat responsible for the outcome, given that it’s your mug up there on the poster. But no one died, no one got hurt. It was just a movie that didn’t make as much money at the box-office as people had hoped. It wasn’t the first time that happened, and it won’t be the last. I just hope it’s the last one of that size for me.
And that’s why I’m throwing out this appeal to all your readers – go and see every big-budget Steve Carell movie that comes out. I’ve done my time, I’ve taken the hit, and now I deserve some real happiness. Along with some major profits.
Ah, spoken like a true Irish man. Only this particular Carell has no Irish connections whatsoever. Despite the fact that his name sounds like he should be a descendent from a pig farmer from Termonfeckin, or a sheep botherer from Castletownberehaven.
I have the face for that too, but I’m actually of Italian descent, on my father’s side. I know there’s an Irish surname, Caroll, so, that might be an off-shoot of some sort. Those guys might be rogue Italians, or we might be rogue Irishmen, I’m not sure.
Let’s not forget that the Irish and Italians two fought pretty hard over New York, back in the day. I think you guys might have won that one, but it’s always hard to tell when so much time has passed. And there are so many of both of us out there now.
I’m happy to be an honorary Irishman though, if you guys will have me.
Consider it done. Steven John Carell was actually born in Concord, Massachusetts, to psychiatric nurse Harriet and electrical engineer Edwin. The maternal surname is Koch, which is a whole new can of whupass, being of German descent.
So, you know, people really shouldn’t mess with me. Unless you’re Irish, of course. New York has thought me that much.
Finally, how much are you going to miss playing Michael Scott when you finally hand in your Dunder Mifflin badge next year?
It’s going to be really, really tough. You get so used to a character when you play him for a few years, he really does feel like a member of your family, like a really, really close friend. I’m not sure what I’m going to feel on the actual final day of shooting, but I know it’s going to be pretty hard not to cry. I’ll try and keep it together. And know that, wherever I go in the world, or whatever happens, there’ll always be the reruns to remind me of Michael.
Words – Paul Byrne
DESPICABLE ME is now showing in Irish cinemas