Interview: Steve Carell Builds an Ark in Evan Almighty

Steve Carell discusses the difficulties of saving every living creature known to man

In Bruce Almighty, Steve Carell managed to steal a couple of great scenes from Jim Carrey. In Evan Almighty, he steals the entire show. Steve once again reprises his role as newscaster Evan Baxter in the new film, taking the lead this time out.

Working as a newly appointed congressman, Evan is contacted by God about building an Ark in preparation for a giant flood that will soon be heading their way. Steve recently sat down with us over at Universal Studios to chat about his new comedy, and what it takes to save the world.

Here is that discussion:

Steve Carell: Could this be a dingier room. Everyone is going to go to sleep. I'll try to spice it up. Were people doing "the dance?" After the screening? When did you guys see it?

Last night.

Steve Carell: At the Arc Light? I've never been there.

We see you having to raise these kids in this movie. What about you, how do you balance work while trying to raise your kids?

Steve Carell: My kids are angels. And they never do anything wrong, and they are never aggravating. They are perfect. I have a three and a six year old. I think everybody goes through that process of having to work and raise kids. The kids in this movie were a little bit older than mine. But everyone goes through difficulties, and brattyness. And where to draw the line. It was interesting. We sort of bonded with the kids during the movie. We spent a lot of time during the shoot driving around in that Hummer. They were in the backseat, and there were times when they would not stop. They were telling dirty jokes to each other. And they were laughing. We would try to do a take, and they would be all over the place. So Lauren Graham and I sort of became the parental figures. It was like good cop, bad cop. I was generally bad cop with the kids. We actually got along really with the kids. The kids wee almost as fun to work with as the animals.

Have you talked to Stephen Colbert about the Pro-Bert ideas in this movie?

Steve Carell: The Pro-Bert agenda?

What would he think of you killing the godless killing machines on the ARK?

Steve Carell: I have not talked to Stephen about the godless killing machines. Maybe he will talk about them on his show. I hope he goes after the movie on his show. That, in turn, would be a vote of confidence.

Why were you so confident and enthusiastic about coming aboard this film?

Steve Carell: Mostly because of Tom Shadyac. The first movie I ever did was a href="/movies/film/06/606/summary.php" class="film">Bruce Almighty, and Tom took great care of me. It was funny. When I went to the premier of that, I had no idea I would even be in it. I actually saw the film here at Universal. And there it was, my scene was intact. I had so much fun doing. It was kind of a dream. A few years before that, I remember watching Liar Liar. And I was watching the outtakes. And Jim Carrey was just making everybody laugh. And everybody seemed to be having such a great time. Then, two years later, I'm doing Bruce Almighty. And I'm in the outtakes. The chance to work with Tom, again, on a one-on-one basis was a dream come true. How the last few years have come together was very surreal for me. He actually came and pitched it to me. I thought he was going to pitch another sequel starring Jim, with me as another sort of thorn in his side kind of character. Then he told me he wanted me to play the title character, and he had me at, "Hello." I was totally there.

Tom mentioned that he's a Jesus freak...

Steve Carell: He mentioned he was a Jesus freak? How did that come up in idle conversation? "Oh, incidentally..."

Yeah, that's right. I was wondering what your own philosophies were, since this is a biblical comedy?

Steve Carell: I don't see it that way. I don't see it as a biblical comedy. I see it as a fable. I see it as a comedy that is based upon the Old Testament. But I don't see it being biblical in any way, shape, or form. I see it as a take on a guy who must make a huge leap of faith. In terms of my own personal beliefs or convictions, I think that is such a personal thing that I don't want it to impose on this movie. I also think that narrows it. I think it is for any faith or non-faith. I think the message behind it is for people to be a little kinder, and take care of the world we live in. That's a universal theme. Not a religious ideology.

So, you're saying that you don't want to come out as an atheist today.

Steve Carell: No, whether I was an atheist or whatever. I'm actually Catholic, but I don't really feel this is a platform to talk about my own personal beliefs.

Are you planning on doing more romantic, serious roles in the future?

Steve Carell: You know, I'm willing to take just about any job that is offered to me at this point. I'm pretty amenable. I don't really have a path set. I don't decided to do this kind of movie, and then that. I haven't said, "Well, I need to play a psychopathic killer, and then I have to play something else. I didn't set out to make a romantic comedy with Juliet Binoche. I just thought it would be really good. And interesting. And that the script would be really good. My next movie is Get Smart. That was something I loved growing up with. Getting the chance to bring that to a movie screen is amazing. We are twelve weeks in, and very close to finishing that. I have a very good feeling that it is going to be fantastic. I'm very bullish about Get Smart coming out next summer.

Doing all of these movies, how much more time do you think you can give to The Office?

Steve Carell: I will give them twenty minutes everyday. For five days straight. And that will be all for next season. They'll have to use whatever they can get...No, I love it. Again, just in terms of sheer writing, and value, nothing beats that. It is such a smart group of people. And they are really devoted to the show. Those actors are great, and I think everyone of them is lucky. That sort of group of people doesn't come together very often. Not in television. Not in movies. It's sort of a brain trust in my opinion. Especially the writing team. I am very happy, and proud to be a part of it.

On that note, How do you think Michael Scott would handle the same task from God?

Steve Carell: How would Michael Scott become a modern day Noah? That's an interesting concept. I have no idea. He would probably get Creed to come in and build the Ark. He wouldn't want to do it himself. Jane would convince him not to do it. Because she rides roughshod over him anyway. He just wouldn't end up doing it. In his mind, Jane is more powerful than God. He would die in the flood.

Which animals were the hardest to work with?

Steve Carell: It was early on. I think it might have been those birds on me. They were on me for a few days straight. And they were real. That wasn't a computer-generated flock of birds on me. I think the fact that they would literally not get off of me. I don't know how they trained them to do it, but they would go nowhere. Frankly, and to be blunt, they were all well fed before shooting began. That posed it's own set of difficulties as well.

Was the snake real, or was that CGI?

Steve Carell: It was interesting, because the snake that you see is CGI. But the snakes they used, they couldn't use in the actually film itself, because they kept crawling down the back of my jacket. And these were pythons. Serious, big, nasty snakes. They couldn't use them ,because you couldn't see them. They were there, they were just in my clothes. So I had to suffer through that, then they CGI'd this snake over me. I did suffer for my art. You have to know that.

You spoke earlier about some of the animals with bitterness...

Steve Carell: I would never speak ill of the animals. I love them all, desperately.

What were the most loveable animals, and which were the most objectionable?

Steve Carell: Lovable? The giraffes and elephants. Very soulful faces. They were kind and sweet. Gentle. Reprehensible? The baboons. They were horrifying. There was one scene I did where the baboon gave me lemonade. During one of the takes, the baboon spilled the lemonade. So, I went off book. I improvised and said, "Hey, man, what are you doing?" And I didn't raise my voice very high above that degree. The baboon thought I was getting aggressive with it. It bared its teeth, and it took a very aggressive stance with me. It scared the hell out of me. After the take, the trainer came to me and said, "You know what? Don't do that. Don't talk to the baboon." He paused a sec, then said, "Don't look the baboon in the eye." I was like, "What? Why didn't you tell me before I started shooting not to look the baboon in the eye?" They were a little ornery. And, yeah, the camels' breath. IN an enclosed space, a camel's breath can change the atmosphere of the room. Not only the smell, they also seem to change the atmospheric pressure. Each breath is more rancid than the next. It just seems to come out of their mouth. Those two would probably be the ones I wouldn't take home as pets.

Did you have a favorite wig?

Steve Carell: Oh, they were all my favorites. Again. I loved them. Just in terns of my intrinsic sexiness in them? I would have to say the mountain man look. That was the third stage of growth. To me, it looked like a 70s tennis pro. A little mystery. Might have been a few days without a shower or bath. I little grubby, a little greasy. I think that is my personal favorite.

How was sitting in the make-up chair everyday?

Steve Carell: It was fine. The people that applied it are some of the best special effects make-up artists in the business. It was about three to four hours every morning. And about an hour at night to take it off. But I never really want to hear myself complaining about. I hear other actors complaining about prosthetic make-up. It's not fun, but lets face it. I'm not on a roof in 100-degree weather putting tar down. I'm getting a beard stuck to my face. It's really not that bad.

You mentioned before that you don't think of this as a biblical comedy. Do you think it's a kid's movie?

Steve Carell: I don't think it's a kid's movie. This is sort of a fine line to walk. Whenever I hear someone talking about a kid's movie, or a family movie, it automatically has a negative connotation in my mind. Because I think, as an adult, I wouldn't go see it by myself. It's purely for children, and it holds nothing for me. It's simplistic, and its kind of easy. I don't see the movie as that. I see it having a very broad appeal. I think it's very funny. I think kids will like it, but likewise for adults. Message wise, I was hoping that we had a strong, but subtle message about taking care of the environment. About taking care of it. About taking care of each other. It's about acts of kindness towards one another. It leaves people with a bit of a positive message. It makes people happy. My goal beyond that was to make it funny without making it preachy. Or overly sentimental, or overly precious. In no way do I think this movie crams a message down anybody's throat. I think it is done with a very light touch. I hope so.

How was it working with Morgan Freeman?

Steve Carell: I never met him on the first one. I saw him from a distance at the premier. But I was far too nervous and shy to approach him. And I was almost too shy to approach him on this one as well. He's just a presence. He walks around, and people have so much respect for him. He is such a fantastic actor. All you want to do is be around him. He is the best type of actor. He makes everyone around him better than they are. He was great, and couldn't have been sweeter. And he has an enormous sense of humor about himself. I have been so lucky in the last couple of year. I've worked with a lot of great people. People I hold in such high regard.

How do you keep a balance between work and family?

Steve Carell: I use sports energy drinks. Those are highly caffeinated sports energy drinks. I'm the type of person who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So, I am not taking any of what is happening now for granted. I know there is only a window of time when I'll be able to do these things. And I am just trying to take advantage of that now. At the same time, I am being very cautious not to let it interfere with my family life. If work starts to bleed over into time away from my family, it won't happen. So far, I have been able to balance those things.

Can you talk about working with Wanda Sykes?

Steve Carell: I almost ruined so many of her takes, she just makes me laugh. She was doing this one scene, where she's on the phone calling in. And Tom had her doing different lines over and over and over. I was standing by the monitors, and I had to leave the room, because I was going to ruin what she was doing. Because it was so funny. She is beyond funny. She has a very sarcastic, biting sense of humor. She has made her mark that way. But in person, she is very warm. Very sweet. She is a very gentle person, and you don't really see that. I hope I didn't pull the curtain aside on who she really is. But she was really fun.

Does it bother you when people compare you to Jim Carrey at all?

Steve Carell: I love it. NO, I take that as a huge compliment. Just to be named in the same sentence as him. I think he is great. I've watched him, and have enjoyed every one of his movies. When I was living in Chicago, I went to see the original Ace Ventura: Pet Detective came out. And it was before it really caught on. I saw that within the day, and there might have been about four people in the theater. We were howling. I remember the guy in front of me turning around and saying, "I know! I can't believe it!" It was as if we'd found the thing. It was as if the four of us were in a little club together, and we were witnessing something grand. So, yeah, just to have been in Bruce Almighty, and to have been in scenes with Jim. That was a real thrill and honor for me. Even if I'm unfavorably compared to Jim Carrey, I take that as a compliment.

Evan Almighty opens June 22nd, 2007.