America's funniest actor explains his newest character and also discusses his other upcoming films
In the new Disney film Dan in Real Life, Steve Carell plays an advice columnist in need of a lot of advice himself. He recently sat down to discuss his latest role.
You seem to get the drama really well, as well as the comedy.
Steve Carell: Oh thanks. I guess I don't look at them differently, so that's part of it. I don't approach something as a comedy or as a drama. I don't think there's like a switch that you flip and you go into your dramatic face or you go into your comedic face. I think it's sort of all one. You just, you try to figure out what sort of tone the director's looking for, and try to listen to the other people there and get a sense of where you are and who you are.
Did you learn a lot of this from Second City TV?
Steve Carell: I think. Yeah. I mean I think one of the [main parts] of at least decent improvisation is to listen, first and foremost. And ... I find things funny that aren't self-aware. That don't know they're funny, and I think the same can hold true for drama. If you think you're in this tragedy and you play it for tragedy, there's a self-awareness there that I think takes you out of watching it and I believe it cuts both ways.
Bill Murray took a long time to get it when he was doing that. I don't know if you remember The Razor's Edge.
Steve Carell: I do. And he's really good in it. And I think people were just expecting a certain thing from him, and were not willing to see him a different way. And in the Lost In Translation - so, so good, but I think it took a while before people could embrace him as something other than a Ghost Buster.
Is this and Little Miss Sunshine important to get people out of the idea that it's just for the laugh really?
Steve Carell: Well, I don't look at it that way. I don't do anything to try to change people's perceptions of me. I tend to think that's sort of an ego driven thing. I don't want to, I don't plan my career based on what I want people to believe I'm capable of doing. So I just take things that I think might be good or might be fun to do or might ultimately entertain.
After The 40 Year Old Virgin you must be getting every script in town.
Steve Carell: Let's face it. A romantic comedy. People know where romantic comedies are going. It's not brain surgery to figure out the end of a romantic comedy. To me what was intriguing was the story, the journey that these people take, and it surprised me. It didn't go the way that I think sort of a typical romantic comedy might go. And also Peter Hedges (ther director). I think he's just a smart, warm person with a huge heart and that's the kind of movie I thought he'd make.
When Peter called you to say you're leading lady's going to be Juliette Binoche, was that a little [exciting?]
Steve Carell: Well, daunting I think is more like it. I met with her before we started shooting and I could not have been more nervous, and more intimidated, but within moments she had completely disarmed me. She's just so charming and so kind and self deprecating and funny. She's really funny. She has this huge laugh, and I felt at ease within moments. And I think she just has that sort of effect on people. But if three years ago you'd have said, "By the way, in 3 years you'll be playing Juliette Binoche's love interest in a movie" I don't think I would have believed that.
How was the shower scene with Juliette?
Steve Carell: Fantastic. That's the only reason I did the movie.
How comical or awkward was the shooting of that scene?
Steve Carell: Well, we laughed a lot. Obviously. It's such a ridiculous set up. And again, she has an incredibly good sense of humor about herself. And I think she understands what makes things funny. Because she's just very real. She's just very truthful. And I think ultimately, when you believe somebody is going through a situation and it's either awkward or ridiculous, but you believe it, that can be funny.
How are you like Dan?
Steve Carell: That's hard to say. I have kids. I struggle with that. There are times that I've felt sort of lost within that. I don't know. I think that character is like a lot of people that is just trying to get by at a certain point in their lives and there's obviously something missing, but there is no way of really knowing what that specific thing is. And the irony of the fact that he is an advice columnist who clearly needs advice more than most. The analogy I use is a doctor trying to diagnose his own illness. That's a hard thing to do. And I think he struggles with it. And I think people just struggle. People struggle to get by, but don't wallow in self pity either. And just do their best.
Is this more of an example of what you'd like to be doing rather than just a broad comedy like Evan Almighty?
Steve Carell: Not necessarily. I think there's a place for both. It's just a different thing. I was talking about a tone earlier. Just a completely different tone. They're based in different realities. This is a much more muted and subtle reality. And you know a broader comedy. I think of somebody like, and I don't compare myself in any way to this person so don't get me wrong, but Peter Sellers could do incredibly broad work and yet at the same time he believed what he was going through. There was always a sense of honesty to his characters, even if they were outlandish. And he could do very subtle work, like Being There, and so I think he straddled both sides of that. I guess they're just of different muscles to try out.
What about the scale of what you're working on? The last one was the most expensive comedy ever made.
Steve Carell: No, Dan in Real Life was the most expensive comedy. Can't you see the production value? They built that beach house, and it actually floated out. (laughs)
So was there a post mortem on that? It seems like when you build a giant that's almost biblical, literally biblical, that it's almost begging to not do well.
Steve Carell: Well, I think the movie got a lot of criticism because of the price tag. And a lot of the reviews that I had read of that mention how much the movie cost, which I found interesting because in a lot of ways that movie was criticized based on how much it cost. Had it been a lower budget movie, it would have been considered a hit because it made over a hundred million dollars, which is a lot of money, by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that it cost so much made it into something else. So I think it's a matter of perception in that way.
Do you feel responsible in some way for how a movie like that does?
Steve Carell: Well, I can't say that I do. I feel like I did the best job that I could, and I tried to bring everything that I could to it. But you never know. You never know how something's going to turn out. You never know if people will embrace it or if it'll be embraced critically. And at that point, it's completely out of your hands as an actor, you know? And the same with this movie. After I shot it, no way, there's no way of knowing whether people are going to like it or not. I saw it two months ago with an audience and it seemed to go really well, so I was encouraged.
With the strike looming, do you have the chance to do another movie after The Office wraps?
Steve Carell: I don't know yet. They're still kind of working that out. I haven't signed on to do anything after this.
Because you don't know if you could fit it in?
Steve Carell: Well, that's part of it. And I just haven't found exactly the thing that I want to do next. But that's part of it. Because they're not sure when it's going to happen, how long I'll be shooting The Office. I don't know if I'll have a really long enough window to get into something.
Considering how much you've worked, is that nice? Does your wife like it?
Steve Carell: Oh yeah, my wife's like, "Bring it on! Bring that strike! Strike, baby!" We'll go back to Massachusetts and hang out for the summer. Which is probably what we'll end up doing.
How familiar and intimate did you have to get with the pancakes to make this movie poster?
Steve Carell: I still smell like Vermont maple syrup and butter. You know, it's funny how...You never, like The 40 Year Old Virgin poster and this poster, you never really know, again, tonally, what they're looking for. And I know Disney wants to...Obviously they want to sell the movie and they want people to be interested in coming to see it. I like it. I think it's certainly very...I was going to say jarring. I don't know what's exactly the right word to describe the poster. But I think it captures people. And it's just so funny because it's such a really small kind of incidental scene in the movie that they take the pancakes from. But it seems to be working. People seem to be liking it.
Was there any chance of using The 40 Year Old Virgin poster as Dan's newspaper column photo?
Steve Carell: That would have been, maybe Dan... No, actually, I don't see Dan like that at all. See, I think the guy, the character of Andy has such a...He's sort of wide-eyed in terms of the possibilities of life, and yet he's kind of given up on one element of what life might bring. But he just has a very cheery upbeat disposition, which kind of belies his situation. And I think Dan on the other hand is a bit downtrodden and trying to get through. There's not a lot of, at least in the beginning of the movie, not a lot of light in his eyes. So I think to see that light coming through a newspaper column photo would be a little disconcerting.
So what do you like about Dan?
Steve Carell: I think that he's honest. I think he's a caring sort of character. He really loves his family a lot, and loves his kids. And he is willing to give up his potential happiness to preserve his relationship with his family. And that, I think, is a very kind thing to do, and very selfless, but also kind of shortsighted. And it's something that I definitely understand, is that when you put other people ahead of yourself, including your children, like so far ahead of yourself and don't take care of your own needs, then you're shortchanging them as well, because you're not giving them the best version of yourself that you could. And that's sort of what I liked about him, was one of the things.
While preparing for this, did you read any advice columns?
Steve Carell: That's always been a sort of guilty pleasure, I think, to read Dear Abby, and generally criticize the advice that these columnists give people. Because there always seems to be some red flag that goes up. "My kids are eating too much chocolate. What should I do?" And then the columnist says, "Well, you should substitute grapes and carrots for their chocolate!" What? That's the dumbest...That doesn't help at all. Kids don't eat carrots and grapes. They want chocolate for a reason. It's like crack. So it's funny to read some of them, and the kind of very simple logic that goes behind. But on the other hand, some of the advice is actually quite good. The best advice I've gotten has been from my parents, I think.
I've seen your name attached to something called High T.
Steve Carell: It'll never happen.
It'll never happen?
Steve Carell: I don't think so.
Steve Carell: That's something...Well, it was an idea that was pitched to me probably three years ago. And I liked it, and then a script never really resulted. So that kind of went away.
So things you have coming are already shot?
Steve Carell: Yeah. I don't have anything on the burner at this point.
How is Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who? Were you isolated from everyone?
Steve Carell: I never saw Jim Carrey once. But I still have a few more sessions to do with that. That's looking really cool, I must say.
Steve Carell: Yeah. They really captured that Dr. Seuss look, but it's very three dimensional and feels alive. It's going to look good.
It's obviously going to be a big family movie.
Steve Carell: Mmm-hmm.
You've also done a lot of other types of movies and TV shows. Can you identify fans when they approach?
Steve Carell: No, I can never tell. It's almost impossible. You would think a fan of The Office would be someone possibly in their early to mid-30s who works in an office and completely relates to that environment. And more often than not, it's a 12-year-old girl who loves watching the show. I got a fan letter from a 6-year-old girl who plays The Office with her parents. And she plays Pam, and she plays it like somebody would play house or Barbies. She plays Office! And she has all the characters, and it wasn't a line either. She sent a picture and her parents wrote a note behind it, and she wrote her own letter to me. So no, I'm always surprised. When I worked on The Daily Show, the only people who watched that show when I was on it were baristas at Starbucks. I swear! That's the only place we were ever recognized, was by someone making coffee at Starbucks. But in terms of now, no, I can never...Not that it happens all the time, but no, that's impossible.
So an 80-year-old woman can come up and congratulate you on The 40 Year Old Virgin?
Steve Carell: Yeah! Truly! You know, that has happened, that older women have come up and said, "That was so dirty and I loved it!" So you never know. Which is pretty charming that these things can [happen]...And Evan Almighty, it's been kids, it's been adults. Different things just strike people differently. And it's so subjective, too. Because what makes one person laugh won't make others laugh. I don't know. I guess it's kind of checkerboarded.
Why is The Daily Show such a springboard for talent?
Steve Carell: I have no idea. I guess they've just had a pretty good eye for people. Well, Stephen Colbert was the person who got me onto The Daily Show. We worked together on Second City TV, and we had done The Dana Carvey Show together. And they were looking for correspondents, and he threw my name into the hat. So I have him to thank.
They got Rob Corddry.
Steve Carell: Rob Corddry and Ed Helms, who is now on The Office. Yeah, there have been some very, very talented people.
And Nancy (Walls, your wife)?
Steve Carell: And of course, my wife. My lovely wife Nancy. Yeah.
Are you going to have a Mr. Mom switch at some point?
Steve Carell: We've talked about that. Because she's been getting calls, too, and she doesn't really want to do anything right now because our kids...We have a first grader and a pre-schooler. But maybe. That's definitely something we've discussed, recently, too. That she's been getting a lot of calls and interest for auditions and parts. But she's been turning them down for now by her own choosing. But yeah, I would be happy to do that.
Dan in Real Life comes to theaters October 26 from Touchstone Pictures.