It seems as if Steve Carell cannot put a foot wrong since his feature career took off like a rocket a short time ago. when he took off in the original Bruce Almighty. Now as Carell shifts between character-based films such as Little Miss Sunshine and the huge Evan Almighty, Carell continues to be philosophical about his career and place in Hollywood, as he explained to Paul Fischer.
Question: Your character seems to have a difficult time with his kids. What about you in real life?
Carell: My kids are angels and never do anything wrong and are never aggravating and are perfect in every way, except…no, I have a three and a six-year old, so, I think everybody goes through that. The kids in the movie are bit older than mine. But yeah, I mean everybody goes through problems and difficulties and brattiness and where to draw the line. And, it was interesting too because we sort of bonded with the kids who played our kids in the movie because we spent a lot of time driving around in that Hummer. They were just in the back seat and there were times when they would not stop. They were like doing…and they were getting dirty and they were telling dirty jokes to each other and they were laughing and we were trying to do a take and they’d be all over the place. So, Lauren and I sort of became the parental figures. It was like, ‘O.K. guys!’ It was like good cop/bad cop. And I was generally bad cop with the kids. We got along really well with them. There was no –the kids were almost as good as the animals.
Question: You had faith in this from the get go? Why did you commit so quickly to it?
Carell: Well mostly because of Tom. The first movie I eve did was ‘Bruce Almighty.’ And Tom took very good care of me. And it was funny, when I went to the premiere of that I had no idea I’d even be in the final cut. And it was right here at the Universal Amphitheater and I remember going and sitting there and there my scene was intact. And I had so much fun doing it and it was sort of a dream. A couple of years before I got the part, I remember watching ‘Liar, Liar.’ And I was watching the outtakes and Jim Carrey just making everybody laugh and just how much fun they looked to be having. And then two years later it was exactly and then I was in the outtakes. And then the chance to work with Tom, again, sort of on a one on one basis, was like a dream come true. It was, how the last few years came about, was very surreal for me. He actually came and pitched it to me and I thought that he was going to pitch the idea of a sequel, starring Jim, and then maybe featuring me, as y’know, another thorn in his side sort of character. But then when he said, ‘We’d like you to play the title role,’ I was like, ‘You had me at ‘Hello.’ I was totally there.
Question: You play a parenting advice columnist in ‘Dan in Real Life.’ I was wondering if you took your own philosophy for that role?
Carell: Um, well it is interesting, it involves a guy who is who fairly recently widowed. Like three years, four years before. And he’s been raising these three daughters on his own. And they are reaching a point in their young adult lives, at least two of ’em that he doesn’t know what to do with. And he still has one who is kind of a baby little girl that he can still manage. But, one of the themes of the movie is that he doesn’t take his own advice and he let’s things sort of get away from him in terms of his own kids. So, I take my own personal? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I have kind of a personal, like a take or a mental manual of how I’m raising kids. It’s really – I think with everybody, it’s just day-to-day and you just try to deal with every situation as they come. And I think that’s essentially what that character does as well.
Question: What is your philosophy on religion?
Carell: See, I don’t see it that way. I don’t see Evan Almighty as a biblical comedy. I see it as a fable. I see it as a comedy that is based upon a story of the Old Testament, but y’know, I don’t see it as a religious comedy in any way, shape or form. I think it’s a fable, I think it’s a tale about a guy who has to make a huge leap of faith. In terms of my own personal beliefs or convictions? That’s – honestly, I think that’s such a personal thing that I don’t want that to infuse my promotion of this movie, because I also think that that narrows it. Because I think the movie is really for anybody. It is for any faith or non-faith. I think the message behind it is just if people could just be a little kinder and take care of each other and the world we live in. And I think that’s a universal theme as opposed to a religious ideology.
Question: You don’t want to come out as an atheist then?
Carell: No, whether I was an atheist or whatever, I’m catholic, but I don’t really feel this is a platform to talk about my own personal beliefs.
Question: In this movie you are very funny, are you trying to move into more romantic leading man roles?
Carell: You know what? I’m frankly; I am willing to take any job offered me at this point. So, I’m pretty amenable. I don’t really have a path set. Like, ‘I need to do this kind of movie and then that. And then I need to switch it up and play a psychopathic killer and then I need to…’ I don’t look at it that way. I thought the script of ‘Dan in Real Life” was great and Peter Hedges is a very, very thoughtful filmmaker. And his ‘Pieces of April’ I thought was fantastic. And he wrote ‘About a Boy’ and ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.’ So, he’s really an accomplished person, so I thought, ‘That’s somebody I’d love to work with. So, it wasn’t so much, ‘Oh, I want to do a romantic comedy with Juliette Binoche.’ It was more like, ‘Wow! I think that could be good and interesting and I think the script will be really good.’ In terms of working with Tom, that was, again, just a delight. ‘Get Smart’ – just something I loved growing up with as a kid and getting the chance to bring that to a movie screen. We are twelve weeks in, we are almost done shooting that and I think that is going to be fantastic. I’m very bullish about ‘Get Smart’ for next summer, too.
Question: With all these movies you’re becoming a big movie star…
Carell: Oh, I’m internationally famous. (Laughs.)
Question: How much more time do you give yourself for doing ‘The Office’?
Carell: I’ll give them 20 minutes every day for five days straight and that will be it for the season. So, whatever they can get, that’ll be it. No, I love it. I think just in terms of writing and I think value, nothing beats that. I think it is such a smart group of people and people are really devoted to the show and actors who I think are fantastic – everyone of them. We’re very lucky. That sort of group of people doesn’t come together very often in television or in movies. I just don’t think that – it’s sort of a brain trust in my opinion — especially the writing team. It’s really remarkable. So, I’m extremely happy and still very proud to be a part of it.
Question: How do you think Michael Scott handle the same path from god?
Carell: How would Michael Scott, like, become a modern day Noah? Wow, that’s an interesting [question]. Well, Michael — I have no idea. He would probably, well he would probably get Creed to come in and build the ark. So, he wouldn’t want to do it himself. And Jan would end up; Jan would convince him not to do it because she rides roughshod over him anyway. So, he probably wouldn’t end up doing it, because in his mind, Jan might be more powerful than god himself. (Laughs.)
Question: What was your most difficult scene to shoot? Was it an animal or was it birds? (This was hard to hear)
Carell: I think it might have been, it was early on. 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. So, I think the fact they would literally not get off me and I could walk around and I don’t know how they trained them to do it, but they would go nowhere. And frankly, and to be blunt, they were well fed before shooting began. So, that posed it’s own set of difficulties as well.
Question: Were the snakes in the car scenes real too?
Carell: Well it was interesting, because the snakes that you see is CGI’d. The snake’s positive that they used, they couldn’t use because they kept crawling down the back of my jacket. And these were like pythons. These were serious, big, nasty snakes. But they couldn’t use it, because you couldn’t see them. But, they were there, but they were just like in my clothes. (Laughs.) So, I had to suffer through that and they generate a snake over me. But, I did suffer for the art. You have to know that.
Question: You speak to certain bitterness about some of the animals in the production notes…
Carell: I would never speak with bitterness about any of the animals. I loved them all desperately.
Question: Well, what were the most lovable animals and what were the ones you least-liked?
Carell: Loveable? Giraffes and elephants – very soulful faces, kind, sweet, gentle. Reprehensible, the baboons were horrifying. There is one scene when the baboons bring me lemonade. And in one take, the baboons spilled the lemonade and I went off book and I improved and said something like, ‘Hey man? What are you doing”‘ And I raised my voice maybe to that degree. And the baboon thought I was getting aggressive with it and it bared its teeth and took a very aggressive stance with me. And it scared the hell out of me. And after the take the trainer came and said, ‘You know what, don’t’ do that. Really don’t talk to the baboon.’ And then he paused and said, ‘You know what? As a matter of fact, don’t look the baboon in the eye.’ And I’m like, ‘What? Why didn’t you tell me before they were shooting not to look the baboon in the eye?’ So, they were a little ornery. Yeah, the camel’s breath. In an enclosed space, a camel’s breath can change the atmosphere of the room. Not only just the smell, they literally seem to change the atmospheric pressure. It’s so disgusting. It’s like they have eight stomachs each more rancid then the next and it just comes out of their mouth. So, those two would probably be the ones I wouldn’t take home as pets.
Question: Did you have a favorite wig or get up at all?
Carell: Oh they were all my favorites I guess. Just in terms of my intrinsic sexiness in them, I would say the mountain man look. That was like the third stage of growth, which to me looked like a ’70’s tennis pro. Kind of like a Bjorn Borg. A little mystery. Might have been a few days without a shower or bath. A little grubby, a little greasy. I think that is my personal favorite.
Question: How tough was the daily regimen to put that on?
Carell: It was fine. Y’know, the people who applied it were such artists. David Anderson who is I think is one of the best special effects artists in the business did all the design and crafting of those wigs and beards and it was about 3-4 hours to put it on in the morning and about an hour to take it off, but I really, I never want to hear myself complaining about it. Because you hear actors complaining about prosthetic makeup and, y’know, it’s not fun, but let’s face it. I’m not on a roof in 100-degree weather putting tar down. I’m getting a beard stuck on my face. It’s really not that bad.
Question: You said you see this as a sort of fable. Do you see this as a kid’s movie? What do you think the message of it is?
Carell: I wouldn’t say its a kid’s movie, I think it is a movie, and y’know; this is sort of a fine line to walk to. Whenever I hear someone describe something as a ‘kids movie’ or a ‘family movie,’ it immediately has a negative connotation in my mind because I think, ‘Well, as an adult, I wouldn’t go see it by myself, because it’s purely for children and it holds nothing for me and it’s simplistic and it’s kind of easy.’ I don’t see the movie as that. I see it as, I hope, as having a fairly broad appeal. Because I think it’s funny. I think it would be very funny for kids, but I think likewise for adults. I think message-wise? Another fine line. I was hoping that the movie had a strong message, but subtle message, about our environment. About taking care of it and taking care of each other and acts of kindness to one another. And sort of leaving people with a bit of a positive message and making people happy, but my goal beyond that was to make it funny without making it preachy or overly sentimental or overly precious. In no way — I don’t think this movie crams any message down anybody’s throat. I think it’s done with a fairly light touch.
Question: How is Jenna Fisher doing after her accident?
Carell: She’s doing much better. She’s back in Los Angeles. She will be completely fine. She’s going to kind of lay low. She wasn’t working this summer, so she can kind of just take it easy and start rehabbing it, but she’s going to be fine.
Question: You didn’t have any scenes in the first film with Morgan Freeman. Did you get to meet him?
Carell: I never did.
Question: What was it like on this film then?
Carell: I never met him on the first one. I saw him from a distance at the premiere, but I was far to nervous and shy to approach him and say ‘Hi.’ And I was almost too shy to approach him on this one as well. He’s just a presence. He walks around people have a great amount of respect and reverence for him really. He’s such a fantastic actor and all you want to do is be around him. He’s the type of actor I think, the best kind, because he makes everyone else he’s with better than they are. And he’s great. Could not have be sweeter and has an enormously good sense of humor about himself. So, that was, y’know, in the past couple of years, I’ve worked with Alan Arkin and Juliette Binoche and Catherine Keener and I’ve worked with Morgan Freeman. These are people who I hold in such high regard, among others that I’ve worked with. But, yeah, He’s one of those sort of iconic people that I think anyone would love to get to work with at any point.
Question: How do you keep a balance between your family and your career?
Carell: I use sports energy drinks. Highly caffeinated sports energy drinks is the answer. Y’know, I’m sort of — I am the type of person who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So, I’m not taking any of what is happening now for granted and essentially I know there is a window of time when I’ll be able to do these things and I’m just trying to take advantage of that now. While at the same time, being very cautious to not let it interfere with my family life. That, to me, is the line. If it starts to bleed over to time away from my family, then it’s sort of not going to happen, but so far I’ve been able to balance those things.
Question: Can you talk about building the ark? We heard you got some training for it…
Carell: I got some training? I think one day a guy said, ‘This is an auger. And you put it here and you press down here.’ I didn’t get any training. (Laughs.)
I don’t know how put that in the little liner notes. Yeah, oh yeah. I am so not handy. There is no way. It would take me several hundred years to build one of those ribs for that ark. The amount of work that would take. Even a killed master carpenter, it is, to stand. I mean, imagine this room — and we are in a large viewing room — the ark was maybe twice as wide as this and 450 feet long. It was, the structure and just the magnitude of this project. And for Tom, it was very important for him to actually build it. Because, and he was right. And we were talking about it early on and he said that in his mind he had this idea of me at night in front of the ark and it’s just this massive, hulking thing. It’s almost like another character in the movie. And you just couldn’t get that if you did it as a computer generation or a backdrop of some sort. But, no, I could maybe build a boat the size of this table that would then sink. No way.
Question: Can you talk about working opposite Wanda Sykes and ad-libbing with her?
Carell: I was so close to ruining so many of her takes, because she just makes me laugh. And there were times, she was doing one scene where she was on the phone, just calling in. And Tom had her just riffing doing different lines over and over and over. And I literally had to leave the room, because I was going to ruin what she was doing because it was so funny. She’s really – she’s sort of beyond funny. She has a very sarcastic, biting sense of humor, but in person, very warm, very sweet, kind. Kind of a gentle soul that you don’t necessarily see. And I hope I didn’t pull the curtain aside on who she really is, but she was great, really fun.
Question: Do you like people comparing you Jim Carrey at all?
Carell: I love it. No, I take that as a huge compliment. To even be mentioned in the same sentence with him, yeah, that’s a huge complement to me. I’ve watched him and I’ve enjoyed all of his movies. And I was telling somebody when I was living in Chicago; I was there the day before the original ‘Ace Ventura’ opened. And it was before it had really caught on and people started catching on to him as a movie star. I saw it like within a day and there might have been four people in the theater – a large theater. And from the opening credit sequence, we were howling and I remember the guy in front of me, turning around and looking at me and saying, ‘I know! I can’t believe it!’ Like we had found this thing and the four of us were in a club together and like we were witnessing something. So yeah, to have been in ‘Bruce Almighty’ and to have been in scenes with him was a real honor to me. Even if I am unfavorable compared to Jim Carrey I take that as a compliment. Thanks.
Question: Was that the worst thing to have those birds on you?
Carell: It wasn’t fun. That was certainly up there.
Question: Were they pecking on your ear?
Carell: They were pecking on my ear and my hands.