Steve Carell has a well-deserved reputation for being a nice guy. He should really get more credit for being shrewd about the roles that he chooses as well.
Carell made his name playing eccentric-but-sweet characters on "The Office" and in "Anchorman" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." His friendly demeanor is a hallmark that seems ever-present, even as the films that he chooses become less and less straightforward about comedy. (Well, not counting the "Anchorman" sequel.)
I met Carell in his Manhattan hotel room to discuss his co-starring role in "Hope Springs." It's a departure of sorts for Carell, as he plays the non-comedic role of Dr. Bernie Feld, a marriage counselor with two new patients (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones). It's odd watching Carell as Dr. Feld because, even though we never learn anything about him, we like him because Bernie is played by Steve Carell. Here, Carell discusses the appeal of such a straightforward role, why shooting the original "Anchorman" was the most fun he's ever had professionally (and why everyone wants to be in the sequel), and reveals his single favorite moment from "The Office."
(And, yes, I may be one of the few people who have ever seen Carell's surprised, "Where in the world is this question going?" face after some confusion between Asia the continent and Asia the rock band.)
I enjoyed your wardrobe in this movie. It's very pleasant.
Well, thanks. I think that is what we were shooting for -- just sort of Maine dressing me.
Same with the author picture on the fictional book that you wrote in this movie.
I need to get some of these books so that I can start my fake library of fake books that I've written.
Why don't you write a real book?
Yeah, I should do a real book. Maybe I'll do a real book as a fake book. Like, do a real book as a character, or something.
What character would that be?
I don't know. I don't have a fake book character in mind.
I've followed your career for a long time, from "The Dana Carvey Show" until now. Is there a sense of accomplishment when you look over at your co-star and think, I'm working with Meryl Streep?
Well, when it was offered to me, that was the weirdest thing. Well, I don't want to say "weird," but incredibly exciting. Like a "pinch yourself" moment. So, I was sent this script with a note that said, "Meryl Streep is attached to play the lead and they're interested in you for the part of the doctor. Please read." I didn't even need to read it. You hear something like that -- you're invited to be a part of something with her -- you just say, "Yes." And she not only lived up to, but exceeded any expectations I had of who she would be.
It's a very straight forward role for you. Was that appealing?
Yeah, it was. I mean, I think it's very simple. It's a very clean role. There's no indication -- it's not about me. It's not about my character; it's not about my personal life. It's not even about how I feel about these two people. I felt like the character I played was primarily there to be a sounding board. To facilitate connections between these other two characters -- and that was it. Which was great. And a challenge in its own right, to kind of play it as simply as possible.
There are going to be people who see your name and think, Steve Carell always makes me laugh. I'm going to see this. They will see you in a different way in this movie.
Well, yeah. You know, I read the script and there was nothing that indicated that my character would be funny. I thought the comedy of those scenes relied in Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep's characters. I thought their discomfort and their lack of intimacy and all of those things, to me, were the comedic elements. And I was there, really, just to service that. You know, it's funny: I felt like I was doing that as an actor and as a character. Because I was there to support them as actors and as characters. That's all I wanted to do.
Were there any famous Tommy Lee Jones moments in which he does his one take and wants to move on?
I thought he was very good in this movie.
I think he's great. And I really enjoyed working with him, too. You know, people have asked me if I was intimidated by him. And I wasn't because I think if you go in with a presumption that you will be, then you will be. And in terms of the character I was playing, too, he's a guy who is not intimidated by anyone because that's not helpful. If he's intimidated by a couple or an individual, he can't end up helping them as well. I thought he was great and really generous as an actor.
I did like that Meryl Streep's character's name is the same as Tommy Lee Jones' character in the Men in Black movies.
Oh, I didn't even connect that.
It's neither here nor there. But he has a very distinct way of saying "Kay."
[Laughs] Can't get away!
"Seeking a Friend For the End of the World" is a movie with such an interesting concept, but I feel like it just kind of came and went with little fanfare. Why did that happen?
I don't know. You never know. You never know how something is going to stick or not. You know, it was an interesting little movie. And it was small. It was a smaller independent and I don't think there were any lofty goals in terms of box office success.
Is that disappointing?
No, I can't say it was disappointing. I was happy to have worked on it, but at some point you just have to -- with any of these things -- just let them go. And hope that they find an audience or hope that people will enjoy them. But, you know, at a certain point, you can't own it too much. Do you know what I mean? But, yeah, I thought it was interesting. I really liked the script, too, and I think the director is really talented. People will, I'm sure, find it on cable or on DVD.
Speaking of something like that, when was the first time someone quoted Brick Tamland back to you? In a, "Oh, 'Anchorman' is getting really popular," sort of way.
You know, that is a movie that did pretty well when they first released it. But it wasn't a huge hit.
It took some time for it to hit the zeitgeist, if you will. It was a couple of years later when people were really quoting that movie.
Yeah, it did take some time. And sometimes comedies are like that, especially. Sometimes, it takes a while. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" is kind of the same way. It did respectably, box-office wise -- but it wasn't an enormous hit. But I've had more people who have seen it since it opened who have enjoyed it that didn't see it in its theatrical release. So, I don't know. I think that's great. I think it's great when a movie like that catches the wind, somehow, and gets more people to see it.
When you were making the first "Anchorman," were you thinking Well, I'm probably never playing this character again. It's remarkable to that there's finally going to be a sequel.
They tried for a long time and there was a lot of resistance about making a sequel to it. I always thought it would be a great idea. I always thought a sequel to that movie, in particular, would be a great idea. I mean, early on, we all said we would do a sequel. It was a never a question of any of the actors.
But the actors, including yourself, have become much more famous since that movie.
Well, it certainly didn't matter to anybody.
So it was never a matter of salaries.
No. We just wanted to have that kind of fun again. It was so much fun to do that everyone involved and all of their friends want to be in it, too. Like Adam McKay is getting calls left and right of people who have heard how much fun it was or just want to do a cameo or be a part of it, which I think is great. I laughed until I cried every day on that movie -- and I'd never experienced anything quite like it. That was the most fun I think I ever had professionally.
Has anyone from Asia ever reached out to you?
I worded that poorly. Not the continent, the band. After "The 40-Year Old Virgin" ...
No, no. Never. [Laughing] No. I was wondering where that was leading. No, I've never -- no.
I always wondered if they sent a thank-you note. Like, "'Heat of the Moment' has a few new sales, thanks to you!"
Yeah, "Thanks for all the residuals." No, I wonder if -- because Paul Rudd did a lot of talking about bands in that movie, too. I wonder if ever heard anything back from any of the bands.
You know when you have a movie on cable on in the background, but you're doing other things? "Curly Sue" was on, I look up and you're standing there for about three seconds.
That was it. Yeah, that's not a huge claim to fame. And it was interesting because when John Hughes passed away recently, I received a couple of calls, "You were in a John Hughes movie." And I didn't feel entitled to even weigh in on John Hughes because I was essentially an extra. I was a glorified extra in one of his later films and I didn't feel like it was my place in any way whatsoever to weigh in on him, because I really had no relationship.
Chris Rock has seen your Chris Rock impression from "The Office."
Oh, he has?
He said it was a strange moment for him watching.
I've only met him once, but he seems like a great guy. I really liked him a lot. Yeah, like, how do you even laugh at that?
What's your favorite individual moment from "The Office"?
You know what, it's not like I go back and watch episodes, but I was flipping through and there was an episode called "Office Olympics." And there was a scene where I come back in and they've been playing games all day. My character comes back in and I've had all this trouble purchasing a condo -- and it's been a big problematic experience. And Jim awards me one of these medals -- and my character is taking it very literally and very earnestly. and it's really done more as a joke, but it evolves into something else. And I watched it because there was very little dialogue during this scene and I really enjoyed the moments on the show that were not scripted. It was just a shot of John [Krasinski] and a shot of him connecting with Jenna [Fisher's] character, Pam, and a shot of me being just full of pride -- like sort of misplaced. But very earnest and he's very touched. And I just -- I loved little moments of connection like that. And it was very subtle and I love that aspect of the show -- that weren't even scripted but just sort of elegant. You know, elegant relationship.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.