NEW YORK CITY - In just under a decade, Steve Carell has gone from being that weird guy on The Daily Show to a proper movie star.
He did it brilliantly, slowly transitioning from breakout supporting roles in comedies like Evan Almighty and Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy to dramatic parts in Little Miss Sunshine and Dan In Real Life while still maintaining his comedy credibility with projects like Get Smart, Date Night and Dinner For Schmucks. And he did most of it while making seven seasons of the NBC sitcom The Office.
Carell left the show earlier this year to focus on making movies, and that's not an empty statement. He's opened a production company with the aim of creating films that are just a little different from the norm. And if Crazy, Stupid, Love. is any indication, he may actually be capable of delivering on his intentions. At a round table in Manhattan, Carell - sharply dressed in a tailored suit - talked about his movie, his ambitions and his plan to take over the world through acting.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. marks your first venture as a hands-on producer. Was the experience different or difficult because of that?
Being involved with it so early on was different for me because usually as an actor you come in, the script is done, the directors are set, all the other actors are set and you just walk in and do what you need to do. So this was different. And it was great because in terms of casting we got all of our first choices. Everyone we wanted to be in the movie also wanted to be in it. We got to talk to a lot of different directors and get their take on the script, and we went with John [Requa] and Glenn [Ficarra] because we liked who they were and thought they shared the same idea of the movie, tonally. It was exciting.
Your character, Cal, has echoes of The 40-Year-Old Virgin's Andy Stitzer in his haplessness and need to be schooled in the ways of dating. Did that resonance appeal to you?
Well, I think there's a similarity there, certainly, but at their core they're very different. Andy is someone who has not lived life - he's shied away from an aspect of his life because it failed him early on, so he's closed off to that. Cal has been living life but has become complacent about it and now just sort of exists. He's not hiding from anything. Andy had a lot of blocks, a lot of layers. Cal has just forgotten to care.
There's an intelligence and an openness to Crazy, Stupid, Love. that few American films have these days. Everyone's pursuing happiness on his or her own terms, though that means some other people will inevitably get hurt. How did you arrive at that?
The thing I liked about this [script] was that it was very human. And for our company's first production that was important to me. The movie's not cynical or unkind - while being funny, at the same time. I don't think something necessarily needs to be mean or cynical to be "edgy." I think "edgy" can mean a lot of different things.
In this case it means "morally ambiguous," which is not something we see in stupid pictures. Did that help or hinder you in developing the project?
It's interesting. A concern for one of the potential directors was that Julianne [Moore]'s character would not be likeable. That because she's had an affair she would be the villain. So he thought, "Well, she should not have the affair. That's not how this should go." And I completely disagreed because, depending on the actor playing it... you know, that's life. That's a human being. Maybe a flawed human being but not a villain.
You've made this stealthy evolution from comedy MVP to soulful leading man while still keeping your credibility as a comedian. Is there a playbook somewhere that you're following?
[menacing voice] It's all a master plan. [laughter] No, there isn't really any master plan. I go with scripts that appeal to me, that seem like they might have something to say, that are funny, moving, enjoyable. It's really a matter of that more than anything else. It would feel pretentious for me to say, "Oh, now I want to move toward more dramatic work and show that I can do that." That's the wrong reason to go there.
But you have reached a certain level of status, and now that you have your own production company you've got the power to call your own shots.
I do, and I don't know how long I'll be there but I'm thankful for it. It feels kind of strange to have that luxury. To see a script and say, "Oh, I'd love to produce and be in that." I have to strike while the iron is hot. I don't know how long I'll be able to do that.
And yet somehow when people see the trailer, all they want to talk about is Ryan Gosling's abs.
I knew it had to come up somehow. [laughter] He is, I think, slightly embarrassed by all the hubbub about his physique. He's a really good actor, and the reason he worked out was because there's a line in the movie where she says, "You look like you're Photoshopped." And he took that and said, "Okay, well then I have to look that good when I take off my shirt." And he's just not that guy. Oh, he looks great - fantastic - and it works perfectly for the character and is exactly how that character would look. But he's a little shy about it, and all the attention it's getting is a little unnerving to him because it's just not something he revels in.
It's just been announced that James Spader will be joining The Office as the new owner of Sabre. Any thoughts on that?
I think it's a great move. I'm a big fan of his and I think he's gonna be great on the show. It'll be an infusion of fresh energy. I'm looking forward to it.