Photo by Jack Guy/ Corbis Outline
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, with Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Patton Oswalt and Gillian Jacobs. An eOne Entertainment release. 101 minutes. Opens Friday (June 22). For venues and times, see Movies.
New York City - it's been a pleasure to watch Steve Carell become a movie star.
Over the years - while still contributing fully committed comic turns in movies like Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, Get Smart and Dinner For Schmucks - Carell has built a portfolio of intelligent, affecting performances in movies like Little Miss Sunshine, Dan In Real Life and last year's Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Not bad for a guy who started out doing Produce Pete spots on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. But those fake-news talking heads segments opposite Stewart and Stephen Colbert, followed by six seasons playing Michael Scott on NBC's The Office, gave Carell the chance to grow into the genuinely present, reactive actor he's become.
And now he's about to eat an asteroid.
"Apocalypses are in!" he laughs. "I remember my wife wanted me to go see Contagion, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, why would I want to see that movie?' I mean, I'll just have nightmares and it will freak me out. It turned out that I really enjoyed it; I thought it was very well done."
Carell experiences a personal Armageddon in the new movie Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, which casts him as Dodge, a depressed insurance agent whose wife bolts upon learning that a massive meteor will collide with the Earth in three weeks' time.
The uprooted, floundering character is similar to other lost souls Carell has played, but this time there's a different spin: Dodge's world may have ended, but everyone else's is about to, too.
"It seemed like a very human examination of this scenario, as opposed to [focusing on] the president with a hotline to the astronauts," says Carell over the phone from Los Angeles, where he's stuck working on next year's The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. "This is the flip side of that," he continues. "This is what everyday individuals are feeling and going through, and how everyone is approaching this - their vastly different approaches to this information, this potential disaster. And it stuck with me."
The plot kicks in once Dodge enlists a neighbour (Keira Knightley) in his quest to find an old girlfriend in hopes of making one final connection. It's another movie about a withdrawn character redeemed by a manic pixie dream girl, but the whole global-annihilation thing gives the familiar premise an urgency - and a melancholy - that Carell found very meaningful.
"Let's face it," he begins, "we're all eventually going to not be here, and none of us really knows when. It makes you ask how you want to live, how to live without regret, how to embrace [life], how to feel it. Which is incredibly important to me in my own personal life, to try to live in the moment, enjoy family and friends and career and just embrace what we have. I think in that way it's a very uplifting movie; it's extremely dark - the subject matter, and the comedy is dark and absurd - but the message is very uplifting."
The science of Seeking A Friend appealed to his nerdy side, too.
"What was interesting to me was talking to physicists, people who actually give you the scenario of what would happen if an asteroid the size of New Jersey were to hit the Earth," he says. "How cataclysmic it is, and how absurd it is that some guy would build a bunker in his basement. I mean, the reality of that scenario is complete destruction. The Earth ends up spinning off its axis and exploding. Everything's gone. It is a very, very final, very bleak outlook. Having a gas mask and stocking up on Spaghetti-Os in your basement isn't gonna help much."
Last summer, before the release of Crazy, Stupid, Love., Carell told me he'd been motivated to move into producing because he wanted to make films that weren't cynical or unkind; he often used the word "human" to describe the type of movies he wanted to make. And while he didn't produce Seeking A Friend, director Lorene Scafaria's screenplay clearly appealed to him for the same reasons.
"It's really funny, and it's moving," he says, "and what was important to me was that it rings true and is human. It's ultimately a very positive thing."
Carell had also said he has no master plan for his career; he just goes with the scripts that speak to him. A year later, he's slightly refined his statement.
"I think the fact that there is no master plan is the plan," he says, "the sense that I'm just going to find myself doing varied parts and characters. I think that's what's exciting to me. I don't know what next year holds. I know I'm doing this movie with the guys who wrote The Descendants, called The Way, Way Back; we shoot that this summer. I play a real bastard [of a] character."
While he's busy working, we can keep up with Carell on Twitter. He doesn't tweet often - just 40 posts or so to date - but he's got the hang of it, using the platform to hint at the Anchorman sequel: "Looks like I am going to eat another big red candle."
"It's just something I did on a whim," he says. "I've been working with Steve Martin, and he and I talked about [Twitter] a little bit, and he enjoys it. I think he sees it as an outlet, just something fun to play [with]; if he has a notion, he puts it out there, into the Twitter universe. I saw it the same way; I don't think it's anything to be taken too seriously, but it is extremely powerful. People have to be mindful of doing it while they're drunk," he laughs, "or in any way in a vulnerable place. You know, you put it out there and it's out there."
Speaking of that Anchorman sequel, Carell will indeed be reprising the role of Brick Tamland in Anchorman: The Legend Continues, to the delight of millions of Ron Burgundy cultists.
"I have not seen the script yet," he says. "They just turned it in, and apparently we're going to start shooting in February or March. That's as much as I know. I can't wait; that's gonna be really fun."
Before that, there's Burt Wonderstone to wrap up and The Way, Way Back to shoot, and another round of press for the August release of Hope Springs, a relationship comedy that finds Carell sharing scenes with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.
"It was one of the most exciting things I've ever done," Carell says. "I'm a supporting character, it's not the three of us; the story is about the two of them, and I'm just a therapist they come to see. But we have these long scenes - 10, 12 pages long - that they shot beginning to end, uncut. It was like doing a one-act play with Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep. It could not have been more fun - and challenging, and daunting and scary."