We interviewed actor Steve Carell when he was in Manhattan recently.
You’re a huge fabulous megastar. Do your kids know how famous you are?
No, I don’t think so. We don’t put any sort of value on it at my house. It’s just I go off and I go to work and I come home. They know I’m an actor, they know what I do, but it’s — no we don’t make a big deal out of it and neither do they. They certainly don’t treat me like any sort of celebrity, which is good and the way it should be.
Are you always your own favorite characters in the movies you star in?
I’m rarely the favorite character in movies. When I go watch a movie that I’m in, I generally enjoy all the other characters because you’re very close to your own performance and the things that you do, and I love to watch other people do characters and perform. That’s my favorite.
From writing and acting to TV to live performances, nearly 40 movies and voice-overs, what’s your favorite part of your career as an entertainer?
It’s the job. It’s rehearsing, it’s getting to know the other actors. I think doing it is even more fun that seeing it at the end. Because you can sit back and watch a movie or TV show and think, oh that worked well, or I would have done something differently. You could sort of reexamine it. But I love, like, on “The Office,” I just love going to work and doing scenes and finding different ways to do them.
Complete this analogy: “The Office” without Michael Scott is like a banana split without . . . ?
It’s like a banana split without ketchup. In other words, I think they can actually live separately. My decision to leave “The Office,” want to spend my time with my wife and kids, but I absolutely believe the show will continue and will be great. There are fantastic writers, wonderful actors, and the show is extremely strong on all fronts. So I don’t see my departure as having any impact on that.
What is something you would like to do that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
I would like to take the kids to Washington, D.C. We’re just starting to get out and see the United States together. This is their first time in New York, so we’re exploring the city a little bit while we’re here. And I’d like to start doing that. Start in the U.S. and get them to know the country a little bit.
Which movie that you acted in, do you believe is your personal best?
I can tell you the movie I had the most fun shooting was “Anchorman” because that was just four really good friends laughing as hard as they could everyday. Making the movie was almost incidental because it was so ridiculous and silly. And Will Ferrell, Dave Koechner and Paul Rudd and I just, it was as if we went to summer camp and were just fooling around for eight weeks and not even making a movie. That was probably the most fun.
How would you react one day if you did something only one of your characters like Michael Scott would do, like burning your foot on a George Foreman grill?
If I got up and stepped on a George Foreman grill in my house, I think, for one, my wife would have serious concerns about my sanity. Because why would I have a George Foreman grill plugged in next to my bed? It’s a very, very long and convoluted explanation as to why Michael Scott does. I hope I never have to truly answer that question. I don’t think I would be married anymore and I’d have a burned foot.
Have you ever gotten stage fright and if so, what did you do?
I’m a big fan of Steve Martin. I was invited to present an award to him at the Kennedy Center. It was an enormous honor for me and I walked out on the stage and there was the president of the United States and Steve Martin and Martin Scorsese and all the other honorees. And it was a little intimidating to walk out in front of these bigwigs and have to present. And it also meant a lot to me personally and I wanted to do it well. I wanted to do him justice. I think everybody gets stage fright. I think it’s good because it gets your adrenaline flowing. I think it makes you a little bit sharper just as long as it’s not paralyzing. And other people who you would think are incredibly laid back are freaking out backstage. Like presenting at the Oscars, everybody walks out there and just does their thing and then they leave. But backstage some of the people, and I’m not going to name names, but some people who you wouldn’t expect are incredibly nervous. Like shaking, “I’m going to pass out,” “I’m going to trip and I’m going to tear my dress,” and that’s all you hear backstage. It’s really kind of interesting. And then they get out there and they’re cool. They seem completely cool
How do you get into character for the zanier characters you play, like him with the squirrel?
That squirrel, for an animated character like that, that’s just pure energy. That’s essentially talking as fast as you can, with as much energy as you can, with as much breath as you have in your lungs. And in terms of getting into character, I try to think about, and it sounds silly because you’re getting into a character of a squirrel. You think about what’s important about this squirrel, what is his life like, what does he dream about, what makes him happy, and for that particular squirrel, life makes him happy. Just he was like an open book. He just wants to befriend people and have fun, and then you sort of take it from there.
In a recent New Yorker interview you said, “People always struggle saying what’s on their minds.” Why is that, do you struggle?
Saying what’s on my mind? I don’t know if I struggle with it because my mind’s pretty much blank most of the time. You do have to watch what you say. In interviews you do have to be aware of, not even the content of what you say, but how you say it. Because especially in print interviews, things can be misconstrued and misinterpreted. It’s a fine line, because you can’t choose your words too carefully. You want the interview to be an extension of who you are. But you also have to be aware of how you’re phrasing things as not to sort of have people misinterpret your meaning.
Why do you think it’s either easier or harder to stick to a script when you’re behind a microphone and not in front of a camera?
Well they encouraged us to play around with this script in “Despicable Me”]. We would always do it, at least in my recording sessions, I would always do it as scripted so they could have it, out of respect to the writing team, which was great. But they were definitely encouraging of improvisation and playing around with lines and discovering different jokes and things and little breaths. They would always say, oh, just take a run at it and put it in your own words, say whatever you want to say. Because in the end, you never know what they’re going to use. And they animate to the voice as opposed to the other way around. So it’s not like you’re trying to match anything. The animators will listen to all of these takes and then take the version they liked best and then they will draw the character based on that line. So you have free rein to kind of try whatever you want to try.