STEVE CARELL (Gru) has emerged as one of the most sought-after comedic actors in Hollywood. He first gained recognition for his contributions as a correspondent on Comedy Central's Emmy Award-winning The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and has successfully segued into primetime television and above-the-title status in the film world with equal aplomb.
Carell's first lead feature, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which he co-wrote with director Judd Apatow, opened at No. 1 and remained there for two straight weekends. The surprise hit of 2005 went on to gross more than $175 million worldwide and had No. 1 openings in 12 countries. The success of the film has continued as it has also generated more than $100 million in DVD sales in North America alone. AFI named the film as one of the 10 Most Outstanding Motion Pictures of the Year and it took home Best Comedy Movie at the 11th annual Critics' Choice Awards. The film also earned Carell and Apatow a co-nomination for Best Original Screenplay by the Writers Guild of America.
Carell starred as Maxwell Smart, opposite Anne Hathaway and Alan Arkin, in Get Smart. The film grossed more than $230 million worldwide. Due to the success of the film, Warner Bros. recently announced it will release a sequel in 2011. He also lent his voice as the Mayor of Who-ville in 20th Century Fox's animated film Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, based on the children's book written by Dr. Seuss. The film was directed by Jimmy Hayward (Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc.) and Steve Martino, and Carell played opposite Jim Carrey, which helped launch the film to international success by earning more than $295 million worldwide. In 2006, he starred with Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as part of an ensemble cast in the black comedy Little Miss Sunshine, which earned an Academy Award® nomination for Best Picture and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
Carell's previous film credits include Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Bruce Almighty, Bewitched and Dan in Real Life. Carell currently stars in the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais' acclaimed British television series The Office. The show is in its sixth season and continues to flourish in the ratings. For playing the role of Michael Scott, Carell has earned three Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. In 2006, Carell earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series--Musical or Comedy and has received four more nominations since then. The show won two Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
Carell's endeavors and successes in acting, writing and producing were an organic segue into the creation of his new production company, Carousel Productions.
Born in Massachusetts, Carell now resides in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Nancy Walls (NBC's Saturday Night Live), whom he met while at The Second City improv group in Chicago, where both were members. He is the proud father of a daughter and a son.
Q. What attracted you to this project?
I read the script and thought it was great. I was attracted to the idea that Despicable Me was a little bit askew and different to other animated movies I've seen. I think it also challenges kids because it is very sweet, but without being condescending. So, the script and the tone appealed to me. And then they showed me some artwork and I thought it was so different and beautiful, with a nice feel to it.
Q. How do you see your character, the villain Gru?
I see him as someone who on the surface seems to be unkind, unforgiving and single-minded in terms of his aspirations (maybe because he has been exposed to a different world and way of life), but who then taps into something that I think was always there. And I say this because I don't believe people necessarily change, as experiences happen that form who a person is. Then, when Gru is introduced to these little kids, he starts to care for them against every fiber of who he thought he was. He is a villain with a heart of bronze.
Q. Did that evolution in his personality appeal to you?
Yes, I responded to Gru finding the joy in parenthood. It's very sweet.
Q. How did you come up with the unique voice you gave him?
I started by working on the accent. And I didn't want to put too much on it, or for it to be specifically from one country or nationality, because it had to be playful. So, I guess it's whatever you want it to be.
Q. Why was that playful aspect so important?
Because the movie walks a fine line between being dark and funny at the same time. And it definitely had to lean on the latter while having a sinister quality to it, but not enough to really scare anyone.
Q. You have never played a villain before.
Not really, but it's fun!
Q. Why is it fun to be a villain?
Maybe it's because you don't truly get to be a villain in real life. And for an actor it's always a challenge to portray the person that you aren't. I think anybody would like to play a villain at some point.
Q. In Despicable Me another villain called Vector, voiced by Jason Segel, confronts Gru.
Yes, and Jason did such a great job with that character. I can't recognize his voice in Vector.
Q. It's interesting how all the main actors changed their voices for the movie. And it's practically impossible to recognize you behind Gru!
I know; I play an actual character as opposed to just lending my voice to a movie.
Q. How would you explain Gru's relationship with his mother?
It's heartbreaking, as it's constructed around the classic case of the son striving to please his parent -who is always expecting more and never really satisfied with him.
Q. Dr. Nefario, played by Russell Brand, is another curious character.
Dr. Nefario is almost like that crazy old uncle that lives with you and that, despite everything, is still part of your family. And I guess the minions and him have kind of been Gru's family until the girls enter the scene.
Q. The three little girls certainly have an impact on Gru.
They do, and once they have an impact on him all his other relationships shift and change in the process.
Q. And then we have the minions…
They are brilliant! Going back to how the tone of the movie walks that line between darkness and light, the minions always make it a fun experience because they underpin the film with a sense of joy and kindness. This way, you are never too far away from knowing that everything is going to be fine. So, no matter what's going on that may seem scary, you also know that with them something silly is going to happen any moment -which I think is remarkable and very smart. My kids loved the minions when we saw the movie. And my son even said: "Why couldn't you have been a minion?"
Q. What do you enjoy about working in animation?
I enjoy how free willing it is. You can try anything you want, as nothing is out of bounds. It's interesting because you are completely in a vacuum when you are doing it, and they put a camera on you to help the animators with your expressions.
Q. It sounds like fun.
And it is! I saw it all as a big jigsaw puzzle, and I felt my job was to give the directors and producers as wide a spectrum as possible for them to play with afterwards. Then you trust they will edit everything together the best way, which they do.
Q. Did you improvise a lot then?
We would first do the scene as scripted, and then we improvised. To be honest, when you have people as talented as Jason Segel and Russell Brand I think you are shooting yourself in the foot if you don't allow them to play, because they are so brilliant and such great improvisers.
Q. What did you think of Despicable Me when you saw it completed?
I thought it was great! And it played so well with all the kids that were in the audience.
Q. How would you describe the look of the movie?
It is very artistic and atmospheric, and so rich. I would like to frame one of the stills from the movie and hang it up in my house. Despicable Me is one of those films in which you feel the director of photography has done an amazing job with the lighting and in creating the right atmosphere for it.
Q. How does the experience of watching the film in 3-D enhance it all?
If you watch the movie in 3-D you really feel you are entering this unique world. It's just richer.
Q. Do you believe that both kids and adults will enjoy it?
Yes, because it has a pure and kind story. I never saw Despicable Me like a children's movie but as a story about a character and how his life evolves. And then silly and fun stuff happens while he goes through this arc. I enjoyed watching it with my kids.