Steve Carell doesn’t have a plan.
The actor’s recent departure from “The Office” could be interpreted as a strategy to establish a long-term career in films before wearing out his welcome on TV. But in discussing his new relationship comedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” which opened Friday, Carell claims to have no such road map.
Speaking on the phone from his home in Marshfield Hills, Mass., the 48-year-old actor insists that “the decision really had more to do with my family than anything else. I have two little kids, and I just wanted to spend more time with them. I’d never been able to do anything with my kids during their spring breaks; I’ve always been working, as long as they’ve been in school.” So the first chance he got, this April, he flew the clan to Disney World.
Tight work scheduling isn’t the only thing keeping movie stars from taking their kids to theme parks, of course. Wasn’t the actor mobbed by fans? “I don’t think I cause much of a stir, wherever I go,” he reports, though he admits “the park did give me a guide. You feel guilty about having someone to help you navigate the place, but they said it really has nothing to do with my convenience, that it’s really for the park’s convenience, keeping the flow moving.”
He laughs self-consciously after hearing himself call the Disney trip “magical,” then stands his ground: “It really was! It was a great, great week.”
That kind of exuberance wouldn’t have made it into “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” a broken-marriage tale in which Carell, cuckolded after 25 years, decides to become a cynical womanizer. Though the film is ultimately more romantically idealistic than one expects from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, directors of the enthusiastically sordid “Bad Santa,” cast and crew were intent on not making a sappy romance.
“We all agreed that we had to keep it away from being overly sentimental,” Carell says. “We employed what we called ‘treacle cutters’ throughout the movie, in moments on the borderline of being overly precious. Whenever we sensed it might be going a bit too far in that direction, we would try to undercut it somehow.”
As an example, he offers an ad-libbed wisecrack that follows a fight between Carell’s character and his estranged wife. “I’m left alone in a parking lot, leaning against a car, and it begins to rain. I looked up, and I improvised the line ‘What a cliche.’ Because it could have so easily been a cliche moment — the rain falling on the sad-sack. That was a way to let the air out of it a little.”
Some of the film’s most memorable jokes were improvised, it seems. Like the very funny one involving a Velcro wallet: “We were rehearsing the scene, and they were getting the lights all set up, and I asked one of the prop heads, ‘Do you by any chance have a Velcro wallet in your prop truck?’ He went and rummaged around and he found one. That became a nice little running gag for us.”
The wallet emerges while a pickup artist (Ryan Gosling) is coaching Carell on style; soon enough, the schlub becomes a hustler. Carell remembers shooting a lady-killer montage and thinking: “I can’t believe all of these extras have to look at me as if I’m very handsome and alluring. That is such a rotten job for them right now.”
When reminded that many women find Carell appealing, he recoils. “Now you’re just being facetious,” he laughs, insisting that the idea is “so ridiculous, I can’t even respond to that. You know, my wife loves me, that’s what’s important. She thinks I’m hot.”
If this is false modesty, it’s a put-on to which the actor is impressively dedicated — one that has often found him telling interviewers he doesn’t even see himself as a funny person. Asked to defend that ridiculous statement, he explains. It isn’t that he’s not funny on-screen, he says, but “I never thought of myself as a funny person in a one-on-one environment. I don’t hold court, I’m not very interesting to talk to at a cocktail party, I don’t tell good stories. I don’t have a big personality in person, as is evidenced in this interview.
“I think to meet me,” he laughs, “is not an exciting, fun event for most people.”
Be that as it may, plenty of people want to work with him. With Keira Knightley, the actor is just finishing “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” which he describes as “very dark subject matter; funny, but also fairly intense at parts.” Charlie Kaufman, writer of “Being John Malkovich” and Carell’s colleague on 1996’s short-lived “The Dana Carvey Show,” just cast him in his next directorial effort. (It’s reportedly a musical about a filmmaker and the blogger who mocks him.) In between a dozen other rumored projects, he adds, Will Ferrell “and I are talking about doing something together.”
Most exciting for those who believe few screenwriters have given Carell material as good as he gave himself in “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” the actor reports he is “just starting to write something for Warner Bros. I’m not telling anybody anything about it, but I would love to get something generated in the next year or so.”
Whatever comes next, it would evidently be wrong to imagine it was planned very far in advance.
“Frankly, I’m constantly amazed that I have a career,” he claims. “Truly. I’m very surprised, and I really haven’t followed any specific path up to this point, so I think to start now would be odd. Whatever I’ve been doing has been working so far.”
DeFore is a freelance writer.