Ever since leaving his iconic role as Michael Scott on The Office, Steve Carell‘s acting career has not suffered. He stood out in a leading role in last summer’s hit romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. and now he looks to repeat the same success as Dodge alongside Keira Knightley in “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Carell spoke to us at a recent roundtable in NYC via Skype (he’s very busy). Along with discussing his latest role, Carell also told us why he would never reprise his role on The Office, as well as an inside scoop on Anchorman 2.
Do you ever think about the end of the world, what you’d be doing?
All I think about. That’s one of the reasons the script appealed to me, because it showed this scenarios from a different viewpoint. It’s not the viewpoint of the president on the hotline talking to the astronauts, it’s just people. It’s just the normal rank and file who are dealing with this information, and I think it makes you think about it. It makes you think about what you would do and the choices you would make. And I’d probably just eat. I’d eat a lot of crap.
The whole idea of facing the end of the world and knowing you have a limited amount of time left, is that something that you’d rather know if it was going to happen, or would you like to just have a big “pop” and just have everything end without worrying about it?
Just pop me. I don’t wanna know. I mean personally, I don’t want to have the time to put my ducks in a row. I’m hoping that my ducks are in a row already and that I’m living my life the way I want to live it, with joy and happiness. Because I think it puts an awful lot of pressure, you know you have this much time left so make the most of it. I’d rather challenge myself to make the most of it without that knowledge.
You’ve got a wonderful chemistry with Keira [Knightley], can you talk about working together and getting a rhythm between you and how you worked?
You know what, you never know if there will be a chemistry. I think she’s great, I mean I like her on a personal level. I think she’s smart and funny and self-deprecating and sweet and I was really drawn to her. I think she’s a really kind person, apart from just being a great actor. So I loved working with her. We spend a lot of time together, a lot of time in the car, a lot of time just the two of us, just sitting talking about our lives and families and stuff like that. And when somebody’s that good, you know it’s a cliché, but when somebody’s that good an actor it just makes everybody else better, and you can’t help but be better in the presence of someone like that.
You’ve got a summer movie with Meryl Streep. Was that very different?
Well, in the same way, Meryl Streep makes everybody better too, I mean it’s exactly the same thing. I’m a supporting role in that movie and I have a few scenes with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones where I play their marriage council. And it’s really daunting and exciting at the same time. These big, ten or twelve page scenes that are just us, and it’s essentially doing a one-act play. And those were fun, those were fun days. It was challenging but exciting too.
Whose idea was it to have your wife play your wife in here, and were you worried that she maybe enjoyed her scene a little too much?
Are you referring to the dagger eyes that she shot? Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her move so quickly. She bolted out of the car. That was Marie’s idea, she called and asked whether Nancy [Carell] would be interested in doing that and she said “sure.” We actually shot the scene on our anniversary. Which is kind of fun. It was fun to be together and to be doing a scene about the end of the world in which she leaves me. There was like a lot of weird stuff going on.
How would you define a “good friend” and how do you think modern technology’s advancement affects the quality of friendship?
I would define a good friend by someone who is honest and loyal and essentially somebody that you can trust, somebody that you can laugh with, and somebody that you can grow with. I think it’s like any relationship. Friendships change and grow and evolve and a good friend is someone that, through all of that evolution, remains your friend and finds different aspects of one another to connect to. I think when you talk about modern technology and people texting, you know I just gave a speech at Princeton where I brought up all of this, the advent of technology, and how shameful it’s usage is and how it drives us apart. But, I of course am being in part sarcastic, because I don’t think it necessarily does. It would be nice if people connected more on a personal level, face to face, but it’s kind of a moot point. Technology’s made it all so much easier to connect with one another. In a way I think it does help because you can be more connected with friends and people that you’ve known in the past through technology, so I think it opens up a lot of avenues that way. I have no idea what I just said. (Laughs).
You’re working with a writer/director on this movie, do you get to improvise occasionally, or just start riffing in scenes? And similarly, when you were with Meryl and Tommy Lee Jones doing these little one acts, was there improvisation there as well?
Not so much with Hope Springs, that was a pretty tightly written sequence. And also as a supporting character I wasn’t gonna come in there and start improvising. I mean you’ve seen enough with Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep. I felt like I need to service it, I needed to be a good scene partner to them, but I didn’t wanna be any more than that. I didn’t wanna take any more time to myself. There was some improvising, and some things that we discussed before hand, things that we might wanna try, some line changes. But we didn’t have a lot of time so, when you’re pressed for time you generally don’t go fishing, and it wasn’t a very big-budget movie so, there weren’t days upon days at a certain location to be exploring different improvisation. So it was limited, but there was some.
Outside of this movie, do you have a favorite end of the world movie?
Boy, a favorite end of the world movie. Dr. Strangelove.
Did you ever get worried that Sorry [the dog in the film] was trying to upstage you in some of the scenes?
Yeah, that dog was just a bastard. Had a huge writer and all sorts of requests. No, there were actually two dogs that were used. One was good, and one was not so good. And we were always happy to have dog number one, the “hero dog” as they called him. But when we saw dog number two coming, we were always very depressed. Dog number two had very bad breath, and clearly did not want to play. It clearly did not want to be in a movie. Whereas dog number one, it’s like he understood where the camera was. He would turn on cue, it was crazy, really sweet. And dog number two was just sort of an a-hole.
You seem to like mixing it up. You just mentioned a supporting role, this is a low-budget movie that you’re doing now, how do you look at your career post The Office?
And then I have the porno movie that I’m in. (Laughs) Yeah, I guess I am kind of mixing it up but it’s not necessarily intentional, it’s just by virtue of the things that I have going right now. I just finished a much broader comedy with Jim Carrey about rival magicians, that we finished about a month and a half ago. That’s called Burt Wonderstone. But then this fall I’m going to do a movie with Bennett Miller about John Dupont, which is very dark. That’s called Fox Catcher.
It’s very hard to do comedy, yet you find great comedic timing. At what point in your life did you know that comedy was meant for you?
When I first moved to Chicago I really didn’t have a specific intention of being a comedic actor. I just thought I wanted to work. I wanted to be employed and do plays and the things I generally got were comedic in nature. So I guess it started then and then I got a job at Second City in the touring company and it evolved from there. But it’s not like in high school that I thought that comedy was gonna be my focus. I didn’t even think that acting was gonna be my focus, so this was all a surprise.
What did you think was gonna be the focus?
I thought I was gonna be an attorney. I thought I was going to go to law school and become an attorney.
Steve, what do you think of The Office after your departure and has there been anything about it that surprised you since you left?
Nothing that surprised me. I knew it would be great and the writing is still strong. I wasn’t shocked in any way because it’s still a good show. It’s weird to watch because it’s like if you could graduate from college and then watch your classmates continue to go to class and do all the things that they’re doing in college, that’s what it seems like to me. Because I feel like I graduated but I still get to tune in and see all of my friends still doing what they do.
Would you be tempted to do a cameo?
You know what, do you really wanna see Michael Scott come back on the show?
I don’t. I think people believe they wanna see that but I think in practice they don’t. I think in practice it might be more of a letdown than something they would embrace. That’s just my feeling.
So they’re not meeting your quote then.
(laughs) There have been no conversations about it. I’m just speaking offhand. It seems like it’s better in theory than it is in practice. But you never know.
They say that comedy is like a game of badminton, you keep going back and forth over the net. Was that true with you and Keira and was that true with you and Jim Carrey, or was that more like a battle for who gets the biggest laugh?
Oh not at all. Jim, boy, he is so funny in this movie too. Obviously there are different tempos and sort of different energies, to anyone comedic, and I think you just have to gauge your own performance off of that.You can’t bring the same energy that you would bring to a Jim Carrey scene to a scene with Keira. It’s a different movie, it’s a completely different world. Different thing totally as well. I mean this movie has a very specific comedic tone. It’s dark and it’s Lorene’s [Scafaria] sort of wicked sense of humor. But it is a game, and I think it is a back and forth, and it’s a sharing. I think when you’re performing with people that are really good, you feel each other. You feel like, okay now this person is having a moment, it’s time for me to just be supportive of that moment and to help make that moment as good and as funny as it can possibly be. So I think it’s very much a shared experience.
This movie’s got a great amount of amazing supporting actors, who was your favorite to work with?
You know, I’m a big Patton Oswalt fan. Martin Sheen, you know there’s all sorts of great actors in this. But just from a comedic standpoint, I’m a huge fan and I saw him do stand-up, I think when I was doing Anchorman, and it was one of the funniest stand-up acts I’ve ever seen and I’ve been a fan ever since. So it was really nice to meet him in person.
Is Anchorman coming back?
It is. we’re gonna start to shoot in I think February or March and they’re looking for a release I think sometime next summer.
Was it hard to persuade you to come back to that?
Oh God, no I mean this is something we’ve wanted to do for years. The persuasion was on the studio level. We had to persuade the studio to do another one. They’d been talking about doing it for a number of years. We all wanted to. As soon as we finished the first one we started talking about doing another one.
I assume your role would be a little bit more involved than the first movie.
I sort of hope it’s not. It’s almost like that Michael Scott thing. I feel like, maybe you want it to be, but I don’t think so. I think Brick should be exactly the same, having evolved not at all. (Laughs)
So will there be another Trident fight?
It’s funny how many people quote that movie with, “I’m in a glass box of emotion” or “I ate a big red candle.”
“I love lamp”?
It’s weird how it sort of entered into the pop culture. We got together about two months ago to shoot a teaser trailer and it was like no time had passed. It was really fun.
Steve can you tell us anything about your project with Charlie Kaufman?
I don’t know where that is right now. I know that he had been assembling a cast of Jack Black and I think I heard Kate Winslet might be involved. He was getting this cast together but I haven’t heard specifically a shoot date. The script is a Charlie Kaufman Hollywood musical. It’s crazy, and really really funny. I’ve known Charlie since he was a writer on the Dana Carvey show, back like ’96.
Yeah, so I’ve been a fan of this for a while and we’ve known each other for quite some time, so I hope it comes together at some point.
Do you wanna direct?
Someday. Yeah that would be fun. I don’t know what or when or how, but yeah, perhaps someday it would be fun to do.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is now in wide release.