Steve Carell is a very busy man. Having just finished a historic seven-year run on TV’s The Office, Carell is not one to rest on his laurels. Building on a film career that began with small but memorable roles in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, it was with The 40 Year Old Virgin that his status as a leading man in comedy began. Today he continues his film career as both an actor and heading his Carousel Productions, where he served as producer for Crazy Stupid Love, and has recently launched a television division. As such, he has little time for tourism. Looking out the window of a hotel room at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, he comments “This is as much sightseeing as I’m doing”.
With Crazy Stupid Love, Carell plays a man who is on the verge of divorce with his wife (Julianne Moore) after decades of marriage, and chooses to try and get over her with the help of ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling, Drive). “I thought it was a great script”, Carell notes in response to his dual star/producer duties. “I thought it was different. It didn’t read to me like a typical romantic comedy, when on the third page the character jumps out of a moving car because he can’t engage in a discussion with his soon to be ex-wife…It was funny, and also heartbreaking at the same time. So that really set the tone in my mind as to what the movie would be”.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have just had success with the Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor film I Love You Philip Morris, and this was appealing to Carell. “And also Bad Santa. I thought they were very talented writers and in meeting with them I just felt that we all shared the same sort of vision for the movie, and you never know. Going in we wanted the movie to have a certain tone and we met with many different directors and they all had some varying tones in mind. Some thought it was a much broader comedy others…less so”.
On love and madness
“I drove halfway across the United States to surprise my girlfriend who was actually dating someone else by the time I got there. It was the saddest slowest drive back home.”
When it comes to making a romantic comedy in 2011, there is a virtual minefield of cliches to avoid and a sense that it has all been done before. “The one thing that we all agreed was that we wanted to as much as possible stay clear of all of those cliches that you find typically in these romantic comedies and when we did find them to point to them , you know, to circle them or underline them and say ‘You see this isn’t us, this is – you know, sometimes life reads like a romantic comedy'”.
Crazy Stupid Love brings a variety of types of love to the table, each with its own slant on how crazy the emotion can make us. “It’s about a lot of different types of love. It’s about this couple falling back in love, or renewing it…But it’s also about Ryan and Emma (Stone)’s characters falling in love for the very first time and how fresh and new, and both of them falling in love with someone in a much stronger way than they probably ever had before with anyone else…And then the love between the babysitter and the younger boy. And there’s also sort of a love between my and Ryan’s character, and friendship that has grown out of a really awkward partnership and a very unlikely partnership. That’s the other thing I liked about this. It’s a rom-com but in many different ways and not just about a couple. Love of family too!”
Yet Carell admits freely to being a hopeless romantic. “I’ve been married for so long and I guess I define soulmate as somebody who makes you feel more powerful. I will never forget on our wedding day that I saw [my wife] down the aisle, I was filled with this sense of calm which I didn’t expect. I thought I’d be very nervous and ‘Oh my god, I’m getting married’. But it was just the opposite. I saw her and I thought my life is going to be fine because of her. I just felt doubly, like this person will have your back and you will have theirs. The two of you will be stronger than you would be separately”.
Of course, he is not immune to having done crazy, stupid things for love. “I drove halfway across the United States to surprise my girlfriend who was actually dating someone else by the time I got there. It was the saddest slowest drive back home. And I saw it in her face when I got out of the car. ‘Hi, I’m here!’ and you just know, not only was it a bad idea but there definitely someone else involved in this scenario. So that was pretty stupid”. A potential movie idea for the enterprising comedian we think. “Yeah”, he quips. “And it’s called The Trip Back“.
On the perils of being funny and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
“Characters in comedies don’t know they’re in a comedy and they shouldn’t act like they are in a comedy.”
For an actor known for playing social misfits or very ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary situations, Crazy Stupid Love sees Carell turn in a performance unlike any other in his career. Working with seasoned actors Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore gave Carell ample opportunity to flex his acting chops and balance the humour and drama in the situation. “You know what, when I first talked to Ryan about him playing the character of Jacob we talked exactly about this because he’s not known for doing comedy and he said that his approach was that he just wants to play it, he just wants to play the character. He said “I see dramatic actors all the time going into comedies and trying to act funny, trying to do funny things and be silly, because they don’t have the confidence that its going to be funny if they just do it”.
Ultimately, Carell enjoys playing characters that are grounded, and that’s where the comedy comes from. “I think it’s less about just making faces. It’s all subjective too, there’s so many different types of comedy…Even in the broadest character I like it when they are believeable to a certain extent. Like Peter Sellers would play Clouseau and its a very broad character but you believed it. You believe that he believed it. You believe that Clouseau is going through all of this stuff and even though it was broad, it seemed like a plausible person. Here’s the thing: ultimately I feel like the characters in comedies don’t know they’re in a comedy and they shouldn’t act like they are in a comedy”.
While Ficarra and Requa gave Carell plenty of opportunities to explore his character and improvise. Yet, he adds, this isn’t always the case. Speaking of what we assume was Seeking a Friend at the End of the World, he explains: “It depends on the movie, and it depends on the director frankly. I just did a movie a few weeks ago that was very tightly scripted and I didn’t improvise at all. It was very line by line”. However, this was not the case on Crazy Stupid Love: “We’ll generally do one or two takes exactly as scripted. Ryan and I improvised a lot in a a lot of our scenes. And I think you can find a lot in improvisation, especially if you are improvising with someone who is really good and isn’t just improvising to be funny.
It was from this place that the locker room scene with Ryan Gosling in the sauna emerged. “It was so hard not to laugh. We giggled all the way through it. I had the idea that maybe my character should pass out and maybe fall forward toward him, which he had to prepare himself for both physically and emotionally”.
So, was Gosling actually naked in that infamous scene? Carell remains elusive on this point: “I’ll never tell. I’ll leave that to your imagination”.
Crazy Stupid Love is released on 29 September 2011 in Australia from Roadshow Films.
We also sat down with directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa on Crazy Stupid Love. Check out the video.
We need to thank Roadshow for the chance to speak with Steve Carell, and of course, Mr. Carell for his time while in Sydney.