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Steve Carell

Seeking New Challenges Before the End of the World

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 21, 2012. 

When picking an everyman to symbolize the Earth at the end of days, you can't do much better than low-key funnyman Steve Carell.

The comic actor has certainly made a career of being ordinary guys, from his film breakthrough in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin to his breakout sitcom role on The Office to his recent romantic comedy Crazy Stupid Love.

Carell's new film is the quirky romantic comedy drama Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, in which he and Keira Knightley finally figure out what is important in life right as a 70-mile wide comet is hurtling towards Earth.  Poignant and surprisingly funny, the film Ė the directing debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria Ė finds some unique beats in what could be a played-out storyline, finding black humor and heart in a sci-fi scenario usually played for shock value.

A couple of weeks before the film opened, we were one of several sites who were invited to discuss the movie with Carell, his co-star Keira Knightley and writer/director Lorene Scafaria at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.  Due to a last-minute engagement, Carell had to stay in Los Angeles, so we ended up speaking with him via Skype.

Steve Carell stars in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.First, I have to ask you Ė Are you wearing pants?

Indeed.  (He laughs and stands, showing he is indeed wearing pants.)

Did you ever think about the end of the world, what youíll be doing?

Itís all I think about.  Yeah, you know what, thatís one of the reasons why the script appealed to me.  It showed this scenario from a different viewpoint.  Itís not the viewpoint of the President on the hotline, talking to the astronauts.  Itís just people.  Itís just the normal rank and file who are dealing with this information.  It makes you think about it.  It makes you think what you would do and the choices that you would make.  I probably would just eat.  Iíd eat a lot of crap. 

The whole idea of facing the end of the world and having limited time left Ė is that something you would rather know?  Or would you rather have a big pop and everything is over?

Just pop me.  I donít want to know.  Personally, I donít want to have the time to put my ducks in a row.  Iím hoping that my ducks are in a row already and that Iím living my life the way I want to live it, with joy and happiness.  Because I think it puts an awful lot of pressure if you have this much time left to make the most of it.  Iíd rather challenge myself to make the most of it without that knowledge. 

Keira Knightley and Steve Carell star in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.You had a wonderful chemistry with Keira.  Could you talk about working together and getting a rhythm between you?

You never know if there will be a chemistry or whether...  I think sheís great.  I like her on a personal level.  She is smart and funny and self-deprecating and sweet.  I was really drawn to her.  I think sheís a really kind, good person, apart from being a great actor.  I loved working with her.  We spent a lot of time together.  A lot of time in the car.  A lot of time just the two of us.  Sitting, talking about our lives and families and stuff like that.  Itís a clichť, but when somebody is that good an actor, it just makes everybody else better.  You canít help but be better in the presence of someone like that. 

Youíve got another summer movie with Meryl Streep.  (Hope Springs)  Was that very different? 

I do.  Well, in the same way.  You know, Meryl Streep makes everybody better, too.  Itís exactly the same thing.  Iím a supporting role in that [movie].  I have a few scenes with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, where I play their marriage counselor.  Itís really daunting.  And exciting at the same time.  These big 10-12 page scenes that are just us.  Itís essentially doing an one-act play.  Those were fun.  Those were fun days.  Challenging, but exciting, too. 

Did you ever make Tommy Lee Jones laugh?

I did.  Yeah.  A lot.  He was great.  David Frankel directed it.  Just really such a nice experience.  It was only about three weeks, but boy, it just flew by.  Really. 

Whose idea was it to have your wife play your characterís wife, and were you worried that she was maybe enjoying her scene a little too much?

Are you referring to the dagger eyes that she shot me?  Yeah, I donít think Iíve ever seen her move so quickly.  Bolted out of that car.  That was Loreneís idea.  She called and asked whether Nancy would be interested in doing that and she said sure.  We actually shot that scene on our anniversary, which was kind of fun.  Yeah, it was fun to be together and to be doing a scene about the end of the world in which she leaves me, which is a lot of weird stuff going on at the same time. 

Keira Knightley and Steve Carell star in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.How would you define a good friend, and how do you think technological advancements affect the quality of friendship?

I would define a good friend as someone who is honest and loyal.  Essentially, somebody you can trust.  Somebody you can laugh with.  Someone you can grow with.  I think itís like any relationship, friendships change and grow and evolve.  A good friend is someone that through all of that evolution remains your friend and finds different aspects of one another to connect to.  When you talk about modern technology and people texting and twittering, I just gave a speech at Princeton, where I brought up all of this.  The advent of technology and how shameful that its usage is and how it drives us apart.  But, of course, being in part sarcastic, because I donít think it necessarily does.  I think itís a toy, in a way.  It would be nice if people connected more on a personal level Ė face to face.  But itís kind of a moot point.  Technology has made it all so much easier to connect with one another.  In a way, I think it does help, because you can remain and be more connected with friends and people that youíve known in the past, through technology.  It opens up a lot of avenues that way.  (pauses)  I have no idea what I just said.

Youíre 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.  Also as a supporting characterm I wasnít going to come in there and start improvising and mixing it up 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 didnít want to be any more than that.  I didnít want to take any more time to myself.  In terms of [Seeking a Friend...], yes, there was some improvising, and some things that we discussed before hand.  Things that we might want to try, some line changes.  But we didnít have a lot of time, so when youíre pressed for time you generally donít go fishing.  It wasnít a very big-budget movie so, there werenít 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.  (long pause while thinking)  Uh, Dr. Strangelove.

Penny took her record albums with her, and Dodge had his dog.  If you were in that position, what would want to have to have with you?

To carry around at all times?  Huh, like something I could just stick under my arm?  I donít know.  Like just a huge flat-screen TV.  I honestly donít know.  I guess a good book. 

Keira Knightley and Steve Carell star in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.Do you know which one?

Oh, something involving Shades of Grey, perhaps.  Some really steamy romance novel.  Just to get me through those last couple of weeks.

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 rider and all sorts of requests.  No, there were actually two dogs that were used.  One was good, and one was not so good.  We were always happy to have dog number one, the ďhero dogĒ as they called him.  But when we saw dog number two coming out, we were always very depressed.  Dog number two had very bad breath for starters, and clearly did not want to play.  It clearly did not want to be in a movie.  Whereas dog number one, itís like he understood where the camera was.  It was kind of uncanny.  He would turn on cue.  It was like 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 youíre doing now, how do you look at your career post The Office?

Then I have the porno movie that Iím going to be doing.  (laughs)  Yeah, I guess I am kind of mixing it up but itís not necessarily intentional, itís 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.  Thatís called Burt Wonderstone.  Then this fall Iím going to do a movie with Bennett Miller about John du Pont, which is very dark. Thatís called Fox Catcher

Steve Carell stars in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.The killer?

Yes, he killed an Olympic wrestler.

Itís 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?

I didnít go into acting... when I first moved to Chicago I really didnít have a specific intention of being a comedic actor.  I just thought I wanted to work.  I wanted to be employed and do plays,  The things I generally got were comedic in nature.  So I guess it started then.  Then I got a job at Second City in the touring company and it evolved from there.  Itís not like in high school or college that I thought that comedy was going to be my focus.  I didnít even think that acting was going to be my focus, so this was all a surprise.

What did you think was going to be the focus?

I thought I was going to be an attorney.  I thought I was going to go to law school and become an attorney.

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 wasnít shocked in any way, because itís still a really good show.  Itís difficult.  Itís weird to watch because itís like if you could graduate from college and then watch your classmates continue to go to class and do all the things that theyíre doing in college, thatís what it seems like to me.  I feel like I graduated but I still get to tune in and see all of my friends still doing what they do.

Keira Knightley, Gillian Jacobs, TJ Wilson and Steve Carell star in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.Would you be tempted to do a cameo?

You know what, do you really want to see Michael Scott come back on the show?


Me, I donít.  I really donít.  I think people believe they want to see that, but I think in practice they donít.  If something like that would come to pass, it would I think be more of a letdown than something people would embrace.  Thatís just my feeling.

So theyíre not meeting your quote then.

(laughs)  There have been no conversations about it.  Iím just speaking offhand.  It seems like itís better in theory than it is in practice, to me.  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.  No, itís very much the same thing.  Obviously, there are different tempos and sort of different energies to those two people.  To anyone comedic.  You just have to gauge your own performance off of that.  You canít bring the same energy that you would bring to a Jim Carrey scene to a scene with Keira.  Itís a different movie.  Itís a completely different world.  Different thing tonally as well.  I mean this movie has a very specific comedic tone.  Itís dark and itís Lorene [Scafaria]ís wicked sense of humor.  But it is a game, and I think it is a back and forth, and itís a sharing.  When youíre performing with people that are really good, you feel each other.  You feel like, okay now this person is having a moment, itís time for me to just be supporting that moment and to help make that moment as good and as funny as it can possibly be.  Itís very much a shared experience.

Where are you and why are you Skyping?

I'm in Los Angeles, because I'm going to a benefit tonight.  I am presenting an award to a friend of mine.  Shawn Levy.  It's the Chrysalis Foundation.  It's called the Butterfly Ball.  I'm presenting him with an award.

Patton Oswalt and Steve Carell star in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.This movieís got an amazing amount of great supporting actors.  Who was your favorite to work with?

You know, Iím a big Patton Oswalt fan.  Martin Sheen.  Thereís all sorts of great actors in this.  But just from a comedic standpoint, Iím a huge fan [of Oswalt].  I saw him do stand-up, I think when I was doing Anchorman, and it was one of the funniest stand-up acts Iíve ever seen.  Iíve been a fan ever since.  So it was really nice to meet him in person.

Is Anchorman coming back?

It is.  Weíre going to start to shoot in I think February or March.  Theyíre hoping for a release sometime next summer.

Was it hard to persuade you to come back to that?

Oh God, no.  This is something weíve wanted to do for years.  The persuasion was on the studio level.  We had to persuade the studio to do another one.  Theyíd been reticent 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 evolved than the first movie.

I sort of hope itís not.  Itís almost like that Michael Scott thing.  I feel like, maybe you think you want it to be, but I donít think so.  I think Brick should be exactly the same, having evolved not at all.  (laughs)

Derek Luke, Keira Knightley and Steve Carell star in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.So will there be another Trident fight?

Itís funny how many people quote that movie with, ďIím in a glass box of emotionĒ or ďI ate a big red candle.Ē

ďI love lampĒ?

ďI woke up and shit a squirrel.Ē  Itís weird how it 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.

Can you tell us anything about your project with Charlie Kaufman?

I donít 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 havenít heard specifically about a shoot date.  The script is a Charlie Kaufman Hollywood musical.  Itís crazy, and really, really funny.  Iíve known Charlie since he was a writer on the Dana Carvey Show, back like í96.

Another century.

Yeah, so Iíve been a fan of his for a while.  Weíve known each other for quite some time, so I hope it comes together at some point.

Do you want to direct?

Someday.  Yeah that would be fun.  I donít know what or when or how, but yeah, perhaps someday it would be fun to do.



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