He made us laugh with his excruciating and uneven wax jobs as a 40-year-old virgin. He made us cringe with his equally excruciating one-liners on "The Office." But for Steve Carell, the film "Dan in Real Life" presented the Golden Globe winner with a whole new set of challenges and opportunities.
Carell talks about what was certainly a departure from his typically atypical role. "I tried as long as I could to just play idiots, people who have problems emotionally -- but this guy, he is relatively normal." Carell explains that the character of Dan is "a guy who has just lost his wife and is just doing the best he can. He's doing all he can to keep himself afloat."
And though Carell's character may best be described with adjectives like "normal" or "identifiable," the film itself has some not-so-normal aspects. Like it's A-list cast of critically acclaimed actors and comedians.
Carell heads the ensemble as Dan Burns, a father of three facing the combined challenges of widowhood and the equally daunting task of raising three girls. To complicate things more, the down-and-out dad cannot help falling in love with his brother's girlfriend, Marie, played by Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche.
"It's Bee-nosh!" Steve warns, "not Bee-noshe," as he enunciates the last name of his French co-star. But in spite of her challenging surname, Carell admits, "Juliette Binoche is a fantastic actress. I was incredibly intimidated." Joining the ranks is fellow funnyman Dane Cook to play Carell's thwarted brother, Mitch Burns.
Even with the big names, Carell says the group naturally adopted a team dynamic. "I felt that we were very much part of an ensemble and I think that shows when you see the movie," he explained. "We all thought the movie would be better, and the story would be better told and better served if it was just an ensemble telling the story as opposed to individuals. … No one was going for their, I call them their 'for your consideration moments.'" In spite of his comedic origins, Carell thrives opposite Hollywood veterans, saying that it brings out his A-game. "Only because those people make me look better -- if you act with someone that is by far your superior, you look better."
Both Carell and stand-up favorite Cook are members of the cast who "come from comedy." Yet in spite of this comedic prowess, Carell downplays the humorous side of the film, saying that this is not a role he played for laughs. Instead, Carell assigns adjectives like "subdued" and "tender" to the project. "Wow, a subdued comedy about a widower -- that is just poisonous!" he joked, noting the promotional impotence of such a characterization. "Subdued, no jokes, widower, COME ON DOWN!"
But if "Dan in Real Life" doesn't elicit the side-splitting laughs of other films in the Carell catalogue, the actor enjoys it because of its ability to reach people and make them smile. Commenting on his impressions of the film, Carell remarks that "it really seemed to make people happy, and that, to me, was more important than anything."
Carell found such a change of pace exciting. It was the change of location that proved most daunting for the actor. "Honestly, being away from my family was the toughest part of it, because I'm not used to that. I'm there all of the time." But the people of Rhode Island -- the location where "Dan in Real Life" was filmed -- likely enjoyed the antics that Carell brought with him. Carell slyly wonders if we have heard any of the stories with him in long underwear, "running through the cities of Rhode Island, screaming like a banshee." That moment did not make it into the movie.
Looking ahead, Carell cites another film on his horizon in which he is paired opposite a big name -- Alan Arkin, who will play the chief in "Get Smart," set to come out in summer 2008. It will be Carell's second time starring opposite Arkin, who snagged an Oscar for his performance in the 2007 indie hit "Little Miss Sunshine."
Even with an Emmy-winning show, two Golden Globes on his mantel, and a new movie coming out, Carell doesn't let the fame go to his head. In fact, he remains grounded and honest with himself, admitting that fame has changed him -- but only a little. "I'm different in the sense that I never talk to my old friends now. I feel a much greater self-importance because now I have more money and power."
And Carell remains equally pragmatic about his career prospects: "I don't want to set my goals too high, but I am definitely going to win an Oscar for this film. The field is wide open. I think it's a foregone conclusion that I'll be standing there. Well, I'll be standing there whether or not I'm invited."