Interview: Icon Steve Carell

The comedy great talks about making balls disappear and—yes!—an Anchorman sequel.

The comedy great talks about making balls disappear and—yes!—an Anchorman sequel. 

You’ve said, “I’m not a very fun person to talk to.” Is that a warning?

I try to set the bar extremely low so I have a place to build up to. 

Noted! In The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, you and Steve Buscemi play Vegas magicians, and Jim Carrey is the new guy in town. Did you learn any magic tricks?

If you happen to have a foam ball on you, I can make it disappear. The character is basically a kid who finds magic as an outlet that makes him cool, and then he starts to think a bit too highly of himself.

How was reteaming with Carrey?

I’ve looked up to him for a long time. I must’ve been one of the first people to see Ace Ventura in the theater. There were three of us sitting at the matinee on opening day, and even at the first scene, we were just howling with laughter. So I was pretty intimidated when I got to work with him on Bruce Almighty. I mean, he is one of those guys who will go down in history as a stand-alone comic voice. 

When did you know you wanted to go into comedy?

I joined an improv group in college, which was a lot of fun. After I graduated, I moved to Chicago to try to get into the Second City. It was a very fertile ground for comedy, with people like Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, and Adam McKay. It was as much fun as you could imagine. We’d stay out till all hours of the night, sleep in the next day, and then do it all again.

Did you overlap with Chris Farley?

I actually understudied for Chris Farley. He left—maybe for Saturday Night Live—but he’d developed that Matt Foley inspirational-speaker character, and I had to do that on the main stage, which was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. That character doesn’t work with anybody but Chris Farley. That guy was just a force of nature. 

Did you have any idea how big some of your contemporaries would get? 

Not really, no. Stephen I knew was going to be a big deal. As well-regarded as he is today, I don’t think people realize how astoundingly talented he is. I mean, we’ve worked together so often, and for so long, from Second City to The Dana Carvey Show to The Daily Show.

And you guys were the Ambiguously Gay Duo on SNL. Did you ever audition for the show?

I never got to. After Second City, that was my dream, but I was never called in. 

The Dana Carvey Show lasted a few episodes but has legendary status.

There was me, Colbert, Robert Smigel, Louis CK, Charlie Kaufman, Dave Chappelle. It was like a who’s who of comedy, and the odder an idea was, the better its chance of getting on the air.

Do you think the fact that you didn’t explode until later in your career helped you stay grounded?

I’d like to think I wouldn’t have turned into an asshole either way, but it certainly didn’t hurt that it happened later, when I was married and had kids and had my priorities in order. If it had happened in my early 20s, who knows what kind of a monster I would have turned into.

Didn’t your success kind of happen all at once? Which came first, The Office or The 40-Year-Old Virgin?

I think I filmed the first few episodes of The Office, and they weren’t sure they were going to air, and then Virgin came out and they renewed us. So they were pretty much back-to-back. 

There was a story about you in The New Yorker a few years ago that talked about the “pussy-juice cocktails and shit-stained balls” line from Virgin. Pretty shocking!

It’s interesting when a magazine as illustrious as that includes that dialogue. That was one of those scenes where I was just desperately trying not to laugh. 

What’s the line fans quote back to you most often?

Probably something from Anchorman. Either “I ate a big red candle” or “I killed a guy with a trident.” 

Did you have any clue that movie would become such a cult hit?

No! And we definitely had no idea we’d be doing a sequel nine years later. Shoot­ing the first one was really the most fun I’ve ever had. I laughed so hard I cried at least once a day, so the hardest part of the sequel will be not laughing and ruining someone else’s take. 

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