The Last Laugh

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At 50, Hollywood superstar and all round nice-guy, Steve Carell, is officially the “world’s funniest man”. Casey-Ann Seaniger puts it to the test.

Worth an estimated $45 million and branded the world’s funniest man, it is easy to jump to conclusions about actor Steve Carell’s life.

When I found out I was interviewing Carell, I wanted to know how he managed to conquer one of the toughest businesses there is - comedy in Hollywood.

The answer was not what I expected, but then again, Carell is like that: a man of contrasts who is clearly blasé about the scale of his success.

As the son of an engineer and a psychiatric nurse, a career in film and comedy seemed unlikely for Carell, who, describes his young self as the type of child who ‘would rather hear a story at a party rather than tell a story’.

When Carell was filling out his application for law school, he stopped at the question of ‘Why do you want to be an attorney?’

He couldn’t answer the question and he didn’t want to fake it. 

“I had absolutely no idea. Uh, to make a lot of money and sue people? To be hated based solely on my job title? I couldn't come up with one good reason,” Carell says.

And that is when he decided to make a detour into acting.

For Carell, now 50, acting was only meant to be a ‘one or two year thing’. It turned out to be anything but.

Over the past 10 years Carell has cracked it big in films such us Get Smart; Bruce Almighty; Despicable Me; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; Dinner for Schmucks; Evan Almighty; The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine.

But it was his character as the socially awkward Michael Scott on the U.S. version of The Office which landed him millions of cult-like followers.

When Carell left The Office in 2011 after almost seven seasons, ratings reportedly plunged from around eight million in 2007-8 to about five million in 2013.

His performances have led to countless Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, including the prestigious Golden Globe for Best Actor in Television Comedy.

But none of this seems to concern Carell. He brushes off labels like “Hollywood’s nice guy” and “the world’s funniest man” and puts his success down to luck.

Carell seems truly content with just making his actress wife Nancy, and his two children, Elisabeth and John, happy, and there seems to be few juicy secrets hiding in this man’s cupboard.

Instead you find a well-grounded, family man who maybe, just maybe, is strangely ordinary and just like the rest of us, trying to figure out where he belongs.

Why do a voice role in a children’s cartoon movie like Despicable Me?
I thought the story was funny and charming and really entertaining. It seemed like a movie I would want to see whether I was a kid or not.

Did the principles of friendship and family also attract you to the film?
All of the themes are very relevant and they are themes I identify with as a dad. When you become a dad as Gru becomes a dad, you have no idea how much it’s going to change your life. I related to it because I knew exactly what that felt like. Everything changes, priorities shift and it forms the type of person you become.

How has life been after The Office?
It’s been good. Doing the show was a very intense, daily commitment and it just seemed like the right time to move on and do new things, but I am still in touch with all of my friends there. You know it’s bittersweet, it’s certainly sweet for the fact that we all had that experience but it’s hard to say goodbye to something that had been so precious to you.

You are also a big history buff; what is your favourite historic era and what historic character would you like to play on film?
I guess I would say Lincoln but that’s off the table now isn’t it…(laughing). ..Boy I don’t really know. I haven’t really thought about what historical figure I would play. I grew up on the east coast in Massachusetts so growing up I studied a lot of early American history- the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, but I never really thought about it in terms of portraying a character. It’s more of a hobby than anything else.

What’s been your most memorable movie and why?
The 40 Year-Old Virgin was memorable because I had no idea that the movie would be successful or that anyone would see it. Frankly, Judd (Judd Apatow) and I just wanted to make a movie that we thought was funny and we used ourselves as the barometer for that.

I remember the chest waxing scene well because it was actually real. Have you ever had a wax since then? 
I never have and I never will.

I heard you danced to Gangnam style in a shopping centre to embarrass your daughter. What did she think of it?
(Laughs)… Well I didn’t go full blast into it but it was mostly at my daughter’s expense to just tease her and make her laugh. But I would never push it so far that she would disown me as her dad. There’s always that fine line between having fun and scarring your children for life.

What is your secret to a happy marriage?
There is absolutely no secret. There is no magic potion for a successful relationship or marriage. She was just right and I just kinda lucked out.

Are you scared about getting older?
I’m not, no. It seems an irrelevant thing to fear because it’s inevitable. I must say I had the best 50th birthday. I went to this surprise party, 150 friends showed up. I was literally able to take stock of my life and my career, my family and the friendships that I’ve gained over the years. It was actually an incredible re-affirming thing for me so I guess I had sort of the opposite experience …there’s no crisis going on.

Looking back on your life, what do you attribute your success to?
Oh boy, I think luck mostly. There’s a lot to be said about being in the right place at the right time. I just lucked out. I can’t really imagine it’s much more than that. I had some very fortuitous breaks and I never aspired to any of this. 

What’s next for you to achieve?
Oh. I suppose I would like to become a competitive swimmer…(laughing)

So, how’s your backstroke?
Pretty terrible… now is not the time to engage in professional swimming career. It’s funny, I guess you reach a certain point and you’re like ‘wow I’m not going to be a professional athlete…that train has left the station’. 

Despicable Me 2 opens in June 2011.

This article by Casey-Ann Seaniger was originally published in the June/July 2013 edition of 50 something magazine.

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