When picking an everyman to symbolize the Earth at
the end of days, you can't do much better than low-key funnyman Steve
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
John du Pont,
which is very dark. Thatís called
Yes, he killed an
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
after your departure and has there been anything about it that surprised
you since you left?
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.
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
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.
movieís got an amazing amount of great supporting actors. Who was your
favorite to work with?
You know, Iím a
Patton Oswalt fan.
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.
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
I assume your role would be a little bit more evolved than the first
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)
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
Black and I think I heard
might be involved. He was getting this cast together but I havenít
heard specifically about a shoot date. The script is a
Hollywood musical. Itís crazy, and really, really funny. Iíve known
Charlie since he was a writer on the Dana Carvey Show, back like
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?
that would be fun. I donít know what or when or how, but yeah, perhaps
someday it would be fun to do.