If you watched any of the 148 episodes of the long-running TV comedy
Carell is, indeed, all these things, though, we can't entirely vouch for the Indiana part, not having fully canvassed the place. He's polite, friendly, unassuming, a "good person," as his former
Carell makes no bones about his love for
We mention these things because they have a cumulative power. We feel we have him down pat and we take comfort that he's out there, making us laugh.
That's why it's plainly shocking the first time we see him in his new movie, the true-crime drama "Foxcatcher." Playing eccentric billionaire John du Pont, Carell wears a prosthetic nose and layers of pasty makeup, speaks in a halting cadence and greets the world with a cold, dead-eyed demeanor. He is a man used to getting what he wants and what he wants is to start an Olympic wrestling training facility on his estate and serve as the coach to these world-class athletes, even though he doesn't know the first thing about wrestling.
It's an absurd story and later turns tragic when the friendless Du Pont becomes unhinged and fixated on two wrestlers, brothers Mark (
Director Bennett Miller had Tatum in mind from the beginning and met with Carell after the 52-year-old actor's agent floated his name. Believing there's often a divide between comic actors' public personas and their guarded, private sides, Miller invited Carell to lunch and, 3 1/2 hours later, came away convinced he had found the right man to play Du Pont.
"Nobody expected Du Pont to kill anybody, so it made sense to put somebody in that role who we would not expect was capable of such a thing," Miller says. "There's something about Steve that is benign. He told me he'd only played characters with mushy centers. And though Du Pont appeared to have a mushy center, he did not. He looked like a bungling fellow, but inside he was dangerous."
For his part, Carell was simply flattered Miller wanted to talk. Throughout a long conversation near his Toluca Lake home, Carell repeatedly says he likes to navigate his career with low expectations. He doesn't like to feel like he's auditioning for something or trying to convince a filmmaker that he's right for the part. It doesn't feel genuine. And authenticity is important to him.
"To be offered this movie was such a surprise," Carell says. "I feel very much indebted to Bennett for trusting me. People ask, 'How did you feel you were capable of doing this?' In great part, it was because Bennett felt I was and I trusted him. Because I didn't read the script and say, 'This has me written all over it. I have to get a meeting with him.' It's just not how I work."
One thing about harboring low expectations, though, is that when everything clicks, you're in for a fun ride. "Foxcatcher" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, winning a standing ovation that seemed as if it would never end. Carell says he never wants to go back to Cannes — because "it can never be that good again."
"My wife and I walked this ethereal red carpet with music from the movie playing in the background and everything seemed to be moving in slow motion," Carell remembers. "Then that response when it was over. My wife and I were looking at each other, like, 'Is this really happening? Look where we are.'"
Carell says he has no idea how the acclaim for his dramatic turn might change his career. The first offer he received after Cannes was to play a serial killer. He passed. He is making a thriller that "defies description" with
He also recently went against his laid-back career approach, pursuing a meeting with a "big gun" director who owns the option on a "moving, important" story he'd like to tell.