Steve CARELL is sipping coffee as he waits for a director to arrive so they can discuss a possible collaboration to follow "Get Smart," his big-screen star vehicle, which opens June 20. Carell's office du jour serves hash browns and scrambled eggs, and it's even more humble, if that's possible, than the fluorescent box he inhabits as the goofy boss of the NBC hitcom "The Office." Patty's Restaurant, his Toluca Lake neighborhood's zillion-year-old coffee shop, is a suitable setting for a regular guy, albeit one who made $5 million for his starring role in last year's "Evan Almighty." ¶ Regular-guyness is key to Carell's considerable charm. Even his reincarnated Maxwell Smart is a regular guy -- or at least as much of a regular guy as a secret agent who dangles from an aircraft can be. (Carell did that stunt himself, 50 feet above a soundstage floor.) ¶ Don't look for the ghost of Don Adams, the original Agent 86 of CONTROL, in the Warner Bros. release: "Get Smart" is no more a photocopy of the iconic '60s TV series than "The Office" is of its veddy British predecessor. "I didn't think there was any way to improve upon what Don Adams did," says Carell, who's perched on a banquette, casually dressed in jeans and a gray sweat shirt.
"That characterization is very distinct. I think to do an impersonation wouldn't have served the movie or done him justice. So my feeling was that I would take the essence of the character he created without the specific voice and mannerisms, the essence being a man who is actually quite proficient at what he does. People tend to remember Maxwell Smart as being a bumbling Inspector Clouseau kind of character, and I've never perceived him that way. If anything, he's counterintuitive. He was a formidable spy. He always got his man in a roundabout way."
But the show's die-hard middle-aged fans have nothing to fear. In his first human role since last year's "Dan in Real Life," Carell tosses off a couple of "Would you believes . . .," and the cone of silence makes a de rigueur appearance, although the cone is dysfunctional in a much more technologically advanced way, thanks to the film's $80-million budget.
"It was a balancing act to try to employ elements of the TV show without making it the TV show and to make something that will stand the course of a feature-length film," Carell says. "I remember loving the original 'Mission: Impossible.' And then when Tom Cruise was coming out with the movie version, it was an enormous world that 'Mission: Impossible' had been expanded into.
"That's what I was hoping for with 'Get Smart' -- when we were originally talking about what the movie should look or feel like, I thought it should be more along the lines of a comedic 'Bourne Identity' than a spy spoof."
The film costars Anne Hathaway in the Barbara Feldon role of Agent 99 with a next-wave-feminism-friendly twist -- she's super competent, the best in the secret agent biz.
Alan Arkin appears as the chief of CONTROL in his second role opposite Carell; the two are Second City alumni of different vintages who met on the set of 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine." Carell, who considers Arkin his idol, recommended him for the role.
The plot: Smart teams with Agent 99 to thwart KAOS' latest plans for world domination, taking on the evil empire's head, played by Terence Stamp, and bumping up against superstar Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) along the way.
Hopes are that nostalgia for the past blended with forward-looking filmmaking will combine to make a multigenerational hit.
"I'm hearing from friends who are middle-aged parents who are excited about taking their teenagers to see it and teenagers who don't really know about it but are intrigued by the idea," Carell says. "With any luck, it might be something that can be a shared experience."