The Sunday Conversation: Steve Carell, romantic leading man

"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" star Steve Carell.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Funnyman Steve Carell explores his sensitive side with Keira Knightley in the comedy-drama”Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” which opened this weekend.

Did you think when you were setting out on your career that you’d become a romantic leading man?

That was the furthest thing from my mind, and it continues to be. I am incredulous that it has come out that way. I don’t think I am a typical leading man, certainly not a typical romantic leading man. So that all comes as a complete surprise, and even more to my wife [Nancy Walls]. We sit and laugh about it. When you go through the list of women I’ve had as costars, it’s a pretty heady list — everyone from Juliette Binoche to Julianne Moore, Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Keira Knightley.


So Nancy isn’t threatened. She just laughs. In order to be threatened, she would have to think that I would stand a chance with any of those women. To answer you, no.

Your real wife plays your movie wife who leaves you in the first scene of “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”

And she leaves me on our [actual] 16th wedding anniversary. I hope that’s nothing more than a coincidence.

Was there a cake?

Yes, [writer-director] Lorene [Scafaria] got us an anniversary cake in the shape of a giant meteor hitting the Earth. Probably the first anniversary cake of that type ever.

Your first apocalyptic anniversary cake?


Yes. The one and only.

What appealed to you about “Seeking a Friend?”

I thought it was an interesting movie tonally. It was both comedic and dramatic, funny and sad and brought up a lot of interesting themes. It was a story I couldn’t stop thinking about.

The theme of the finality of life and in what way people choose to live their lives. I see it as a metaphor for everyone, that we have a finite time here and you have to at some point ask yourself how you’re going to live that life and to what degree you’re going to live it and what aspects of it you’re going to embrace and cherish. In that way, I find the movie to be very uplifting.

I think it’s more drama than comedy. I know you’re still doing a lot of comedies, but are you hoping to expand your repertoire?

I don’t really think of it that way. I try to pursue projects that are intriguing to me, and this one was. I felt the subject matter to be interesting and unexplored in a comedic sense, and that was intriguing to me. But going forward, I guess I don’t divide it between comedy or drama — I’m just interested in doing stories or characters that are intriguing and that might have something to say or might be entertaining or might be funny.

I’m guessing that your upcoming film “Foxcatcher,” about a paranoid schizophrenic who kills an Olympic wrestler, is not funny. Am I right?

Oh, yeah. That’s a much darker movie. Obviously more rooted in drama, but again, I was interested in that primarily because the script is fantastic and Bennett Miller is directing it, who I admire. We first started talking about doing this movie about three years ago. So it’s been in the works for quite some time and it’s finally happening this fall. Again, it wasn’t anything that I thought I must now do something dramatic and mix up the drama and the comedies. That’s not my goal.

It’s kind of a surprise, though, that a role like that would come to you, isn’t it? That’s usually not how Hollywood works.

I have no idea how Hollywood works. I honestly don’t have a sense of that — what is normal and what is not. Whether I would be the first person to be considered to play a paranoid schizophrenic, I don’t know. There’s clearly something that Bennett felt I was capable of achieving in that character. I was really thankful and flattered that he wanted me to do this. And way, way back when he first started imagining the movie, he got in touch with me.

Are you preparing for the role?

Actually, I’m shooting something before that this summer, called “The Way, Way Back.” It was written by the two guys who wrote “The Descendants”— Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. So I’ll be playing opposite Toni Collette again in that. That’s sort of in the vein of “Little Miss Sunshine.”

And you’re costarring with Meryl Streep in “Hope Springs.”

Yeah. August 10, I believe, it comes out. She and Tommy Lee Jones decide to go to couples therapy to help their marriage, and I am the shrink. That was extremely exciting, obviously. They’re such great actors, both of them. I just wanted to be a good scene partner for them, really.

Your upcoming films do sound like a dream list. Is your project with Charlie Kaufman going forward?

I hope so. I haven’t heard word of that recently, but that’s a great script as well. Again, very quirky, very different, funny, but a musical, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman.

Do you sing?

I will.

Have you sung?

I have done summer stock in my time.

Whose career do you admire?

I admire people like Alan Arkin. I just think he’s been able to do roles that are comedic, roles that are dramatic and just approach them as an actor, as opposed to a comedic actor or a dramatic actor. I just have incredibly high regard for him. I think he’s one of a kind.

What are you doing with your production company, Carousel?

We produced “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” and we just produced a movie called “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” which I am in. That’s a broader comedy about magicians and a lot of fun. That’s with Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi and Olivia Wilde and James Gandolfini. But I’m getting the best of both worlds. I’m able to produce movies that I want to produce and be in or produce movies that I just want to get made. And I’m getting offered movies that strike the same chord — things I want to be in and things that might be a little bit out of the box.

Are you planning any guest appearances on “The Office”?

No, it hasn’t been discussed.

Do you really think that people want to see Michael Scott again? I think the people who say they want to see Michael Scott reappear would be ultimately slightly disappointed. I think you always wish for something that you don’t sincerely want to come true. And I think in a way it’s better to imagine where Michael and Holly are at this point than actually see it.

I do think that kissing an ex is never as good as you think it’s going to be.

That’s a good way to put it. It’s like, once you graduate from college, you don’t want to be that guy two years out who’s sleeping on the dorm floor.