Comedian turned Academy award-nominated actor, Steve Carell, 53, stars in The Big Short alongside Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling in a smart comedy/drama about the financial collapse in 2008.
Carell has come a long way since his days of starring in The Office, (2005 – 2011, 2013) and his first major film, in 2004, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It was this collaboration with writer/director Judd Apatow that resulted in what would become the blockbuster, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, an idea Carell had about a middle aged man who was still a virgin. The role established him as a leading man and went onto star in films including Little Miss Sunshine, Evan Almighty (both in 2006) Dan in Real Life (2007), as well as Get Smart, and Date Night (2008). He voiced the main character in Despicable Me (2010) and he starred in Dinner for Schmucks the same year. He also starred with Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love, in 2011. Carell’s career highlight came in 2014, when he earned an Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher, in which he served up a riveting performance playing millionaire John Eleuthere du Pont.
In his personal life, Carell has been married to Saturday Night Live alumna, Nancy Carell (nee Walls), whom he met when she was a student in an improvisation class he was teaching at Second City. She also did a small role in The 40 Year Old Virgin as a sex therapist. The couple has two kids: Elisabeth, 14, and John, 11.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER MARK BAUM? HE’S BASED ON A REAL PERSON?
Yes. Mark Baum is based on a real person but the name has been changed. He’s an investment analyst. He works for one of the banks, a very cynical guy who took it upon his shoulders to rail against what he saw as almost insurmountable odds. I think he felt very much alone because of that. He was very conflicted because he stood to benefit financially from what was happening but at the same time he understood that the flipside was that people would lose their homes and jobs. And it’s predicated on the collapse of the U.S. if not the world economy. So there is that sort of ethical dilemma that he had.
DO YOU HAVE FRIENDS WHO LOST MONEY OR THEIR HOUSES?
Oh sure, yeah. One of my brothers lost his condo. It impacted a lot of people. More than as the movie points out, I think more than most people know or realise because people also pushed it under the rug. I don’t know if it’s out of embarrassment or pride, but I think a lot of people downplayed the costs and the price that they paid. I think it affected more people than most know.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE FINANCIAL WORLD THROUGH DOING THE FILM, PARTICULARLY THE COLLAPSE IN 2008? WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT IT NOW?
Well, I’m just an actor. I don’t know much about anything. I had an overview of the people involved and the situation and what I do know is that it’s terrifying. I think that was my biggest take away. And we all lived through 2008 and I had a cursory knowledge of what happened but I didn’t understand the depths of it. I didn’t understand the intricacies and the downright fraudulent activity that was going on. So that was eye opening and kind of astounding. Plain and simple, it was just frightening. And I think that last part of the movie plays like a horror movie. You see it unspooling, and seemingly out of control. And I think what was most frightening about it was when we were doing research and we were talking to analysts and traders and people in the banking industry, and they were recounting how they felt during that period of time, they were terrified. They thought it was Armageddon, they thought it was the end of the world, they didn’t see it coming and that’s what they do for a living.
YOU’VE HAD AN INCREDIBLY DIVERSE CAREER – 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, THE OFFICE, CRAZY, STUPID LOVE, FOXCATCHER, AND NOW THIS. WHAT A GREAT TIME IT MUST BE TO BE STEVE CARELL?
(Laughs) It’s always a great time to be me because of my wife. I married very well and really above myself. I’m really fortunate. I’m getting to work with great directors and great actors. I can’t believe I’m in a movie with Christian Bale, I can’t believe it. I never met him until the premiere the other night, but I’m in a movie with him! (Laughs) That is so cool. I can look back at people like Julianne Moore and there’s a long list of great actors that I’ve been able to learn from and get to know and become friends with. So, yeah, it’s mind boggling and surreal and exciting.
IT’S NICE TO HEAR YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR WIFE THE WAY YOU DO.
I’m just using her, to ingratiate myself. (Laughs)
CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP? WHAT’S THE SECRET TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE?
Well, we just celebrated our 20th anniversary in August. I can kind of go on about my wife, I really am a lucky guy and I joke about it and I tease her about it. People ask, ‘what’s the secret? How does it work?’ I think the secret is just marrying the right person. I think you just luck out. People grow and change but if you can grow and change and still kind of remain friends and respect one another and enjoy one another and make each other laugh and still find each other attractive, that’s always really nice. All of those things just help. Last year when I got nominated for Foxcatcher, we were experiencing it together. It was not like, my thing, my journey. It was something we were going through together and were equally excited about it. We decided, let’s just enjoy it together. I just want to share my life with her and hers with me. I want to know how her day was. I miss her when I don’t get to talk to her over a day.
WHEN YOU PLAY A KILLER, LIKE YOU DID IN FOXCATCHER, DO YOU TAKE IT HOME WITH YOU? IS IT EASIER TO DO A COMEDY AS FAR AS YOUR HOME LIFE IS CONCERNED?
Well, in retrospect I’m glad we shot Foxcatcher in Pittsburgh and not here in LA because I was away for several weeks at a time. And it did live inside of me more than I expected it to and it was a very dark depressing moment in time. And so I’m thankful that I wasn’t necessarily bringing that home, that energy home every night. But I tend to kind of let it go, too. I didn’t have the prosthetics on all day and go home in that. But is it easier? I don’t know. I think I let go of the comedic stuff too. It’s not like when I’m doing a comedy it’s just wacky time in our house. There is a normalcy when I get home. Ultimately it’s my job. I don’t want it to just be who I am all the time.
YOU’RE CURRENTLY SHOOTING A WOODY ALLEN FILM. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT? DID HE CALL YOU UP?
It was out of the blue. My agent called and said, ‘Woody Allen’s going to call you in ten minutes.’ I said, ‘Ok, great.’ And so, when you have that information, you sit, and you stare at the phone. And you don’t want to jump at it, too quickly. But he was very nice and said, ‘There’s this part that this other actor had to move on, so we’re recasting it and I think you’d do a good job’. You don’t have long conversations with Woody Allen. They’re very efficient. And he just tells you what you need to know. I think it’s the same way on the set. He just tells you what you need to know to play the part.