He wasn’t supposed to be funny. Steve Carell’s father was an electrical engineer and his mother was a psychiatric nurse.
Funny wasn’t encouraged as a career choice.
“Mom worked nights because there were four boys who were sent to private school,” Carell, 56, recalled. “I felt like I owed them something that sounded better than ‘I’m going to be an actor.’ It didn’t sound like a legitimate career choice at the time.
“I wanted to say the words ‘doctor’ or ‘lawyer’ because I heard those were real jobs,” he said.
Luckily for all, he took a career veer. He ended up as Michael Scott on the popular sitcom “The Office” from 2005-13, and he starred in movies including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Dan in Real Life.”
Carell has Oscar chances this year for his more dramatic turns as a father trying to get his son off drugs in “Beautiful Boy” and a man who creates a fantasy world to deal with a brutal attack that leads to a brain issue in “Welcome to Marwen,” directed by Robert Zemeckis. Enough? Hardly. He also plays Donald Rumsfeld in “Vice.”
Review-Journal: What is a great Sunday in your world?
Steve Carell: It’s a day to just hang around with my wife and kids (Elizabeth, 17, and John, 14). What could be better? It’s about bike rides and making breakfast and some board games. Maybe my wife and I will watch something, although we never binge. We like to spread a good show out so it doesn’t end too quickly. We like to savor.
In “Welcome to Marwen” you play real-life artist Mark Hogancamp.
I play a man who is a victim of a really awful hate crime. He heals himself through his art. What drew me is I saw a documentary about Mark’s life and I was just … it’s hard to even find the words. Once I saw this documentary, I couldn’t stop thinking about this man and found out who had the rights to his story. It really got inside of me. I found out Robert Zemeckis had optioned it. It was a little bit intimidating to throw my hat in the ring and say, “Consider me.” It was the first time I had ever done something like that.
What moved you so much about this man?
Mark is a kind person full of generosity of spirit. In the face of something so terrible, he came out the other side as a beacon of the resilience of human spirit. I think he’s the greatest and we’ve become friends.
When did you first meet Mark?
Bob Zemeckis and I went to upstate New York to meet and spend time with him. He could not have been a nicer person. He’s very shy and has a great sense of humor. What struck me most is he lacks any sort of cynicism. That’s why I wanted to do the movie. In our world, we’re surrounded by so many cynical thoughts. It moved me that he doesn’t have cynicism when he was a victim of a hate crime. He channeled his anger and pain into something beautiful and productive.
You had another role this year as a father trying to get his son off drugs in “Beautiful Boy.”
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Believe me, every night since we shot the film, I’ve come home and hugged my kids hard. This story was so intimate and so compelling that I remain grateful that the real David and Nic Sheff, who both wrote books about their experiences, entrusted us to bring their lives to the big screen.
Does the film offer any answers?
The main component of this film is love. It’s about the love between members of this family and the dynamic between wonderful people who cherish one another through good times and bad. It’s about love — love without judgment, love even when you can’t control what’s happening.
You grew up in Massachusetts where no one in your family was in showbiz.
I definitely went a different way from the family, but it wasn’t planned. I was just that kid who liked to create sketches. I was in all the school plays. It didn’t start out as a career choice. Acting was just something fun. I was actually about to apply to law school, but first my parents sat me down and we made up a list of what I really liked to do in life. Acting kept coming up. My parents looked at each other and said, “You don’t want to go to law school. Why not give acting a real shot?”
In college, you got your start in public life as a DJ.
I was Sapphire Steve on the air at 5 a.m. when no one was listening. No one!
Do you remember your first film role?
I was in John Hughes’ last film, “Curly Sue.” I played Tessio, the waiter. I didn’t speak at all. Jim Belushi walks into a restaurant, the maître d’ says “Tessio,” and I walk right up. I got to work for three days, which was really exciting. I got a few days off working as a real waiter at the Hard Rock Cafe. … I didn’t care about the size of the role. I just wanted to work.
How did you know that your wife, Nancy, was the one?
She was in an improv class that I was teaching. She was so funny, smart and beautiful. All the boxes were checked in my head. But at the time, I really thought she hated me because she was pretty quiet. Later, I found out that she was just as nervous and trying to be cool, which really made me fall in love with her.
You’re knee-deep in the teenage years. Any parenting advice?
I don’t like to give advice. But with kids, I think it’s about how you keep throwing love. Maybe that’s the answer.