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'Stupid Love' Takes Carell From Loser To Stud

Steve Carell stars in Crazy, Stupid, Love as Cal Weaver, a soon-to-be divorcee who turns to Ryan Gosling for help in refining his dating skills. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture)

Steve Carell has studied improv with Chicago's Second City and worked on The Daily Show. He's played a clueless boss in The Office and the world's most innocent middle-aged man in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. But his latest film, Crazy, Stupid, Love, finds him taking up the role of everyday man Cal Weaver, who needs help refining his dating skills after his wife asks him for a divorce.

Carell tells NPR's Neal Conan that he couldn't be more surprised at the trajectory his career has taken — from aspiring comedian to TV star to film star and producer.

"You know who's even more surprised than I am is my wife," he says. "She cannot believe that I get to make out with beautiful women in movies. She thinks it's ... one of the most ridiculous aspects of our marriage."

That's not bad considering they both had Carell pegged for the role of wacky neighbor on a sitcom. Carell jokes that the character he's played that most closely resembles him is Brick Tamland, the weatherman from Anchorman. He says he loved the film's total lack of sentimentality.

"Shooting Anchorman, we laughed until we cried every day we shot," he says. "It was purely ridiculous fun."

Carell is known for taking on roles and films that exhibit kindness, but he likes to think they still have an edge. So despite the kinder undercurrents of Crazy, Stupid, Love, he says it's still a complicated film — that's just the kind of world he likes to explore.


Interview Highlights

On his first broadcast gig, radio

"I was Sapphire Steve Carell. That was my handle ... Sapphire Steve Carell, WDUB in Granville, Ohio ... I pulled the, I believe it was, 5 to 8 a.m. shift. And we all know that no college student is up at 5 to 8 a.m. So I think my listening audience consisted of about three people, and I probably was dating one of them at that time."

On The Daily Show, his big break

"It was one of the hugest breaks I ever had, and Stephen Colbert was the one who was instrumental in getting me that job. We had worked together at Second City — he was actually my understudy at Second City — and he went on [and] got the job on The Daily Show. And when the time came for them to hire some new correspondents, he threw my name in the hat and I got the job from there. I really owe him that job.

"Both Jon and Stephen are so intelligent and so funny and just good. They're good friends. I was just on The Daily Show last week and it always feels like coming home to me and it's been eight years since I've worked there."

On leaving The Office, and a possible return

"I wanted to spend more time with my family. I have two little kids and ... I had been spending as much time as I could with them, but I didn't want to see their childhood slip away without really embracing it. And that was the main impetus for doing that.

"I do miss the cast. They are my friends. You know, I think that's the part of it I knew I would miss the most. And they started back to work yesterday and I've been exchanging emails with a bunch of them, and they're all saying it's weird. And it feels weird to me too, because it's like — well, it was sort of like leaving The Daily Show, because you do feel like you're leaving family. And I think, in both cases, it was the right move for me but hard, nonetheless.

"And will I make a cameo? I don't know. We haven't discussed it. I would prefer, frankly, to let the show sort of blossom into wherever it's going next and not to have the specter of my character hanging over the show any longer."

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Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host: In the new movie "Crazy Stupid Love," Steve Carell plays accountant Cal Weaver, whose sudden moping worries his co-workers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CRAZY STUPID LOVE")

STEVE CARELL: (as Cal Weaver) Who told you that Emily and I are getting divorced?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Amy heard you crying in the bathroom. We all thought it was cancer.

CARELL: Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Thank God, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARELL: (as Cal Weaver) Yeah. Just my relationship.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Thank God.

CARELL: (as Cal Weaver) Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Divorce.

CARELL: (as Cal Weaver) And so what? You are. I have to go pick out furniture now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) OK. OK. You go for it. It could have been cancer, buddy. Hey everyone, it's just a divorce.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CARELL: (as Cal Weaver) Thanks. Feels good.

CONAN: Romance, heartbreak and hilarity ensue for three generations of a single family, played by an ensemble that includes Julianne Moore and Ryan Gosling. You know, Steve Carell has worked for "The Daily Show" and "The Office" on TV, from movies like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and Little Miss Sunshine."

If you have questions for him about his work, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And Steve Carell joins us from our bureau in New York. Glad you made it.

CARELL: Oh, thank you for having me.

CONAN: And this is a kind of film - it's interesting, you're - you've been a writer; you didn't write this particular film. You're a producer on the film. You're a bankable star now. You have real power in Hollywood.

CARELL: I'm a huge, huge deal.

CONAN: And yet, you cast yourself as the dad.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARELL: Yeah. I - you know what? Dan Fogelman, who wrote this script, apparently had written it with me in mind. And he sent it to our production company, and everybody loved the script. And we sent it on to Warner Brothers, and they loved the script. And then it seemed to attract a lot of very, very good actors.

CONAN: And again, you're the big cheese in the movie. And there's a very funny sex scene - and you're not in it.

CARELL: I don't think we would sell many tickets...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARELL: ..if I were the person who was featured in the sex scene. I don't - yeah, people want to see Ryan Gosling take his shirt off. They don't necessarily want to see me take mine off.

CONAN: And I don't think you do.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARELL: I don't think I do. I don't think you will ever see that happen, unless hair is being removed from my chest.

CONAN: That was another picture, so...

CARELL: That was, indeed.

CONAN: The - are you surprised to find yourself in this position, where you get - not only get to appear in movies, you get to star in movies, you get to make movies.

CARELL: I could not be more surprised on every one of those counts. I'm - I think - you know who's even more surprised than I am, is my wife. We've been married - we'll be married 16 years next month, and she cannot believe that I get to make out with beautiful women in movies. She thinks it is the most ridiculous thing - one of the most ridiculous aspects of our marriage.

CONAN: She's in the - she's, of course, in the business, too.

CARELL: She is. She was on "Saturday Night Live." She was on "The Daily Show," and she's quite funny and accomplished in her own right. But she just thinks it's hilarious because both of us thought that I would, clearly, be a wacky neighbor on a situation comedy. But all of this comes as a complete surprise.

CONAN: And I think you were a wacky neighbor on a situation comedy.

CARELL: Several.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: None of them terribly memorable. You might have been wacky...

CARELL: Oh, no. No. I - none of the - definitely, none of them were memorable in the least.

CONAN: And I was reading your bio today and, in fact, it says at one point you wanted to be in radio.

CARELL: I was Sapphire Steve Carell. That was my handle. Yeah.

CONAN: Sapphire Steve Carell?

CARELL: Sapphire Steve Carell, WDUB in Granville, Ohio.

CONAN: And what did you do as Sapphire Steve Carell?

CARELL: Well, I spun vinyl.

CONAN: A D.J., in the old sense of the term.

CARELL: I was a D.J. in the - well, it was a college radio station, and I pulled the - I believe it was 5 to 8 a.m. shift. And we all know that no college student is up at 5 to 8 a.m. So I think my listening audience consisted of about three people, and I probably was dating one of them at the time.

CONAN: We're talking with Steve Carell, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Nehemiah(ph) is on the line from Cleveland.

NEHEMIAH: Yeah. Hi, Mr. Carell. A big fan, a big fan of the show as well. I just wanted to know as a fan, what's - which of your characters do you identify most with?

CARELL: Oh, what sort of characters do I identify most with?

NEHEMIAH: Oh, no, just...

CARELL: Or which one?

NEHEMIAH: ...which character you played, you identify most with.

CARELL: I'm probably most like Brick Tamland in real life. And...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARELL: ...I do have to say, that was one of the most fun things I ever did. That - shooting "Anchorman," we laughed until we cried every day we shot. There were so many funny people working on that movie. And Brick was just - well, honestly, what I loved about that movie is that it had absolutely no heart and no sentimentality at all. It was purely ridiculous fun - and silly.

NEHEMIAH: Yeah, it made it really delightful.

CARELL: It was fun. It was a lot of fun.

NEHEMIAH: All right. Well, thank you. And again, a big fan.

CARELL: Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. There are characters like that you play. But there's sort of a default Steve Carell character - you know, smart, a little bit crazy, but also very kind.

CARELL: Well, I just bring my natural kindness.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: I can hear your wife laughing again.

CARELL: I know. I know. I suppose - you know, I tend to gravitate to things that are - and more inclined to kindness than not. I - but with - I don't even want to use the word with an edge but I will, because I think there's a way of doing a moving like that - like this movie, "Crazy Stupid Love" is, I think, a very - in its - at its core is a very kind movie, but that doesn't mean that it isn't without layers and edge to it. And that's what - those are worlds that I like to explore.

CONAN: Well, there are parts of it that are "Hangover"-like.

CARELL: There are. There are parts of it that are "Jerry Maguire"-like. There are parts of it that - it tells a story from many different perspectives, and I think there are a lot of surprises within it, too. And it examines a gray area to human relationships, and I find that interesting and intriguing and ultimately, very funny.

CONAN: We're talking about "Crazy Stupid Love," which opens on Friday. Our guest is Steve Carell. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get Eric(ph) on the line, Eric calling from Toms River in New Jersey.

ERIC: Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

ERIC: Hey Steve, I've got a question. I'd really like to know, where did you get your first real start in comedy?

CARELL: My first real start in comedy was at Second City in Chicago. I moved there; I - and I never thought that I would necessarily be a comedic actor. I just wanted to make a living as an actor. And Second City was the first job that I got, which was primarily as a comedic actor. And that, to me, was - that was the point at which I feel like I became successful. And I think it was 1988 when I stopped waiting tables and started working as an actor for Second City.

CONAN: You actually stopped waiting tables?

CARELL: I - and I haven't waited tables since.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Congratulations.

CARELL: I've always had that as a back-up plan, but I...

CONAN: Kept that on your resume, I'm sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARELL: As one of my special skills.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

ERIC: Thank you. Good luck.

CARELL: Thanks.

CONAN: People will want to know, you left "The Office" after a very successful run earlier this year. How come?

CARELL: I wanted to spend more time with my family. I have two little kids, and I had not - you know, I had been spending as much time as I could with them, but I didn't want to see their childhood slip away without really embracing it. And that was the main impetus for doing that.

CONAN: You were making films, obviously, at the same time you were making the show. Was the choice, I can do one or the other?

CARELL: Well, you know, I feel like it's so pretentious, too, because that really wasn't the reason, thinking that I can just go off and do film work. But I have been able to, fortunately, and I hope I can continue to do that. But truly, I just wanted to be able to devote more time to them. And the first break that I had - as soon as I wrapped my last episode, we got on a plane and we went to Disney World. And it was, for lack of a better word, it was magical to be able to do that with my family. We hadn't been able to do that sort of thing and have that stretch of time together, so it was great. And I'm really enjoying it.

CONAN: Email question from Steve. What was it like working for Jon Stewart at "The Daily Show," and how did that enhance your career as a comedian?

CARELL: It was one of the hugest breaks I ever had, and Stephen Colbert was the one who was instrumental in getting me that job. We had worked together at Second City. He was actually my understudy at Second City. And he went on, got the job on "The Daily Show." And when the time came for them to hire some new correspondents, he threw my name in the hat, and I got the job from there. But - so I really owe him that job.

Jon - both Jon and Stephen are so intelligent and so funny, and just good. They're good friends. I was just on "The Daily Show" last week and it's - it always feels like coming home to me. And it's been eight years since I've worked there.

CONAN: Let's go next to Sayed(ph), Sayed with us from Jacksonville.

SAYED: Hey. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

CARELL: Hello.

SAYED: I want to ask Steve, how do you pull off a character, like being the dumbest guy on television - you know, when you were on "The Office" - but in, you know, in real life it doesn't look like that. You are a genius. How do you pull off that?

CARELL: Well, maybe what I'm doing now is the character, and what I was doing on the show was real.

CONAN: Your writers are very quick.

CARELL: See? I - you know what? I guess part of it is to not be condescending toward a character. I don't - I never feel like a character is aware that they're necessarily doing anything funny. In a TV or on a - in a movie, I can always - when I'm watching something, I always get a sense when an actor thinks they're being funny, and that takes me out of it as an audience member. I like characters that just aren't aware that their lives are a comedy. I don't know if that makes any sense. Well...

SAYED: Well, it makes a lot of sense. And I watched "The Office" - I've watched almost every season and I watch it in re-runs, so you've done a great job. We're going to miss you on that show.

CARELL: Oh, thanks. I really appreciate that. Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Sayed. This is a follow-up email, Janelle(ph) in Charlotte. Will you make a cameo on "The Office," and do you miss the cast?

CARELL: I do miss the cast. They are my friends. You know, that's - I think that's the part of it I knew I would miss the most. And they started back to work yesterday. And I've been exchanging emails with a bunch of them, and they're all saying it's weird. And it feels weird to me, too, because it's like - well, it was sort of like leaving "The Daily Show," you know, because you do feel like you're leaving family. And I think in both cases, it was the right move for me but hard, nonetheless.

And will I make a cameo? I don't know. We haven't discussed it. I would prefer, frankly, to let the show sort of blossom into what - wherever it's going next and not to have the specter...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARELL: ...of my character hanging over the show any longer. But...

CONAN: Well, maybe they could kill you off.

CARELL: I would love that. I always thought it would be funny if Dwight came in and announced - much like a Henry Blake - that I had died on the interstate. But then he says he's just kidding.

CONAN: Good luck with the movie. Thanks for your time.

CARELL: Thank you.

CONAN: The film is "Crazy Stupid Love." It opens in theaters on Friday. Steve Carell joined us from our bureau in New York.

Tomorrow the Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, joins us. And what else? It's going to be the debt ceiling games. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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