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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.
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."