Rivals on screen, Carell has nothing but nice things to say about the actor who voices his character's archenemy. "The first time I met him was, I believe, about four months ago. We were doing some advance promotion for the movie together. Incredibly sweet guy, really funny, and just a nice person. Clearly has a good heart. Yeah, we immediately liked one another. I can’t even jokingly say that there would ever potentially be an animosity. He’s great and I think he’s hilarious."
At the LA press conference for the PG-rated film, Carell talked about what sets Despicable Me apart and about finding the unique voice he uses to bring Gru to life on screen.
Steve Carell Despicable Me Press ConferenceIn most of the characters you play, we see you as this great deadpan comedian who’s so good at playing it straight and making it funny. Is this a different side of your sense of humor we get to see where you do a crazy voice and go wild?
Steve Carell: "It’s fun to go wild and it’s interesting when you’re trying to create a character in animation. It’s really a communal effort. It’s not like I would just come in with a singular idea and start doing it. I saw the artwork. I talked to the directors and the writers and got a sense of what they wanted. And then, what’s great about it is that you do have the license to just go for it, and you trust that the editors and the directors will put in what’s necessary. I felt like my job description on this was to just give as wide a range as possible – do things small or smallish and then sort of blow the doors off on other takes because you never know what they’re going to need in any given moment in terms of the narrative of the movie."
Is it a side you’d like to show more?
Steve Carell: "It’s a side that’s fun to do. It’s all fun. It’s fun to kind of mix and match and play around with different voices. This character’s accent was just ridiculous. It’s fun to just play and experiment. What was great about this in particular was there was no impetus to do it correctly or within the lines. It was very freewheeling and very supportive. We had a great freedom to fail, which I think is really liberating."
Julie Andrews does the voice of your mom and the whole relationship between the two of them is sort of like Tony Soprano and his mother who never appreciated what he did. Did you ever get a chance to meet her? Did you guys talk at all?
Steve Carell: "We’ve met a few times over the years. We actually went out to lunch together a few years ago just to talk and hang out and meet one another. She’s someone that I’ve wanted to work with forever and I’m an enormous fan. It’s remarkable because she’s Julie Andrews. It’s such an overused word, but she is an icon. She is so elegant and beyond what you would expect her to be. She’s exactly what you expect her to be and more and lives up to every expectation. I hope I’m not setting the bar too high for her. [Laughing] She’ll come in and you’ll hate her. But no, she’s an exquisite person and to play someone… I guess she balked a little bit initially to play someone who is a little bit dark and mean and a little nasty. But, even when she plays a character like that, there’s the underpinning of goodness that she just can’t get away from. Even her nastiest person, you still like her. I don’t think you can help but like her."
Becoming a dad totally changes Gru. How did first becoming a dad change you?
Steve Carell: "I think that’s one of the things I identified with in the script. Here’s a guy who has his life set up the way he’s accustomed to, and then is introduced to these three little girls who essentially turn his life upside down. They change all of his patterns. They change everything about what he thinks is important, and I think, generally speaking, that happens when everyone has kids. And you try to explain it to people who are about to have children, and I don’t anymore, because you can’t. It’s something you understand once it happens. But everything changes. It’s such a diametric change that you really can’t explain it."
"For me, at least, all of my career goals, all of my focus, everything just shifted and the importance was my children and that’s where all the joy came from as well, and I think that’s what’s kind of touching about the character too. It doesn’t change him but it taps into a part of him that was always there that he didn’t know about, which I think is what happens when you have kids."
How was it finding the right tone to play evil but not have a scary voice? How did you find the right tone to play that character?
Steve Carell: "Well that’s what we played around with a lot initially, and with the look of the character too. They wanted him to be a bit sinister looking but also accessible and that’s a very tricky line to walk. We tried to do that with the voice as well. That’s part of the reason we didn’t focus on one specific nationality. I wanted it to sound sort of scary but not really scary, mostly funny and silly, but a little bit scary. So that’s what I tried to keep in the back of my mind, that underneath it all here was a guy who might… He doesn’t have a black heart, but he doesn’t have a heart of gold either. I’d say he sort of has a heart of bronze and he discovers that as the movie progresses."
Can you recall a particularly memorable 'despicable me' moment you might have had in real life?
Steve Carell: "Well I had the Minions wash my car the other day. A despicable moment that I have had? Like specifically something I have done that was despicable? Never! I’ve never done anything despicable in my life. Boy!"
Not even in traffic in L.A.?
Steve Carell: "You know what? That’s something that actually came to mind, but like what do you do? Do you yell at people? Do you give them the finger? There’s really no recourse in Los Angeles. If somebody takes the parking place you were waiting for, I tend to kind of let it roll off my back. Maybe I’m harboring a lot of something and it will all explode somewhere down the road, but I tend to just let it slide off my back."