Upon meeting Steve Carell, I was expecting this outrageous Michael Scott-like character, but in reality, Steve is this down-to-earth, hilarious guy who's obviously one hell of a dad.
He opens up about his new animated film, Despicable Me, in which he plays the lead character Gru, a villain who finds himself becoming a dad.
How would you say you brought your experience as a dad into this project?
That's what interested me about the script in the first place. It's the quintessential journey of becoming a parent. That to me is really the story. Someone has their life structured the way they want, or think that's how they want it to be, and then you introduce kids and it changes. And you can't explain it to someone who's about to have kids how it's about to change. I've tried, but I've given up at this point. But the common thread is it changes everything: how you think about yourself, your life, and how you view the world around you.
It's so overwhelming and to watch this super-villain go through that is really funny. I'll be honest, when I first saw the movie, I got all welled up at the end. And then I watched it again, and I teared up again! And it's because that character is going through exactly what a parent goes through and finding the power of that connection with your kids is overwhelming and there's nothing else like it.
Does doing an accent make the film harder, easier, more or less enjoyable?
It's fun! Especially for a movie like this because we try to strike that balance between a character that's a little bit sinister but mostly fun and accessible and potentially has an inner-sweetness that we may not see initially. For this accent, I thought it shouldn't be a real accent of any kind, more of a big net cast over Europe in general. But it was fun. And it certainly wasn't limiting. If anything it was great wrapping your mouth around words and playing with it, because that's what this whole thing was, it was just a matter of play and experiment and explore.
We spent the first hour of the first session playing with different voices and accents. Part of it is the look, so we had pictures of Gru all over the room and we tried to match the voice to how we thought he would talk.
Have your kids seen the film?
Yeah, they loved it. They both walked out and were overjoyed by it, but my 6-year-old son said, "It was great, but why didn't you play a minion?" So I'm that close to being cool, if only I'd have been a minion.
What was your favorite scene in the movie?
I loved that last scene, reading the Sleepy Kittens book and the minions line up. That gets to me as well. It's a nice arc. And it's such a nice, simple story too. And has a lot of action. That's why I think both boys and girls will like it because it has a lot of action, and gadgets which boys will gravitate to. Like the squid gun. I love the fact that the squid is looking around as he sits in the gun.
If you could invent a gun that would simplify your life, what type of gun would it be?
The make-my-own-dinner gun!
How would you describe yourself as a dad? Are you funny, strict?
I try to be a hybrid of both. You know, as a parent you walk a fine line. You want your kids to have respect, you don't want to coddle them. You don't want to be their buddy, but you kinda do. You want to have that connection but you want them to respect when you draw the line; they need a sense of structure because it helps them feel more secure. But we laugh a lot, we're a pretty silly family. The trickiest thing is my wife and I presenting that united front, because kids are cagey, they'll go from one parent to the other asking the same thing, so it's a matter of communication with your spouse and knowing what the parameters are.
Do you see your humor coming out in your children now that they're getting older?
Absolutely. They understand irony at ages 6 and 9, but in a sweet way, not in a weird, jaded way. They have a very good sense of themselves. They don't take themselves too seriously, which I think is important.
Do you ever find yourself doing things that you swore you'd never do as a parent?
All the time. I hear myself saying things like, "I'm going to pull this car over!" I mean, it's such a benign threat, but I catch myself saying it! I'm like, "Really? That's become me?" You do though, with the same kind of phrases popping up all the time.
One of my favorite parts in the movie is when he blasts the game booth at the fair for the little girl. Do you ever find yourself being overly protective in that sense?
Absolutely. And the follow-up to that is when he storms Vector's house. The first time he tries to get in, he's pretty anemic, he's not having any great success. The second time, when he knows those kids are in there and in jeopardy, I'm actually welling up just thinking of it. Because as a parent, you would throw yourself under a bus for your kids and not even think about it. There's not a split second of hesitation. It's like, he comes across a big shark, and is just like "Nope!" and keeps going. Because it becomes about them and you'd do anything for your kids, so I totally identify with that.
The Sleepy Kittens book is such a huge hit in the movie -- what books do you read to your kids and do you pull out all the stops with voices?
I love in the movie how he's like [in accented voice] "What is this?" to the book [laughs]. But as for me, generally my wife puts my son to bed and I put my daughter to bed, sometimes we switch it up, and we have stacks of books that we're always cycling through. But after my son is read to, lights go out, he demands every night, and this has been going on for some time now, a story that involves a hamster. But my wife is running out of scenarios. And there's very specific things that he wants the hamster to accomplish. But that's one of the greatest things for me to be able to work here in town, to be home for that time while they're little, you don't get that back. I'm always trying to memorize those moments.
Do you ever feel wiped out like your character in Date Night?
Oh yeah. Especially in the early years when they're less self-sufficient. Because we're not prepared and you don't know what to expect, you're catching an hour of sleep every now and then. But that's part of what's built in, they're putting you through the ringer for a reason.
A big thank you to Steve for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out the other interviews from the rest of the Despicable Me cast!
Are you a fan of Steve Carell? Are you excited about seeing him in an animated film?
Images via Universal Studios