The incredible Steve Carell

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On why he wanted to play a long-haired, bare-chested magician: “It just seemed silly and ridiculous, and it’s a world that I’d never seen in a movie before. I thought it would be fun to split the difference between very broad comedy but positioned within an actual story. ... I just thought it was funny. I just thought the character was funny. He was (lowers voice to a whisper) kind of a (jerk), which I don’t generally get to play. I tend to get offered parts of more likable people."

On how Wonderstone is different from his Michael Scott character on “The Office”: “You know what? I never thought of Michael Scott as a jerk. He lacked a filter, but he had an enormous heart, I think. And he was intrinsically a very good person. And very sweet at his core. He just said and did incredibly offensive things in spite of himself. But somebody like Burt Wonderstone is just a jerk."

On Jim Carrey, his two-time on-screen antagonist: “He’s phenomenal to watch work. There were times when I would forget that I was doing a scene with him because I was just watching what he was doing. I’ve never seen anyone work harder to get it right, to get it perfect, to make it funny. Given his choices, he would shoot a scene all night long to get it perfect. He would do hundreds of takes if he could — because he’s always finding new things."

On feeling more comfortable with Carrey on “Wonderstone” than “Bruce Almighty”: “I was so intimidated during ‘Bruce Almighty,’ I just didn’t want to screw up. I just wanted to stay out of everybody’s way, including his, and just be there and try not to mess anything up. I was a big fan of his, and to actually be doing a scene with him was a little overwhelming."

On voicing his “Despicable Me” character: “(It’s) a couple years from beginning to end. You generally go through the whole script, and then they start animating, doing rough animation and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and then they’ll write more scenes, and then you add into those scenes. That is a process of refinement. Today I have (to record) one line — one line that just doesn’t kind of work with what’s happening in the movie, so I have to do a different read on it."

On playing a multimillionaire who kills a wrestler in “Foxcatcher”: “It was an interesting character to play. No one could truly determine why (he committed murder), what was going on with this guy. Bennett Miller approached me about three years ago and said that he wanted to do this and asked if I’d be interested. I felt if he had the confidence in me to do it, then that was good enough for me."

On whether he considered the role a stretch: “I wouldn’t say it was harder or more of a stretch. It was just a different thing, a different kind of character and different kind of story."

On whether it’s more difficult for dramatic actors to be funny than comedic actors to be serious: “I think it’s a matter of how you approach it. I think when someone who’s known for doing drama does a comedy but just tries to be funny, that’s a mistake. (‘Wonderstone’ co-star) Steve Buscemi is a great dramatic actor, but he totally gets comedy. I think James Gandolfini totally gets comedy. They assume a character and they play it, and that’s really it."

On the tight production schedule for the “Anchorman” sequel: “That amazes me. We already have a release date, and we haven’t even shot a frame (laughs). And I get more questions about ‘Anchorman’ than anything. Especially the international press — Australian and British press, they can’t wait. I don’t know how it translated there. For some reason it did."

On why he opted not to be part of the upcoming “The Office” series finale: “Here’s what I thought: Michael Scott would definitely go back and visit his friends, but he wouldn’t do it on camera. Because my feeling, and (executive producer) Greg Daniels agrees, Michael Scott had sort of grown beyond the idea of being on camera, the idea of being documented. And that had been his life for all of those years, and it’s the only thing that he really cared about. But our thinking was by the end he had evolved, and being on camera and being a star was not important to him anymore. So I think he’s a different guy at this point, and he’s enjoying a life, and he found what truly was going to make him happy."

On how the final episode will resonate with him: “I’ve just been in touch with John Krasinski, and I understand completely what they’re going through right now. It was an enormous part of my life, and all of those relationships and friendships that came out of it are very strong and important to me. I know what they’re going through with, I think, five episodes left to shoot. They’re saying goodbye to something that was very dear to them."

On which ’70s musical his own "Office" farewell felt like: “Through the week, I essentially had my goodbye scene with every cast member, and it felt like ‘Godspell’ (laughs). I felt like I was going off into the great beyond."

On whether he has any remaining goals: “No. I had like two goals in my career: One was to try to get into Second City. When I moved to Chicago, my goal was to try to work at Second City. And beyond that my goal was to make enough money as an actor to not do anything else but act, not have to go and wait tables again. So, no, I figure those were enough."

mcaro@tribune.com
Twitter @MarkCaro

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