In the summer where sequels have dominated the silver screen, director Tom Shadyac wasn’t content to settle for the cinematic status quo.

So instead of simply continuing the much-loved story of wacky Bruce Nolan from 2003’s Bruce Almighty, he wanted to tell a different story that revolved around Bruce scene-stealer Evan Baxter, who was played by a still relatively unknown actor named Steve Carell.

Of course, a lot has changed in the past four years as Carell’s big-screen turn in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and small-screen popularity as the politically incorrect boss Michael Scott on NBC’s hit TV show The Office has made him a household name. Despite his success in the edgier comedic arena, however, Shadyac was certain that Carell would rise to the challenge in, what’s been dubbed a “comedy of biblical proportions,” Evan Almighty.

“Steve did such an amazing job in Bruce Almighty—everyone remembers his scenes. He delivered some of the funniest stuff in the movie,” Shadyac says. “So we thought, ‘Why not take that character and spin him off into a different film?’ We already had the basic idea where God would come to someone and say ‘Build an ark.’”

Old Meets New

For Shadyac, an outspoken Catholic, who says the “best preaching I’ve ever done is without words,” doing movies that “speak to him” is important. And that’s why Shadyac says he wanted to stay true to the essential details of the Genesis account (more on that later) while putting the story in a modern-day context.

“For this film, we’ve taken the American dream to its nth degree, which has nightmarish consequences,” Shadyac says. “Evan desires the biggest house, biggest car, biggest job—the biggest everything—but he doesn’t understand the cost of all that. He ultimately discovers that everything he does has a cost.”

Moving on from being the lead anchor at Buffalo’s news station in Bruce Almighty, Evan is elected to congress, hoping (and in one scene even praying) that he’ll make a difference in the world. But like anyone who starts to believe his/her own hype, it doesn’t take long for Evan to get boastful once he starts getting the best things money can buy, like the shiny new Hummer he’s driving to the office.

And that’s when God, played again by Morgan Freeman, inevitably shows up with a challenge for Evan that involves unexpected deliveries of gopher wood to his new home, the constant ribbing of neighbors who think he’s nuts to build such a sizeable boat and reading through a copy of Ark Building for Dummies in his downtime.

“This story is Evan’s journey to find who he really is, as opposed to who he’s been posturing to be,” Carell shares. “His campaign promises were about changing the world, but they’re empty. And along the way, he finds that a platitude is one thing, but an actual effort and a self-awareness is something that is only gained through pain, suffering or introspection.”

While Carell is far more serene (and serious as he thoughtfully answers each question without as much as a joke) in person than his larger-than-life comedic personas would seem to indicate, no one will exactly mistake Evan Almighty for a serious film, despite its timely themes. Especially when animals and some rather persistent facial hair are involved.

Becoming Noah

If Michael Scott was asked by God to build an ark, Carell says Jan (from corporate) “would immediately talk him out of it.” But now that Carell’s character in Evan Almighty wants to be a better man, unlike his Scranton, Pennsylvania office counterpart, Evan quickly gets a crash course on channeling Noah in his new Virginia hometown—rough-hewn, silk-burlap robe and scraggly beard included. Becoming Noah wasn’t a quick transformation, though, as it took an average of three hours a day.