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Evan Almighty: An Ark to Remember

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 22, 2007
<i>Evan Almighty</i>:  An Ark to Remember

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.

“It always looked like something that was actually growing out of my face,” Carell recalls. “So when I lose a little more hair in real life, I will be calling Dave [David Leroy Anderson, who was in charge of creating Carell’s look] to come over to my house every morning and apply a toupee for four hours because I know it’ll look real.”

In addition to donning some serious scruff, Carell also got cozy with a menagerie of animals, (two of each, out of more than 177 species). And while Carell fondly describes the giraffes as having “a very soulful quality to their face that you’d never see from a distance,” he didn’t feel the same way about a certain baboon that happens to bring him a glass of lemonade in the film.

“It [the baboon] really was trained to bring me the lemonade,” Carell recalls. “There was a take before the one they used, where the baboon came up to bring me the lemonade and the other baboon went up and took his lemonade and spilled it. I improvised—unwisely—and said, ‘Hey man, what are you doing?’ I learned that you're not supposed to raise your voice to a baboon. It thought that I was getting aggressive with it, so it bared its teeth, growled at me and went into attack mode. After the take, the trainer came up and said, ‘Yeah, don't do that. Don't look the baboon in the eye.’ They should have told me that before I started the scene. The next time I was like, ‘Ahhh . . . don't kill me!’”

Carell’s on-screen wife Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls, Because I Said So) adds that working with the animals was one of most surreal aspects of filming. “People will be amazed at how much the animals could really do,” Graham says. “They’re incredibly trained.”

All Ages Aboard

What Graham loves the most about Evan Almighty is that it’s a “very inclusive” story. And unlike Bruce Almighty, which had some sexual content and innuendos, something that Shadyac says underscored the flawed nature of humanity, the film’s “mild rude humor” is of the scatological variety, given all the animals on set.

“It would be insane not to invite everyone to this movie,” Shadyac says. “I wanted everyone from a two-year-old to a grandmother to see particular movie this because I think they’ll all find elements that relate to them, whether it’s kids liking the animals or an adult connecting with the importance of family.”

And while it’s not presented in a heavy-handed way, it was also important to Shadyac to communicate a message about social responsibility, environmentally speaking—a message the crew also modeled during the movie’s production.

“Our goal has always been to be a green film,” Shadyac, who often rode his bike more than 30 miles to the set, comments. “We recycled during filming. Every piece of material—lumber, windows, door and window treatments, flooring, hardware, etc., that was salvageable was recycled, repurposed and donated somewhere, as opposed to just throwing it into a landfill.” Wood from the ark itself was donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Working with The Conversation Fund, 2,050 trees were also planted to zero out carbon emissions and to contribute to the community. “Because you fly production planes to transport your crew, you try to zero that by planting trees. They absorb carbon and release oxygen. Zeroing out kind of heals the damage.”

Starring Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham and John Goodman, Evan Almighty opens nationwide on June 22, 2007.  It runs 90 minutes and is rated PG for mild rude humor and peril.  Click here to watch the Evan Almighty trailer.