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Steve Carell in Real Life Vs. Dan in Real Life

  • Annabelle Robertson Contributing Writer
  • 2007 22 Oct
Steve Carell in Real Life Vs. <i>Dan in Real Life</i>

Despite the hype, some stars really are just like us.  Ask Steve Carell.

“I was not a good dater,” he said, during a recent interview for his new film, Dan in Real Life.  “I literally don’t remember ever asking a girl out on a date.  It was always someone I had been working with or had become friends with … I was always far too shy and insecure.”

That’s what happened with Carell’s wife of 12 years—actress Nancy Walls.  The actor insists that he stumbled into a relationship, after being friends and colleagues with Nancy for years.

“It was so stupid and so sloppy, frankly,” Carell said.  “It was not neat or cool, but romantic in its own right.  It was just two people who gravitated to one another.”

This may explain why the Golden Globe winning comedian is so good at playing vulnerable, insecure men.  Much like his character in the 2005 hit, Forty Year Old Virgin—and far removed from the braggadocio he plays on The Office—Carell stars as Dan, a widow with three teenage girls who inadvertently falls in love with his brother’s new girlfriend (Juliette Binoche).

Carell took the time to explain what it was like to work with the Oscar-winning French actress—and how playing a father to three teenage girls gave him a frightening glimpse of the future.  Here’s what he had to say:

So tell us about your family.  You have a daughter, right?
Two kids, 3 and 6.  The oldest is a girl.

Did making the film give you pause about what it’s going to be like in a few years?
I have taken a look into the future and it’s a scary place.  I know my daughter is going to be h--- on wheels when she’s 15.  So yeah, I’m bracing myself.  And I don’t want to be an overly protective dad.  I think the reason people are is that you’re concerned that your kids will get hurt.  When they’re little, you’re concerned that they’ll get hurt physically, more than anything. When they’re older, you’re concerned that they’re going to get hurt emotionally.  And at some point, you have to give up that protectiveness and let them get hurt and let them make mistakes.  That’s the hardest thing to do.  That, and the fact that all of my stubbornness, all of my eccentricities, will be reflected in them. 

Do you see that already?
Yes.  My daughter has a very cynical sense of humor already and she’s six. She understands irony, which kind of freaks my wife and I out.  But it’s not in like a rude way.  It’s not like she’s being sassy.

Can you give an example?
Well, she has this fashion sense—at age six.  I bought these shoes.  And I’m thinking, ‘I’m the cool dad and I’m going to show her these new half-boot shoes that I got.’  So I said, “What do you think of these?” She said, “Hmmmm … no.  Not liking ‘em.”  She knew she was being funny but she was also saying she didn’t like them.  ‘They don’t work for me.’  But just the way she phrases things are so funny—it’s definitely a reflection of my wife and I.

During filming, did you pick up any tips about how to be a parent later on?
Oh, all the time!  It wasn’t just preparing myself or worrying about the future and how I’m going to handle an older kid who challenges me, though.  There’s a flip side that I can’t wait for.  These kids are smart and funny and charming and had so much life to them that it was exciting to be around them.  Their whole lives are ahead of them and they’re just starting to understand that.  They’re making that transition between childhood and adulthood, and there’s a lot of turmoil and upheaval but it’s exciting because their eyes are opening to all of these new things.  That’s what I took away from the experience with the older teenagers—that it’s going to be a very exciting time for me with my daughters.

I thought you were really fantastic in the film.  It’s amazing how versatile you are.  Obviously, you’re an excellent comedian, but to see you play such a serious role, and do it so well, was a real treat.
Well, thank you.  Hey, I like this press conference!  Can we get that on the tape?

[Speaking into mic:] STEVE … WAS … AWESOME!
Thank you!  I think this is the best interview I’ve ever done.

Well, we all need to hear it every now and then, right?
Yeah, because you just never know.  I was just talking to my parents and saying, “I think the movie turned out well. I’m proud of it.”  I was explaining the press junket and how I’m talking to people.  They came and visited me on the set, and they watched the dining room sequence, which was a BEAR to shoot.  But there’s no way of knowing.  Once I’m done with it, all these other elements make it into what it is.  

What I liked the best was that you showed what it’s really like to be a man.  So often, movies portray men as super-confident and egotistical and incredibly sure of themselves—especially with women.  But here, you’re a real man with insecurities and a lot of vulnerability.  You nailed it, and as a woman, I thought it was great to see, frankly.
Thank you.  Some men care about appearing that way.  I don’t know if it’s an age thing or a personality thing—there isn’t that sense of bravado. That sense of insecurity is strong.  Sometimes they’re in conflict. You’re trying to look cool, to present your best self. And it’s not going to always be so.

How long have you been married?
12 years.

Do you remember feeling that way?
All the time! I was not a good dater.  I literally don’t remember ever asking a girl out on a date.  It was always someone I had been working with or had become friends with.  We’d sort of find ourselves on a date.  You know, everybody goes out to dinner and now it’s just the two of us, sitting at a table, and that turns into a date.  That’s the way my romance seems to have gone.  I was always far too shy and insecure.

Is that what happened with your wife?
Yeah!  She worked at Second City [in Chicago] and I worked at Second City.  We became friends.  She was also bartending across the street.  After I’d do a show I’d go across the street and sit and talk to her.  We became friends that way.  We sort of backed into the idea of going on a date.  I remember, it was such a roundabout thing, because we’re both so shy.  I remember saying, “Well, boy, if I was ever to go out on a date with someone like you …” and she said, “I bet I’d date someone like you.”  We danced around it for weeks until I finally said, “You wanna?” and she was like, “Oh … okay.”  It was so stupid and so sloppy, frankly.  It was not neat or cool, but romantic in its own right.  It was just two people who gravitated to one another.  And I think that kind of speaks to the movie, too—it was two people who could not not fall in love.  They’re good people and they didn’t want to, because they could not perceive of it not hurting others.  But ultimately they couldn’t help themselves.

What’s changed for you with your success [as an actor]?
I have a h---uva lot more money than I used to!  Honestly, that’s the most perceivable difference in my life.  I will definitely be able to send my kids to college now – which was a question.  That was my barometer for success.  If I could support a family, send my kids through school and provide for them – that was really all I was hoping for, from day one.  And to make a living as an actor, that would have been completely satisfying.  So all of this is so far beyond any of my dreams or expectations.

What did you think about the script when you first got it?
It didn’t seem to be a typical romantic comedy.  I was surprised by the journey.  Because, let’s face it—with a romantic comedy, you kind of know where it’s going.  You’re stupid if you don’t.  But what’s interesting is how it goes against the grain.  It’s not necessarily the journey you think these people are going to think.

Did you play the guitar before this?
My hands were bloodied.  I had never played.  I started playing with a steel string guitar that they gave me to practice on and I had calluses.  I started to learn this on The Office.  He would sit in my trailer for hours teaching me these chords and my fingers were literally numb.  I’m actually an expert on the baritone horn but that would have somehow not worked for the scene.  I don’t think you’ll ever hear it.  It’s the least sexy instrument you could ever hear.

How did you feel when you first met Juliette?
I was incredibly intimidated and nervous.  Here was a world-renowned, Oscar-winning actress and all I wanted her to do was like me.  Within moments, she was completely disarming and kind and had put me at ease.  She could not have been a nicer, sweeter, more self-deprecating person.  That’s the part of her I didn’t know.  She has a huge sense of humor and is able to laugh at herself.  I loved meeting her and working with her.  I still can’t believe I worked with her.  It’s still kind of like a dream.

Some of the parts that were the most relatable were the family weekend.  Can you relate to that?
It’s very similar to my wife’s family, I have to say.  She comes from a family of six brothers and sisters.  The first time I met her entire family was at her brother-in-law’s 40th birthday party and there must have been 100 people there.  I was the new boyfriend stepping into the fray. A lot of families you see in movies are very dysfunctional and they play off of that aspect.  This family is extremely functional and loving, with a huge heart.  My wife’s family was that way.  They embraced me.  They have a beach house in Massachusetts and all get together, at least once a year, in that house.  They play football on the beach, the kids do a talent show for the family.  It’s as if I lifted their family and put it into this movie.  There are so many similarities.  So I understood it and I believed it.  It did not seem unrealistic to me because I know firsthand that these families exist.

Did you ever have one of these embarrassing moments like some of the ones in the film?
[Laughs.]  I was driving over to the house and I wanted to make sure I had decent breath so I had a bottle of Listerine in the car.  Just before I got to the house, I took a swig, swished it around in my mouth, opened the door and spit it out.  Behind me was my future father-in-law.  So when I got to the house, I knew that my girlfriend’s father had seen me spit outside the car.  That was my introduction to him, and that’s become a legendary family [comment]: “Boy, what a class act you were!  A hundred yards from the house, you’re spitting out the door!” So I had my fair share of embarrassing moments.  That was just the first.

So what’s going to happen this season on The Office?
These episodes go places that you would not expect them to go.  That’s what I like about the show.  It doesn’t service its audience.  It doesn’t pander or go where you think it’s going to go.  There are some rocky roads ahead for these relationships.  Plus, all of the inner workings of these relationships, you’ll get to see.  And, you’ll get to know more of the ensemble.

Will you stay with the show?
I’m committed for at least a few more years.  And I love it.  I’m extremely close with the cast and the writers.  I can’t imagine a better work environment.  It’s smart and it’s fun and it’s a fun character to play.  I’m enjoying it tremendously.

Dan in Real Life is directed by Peter Hedges and stars Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, John Mahoney and Dianne West.  The film is rated PG-13 for some innuendo and opens nationwide on Friday, October 26, 2007.