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The 'Real Life' of Actor Steve Carell

By the end of The 40 Year Old Virgin, the title character had lost his virginity — and actor Steve Carell had become a star.

The actor, who was a correspondent on Comedy Central's The Daily Show for several years, has gone on to films including Little Miss Sunshine and Evan Almighty, and next summer he'll star as hapless secret agent Maxwell Smart in a Hollywood adaptation of the vintage TV series Get Smart. And of course he's got a central role on NBC's The Office.

Now Carell is starring in Dan in Real Life, a big-screen comedy about a newspaper columnist who dispenses advice about parenting — never mind his own problems on the home front. Among other things, he falls in love with a woman without realizing that she's his brother's girlfriend.

43:32

Other segments from the episode on October 24, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 24, 2007: Interview with Steve Carell; Review of Mickey Heart and Zakir Hussain's album "Global Drum Project," and Loop 2.4.3's album "Batterie."

Transcript

DATE October 24, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

"Dan in Real Life"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "The 40 Year Old Virgin")

Unidentified Actor #1: (In character) Yo, answer this question, are you a
virgin? Are you a virgin?

Mr. STEVE CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) Yeah, like, not since I was 10.

Mr. SETH ROGEN: (As Cal) It all makes sense! You're a virgin.

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) I am--shut up.

Unidentified Actor #2: (In character) How does that happen?

Actor #1: (In character) He's a...(word censored by network)...virgin.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Cal) I knew it. That makes so much sense, man. He's a
virgin.

Unidentified Actor #3: (In character) But, wait, wait, wait, wait. You.

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) You guys are hilarious.

Unidentified Actor #4: (In character) All right. All right. Come on, don't
be mean.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and my guest, Steve Carell,
in a scene from "The 40 Year Old Virgin." By the end of the film, the
character lost his virginity and Carell became a star. He now stars in the
NBC series "The Office," for which he earned a Golden Globe Award. He
co-starred in "Little Miss Sunshine," starred in "Evan Almighty" and next
summer will play Maxwell Smart in a movie adaptation of the TV series "Get
Smart." Carell was a correspondent on "The Daily Show" from 1999 to 2004.

Now he's starring in the new romantic comedy "Dan in Real Life." He plays a
newspaper columnist who gives advice about parenting, but he's having plenty
of problems with his own kids. His wife died four years ago and he's now
raising a young daughter as well as two teenage girls who want more
independence than he's willing to give them. In this scene, a teenage boy
knocks on the family's door and Carell opens it.

(Soundbite of "Dan in Real Life")

Mr. CARELL: (As Dan Burns) Yes?

Mr. FELIPE DIEPPA: (As Marty Barasco) Very good column, sir. That last bit
about curfews's very apt. And may I also say that yesterday's column
on...(unintelligible)...was excellent.

Mr. CARELL: (As Dan Burns) Who are you?

Mr. DIEPPA: (As Marty Barasco) I'm Marty Barasco. Anyway, I would like to
especially thank you for last Friday's column. It really helped me understand
my parents.

Mr. CARELL: (As Dan Burns) OK. Well, Marty, what else can I do for you?

Mr. DIEPPA: (As Marty Barasco) I'd like to see your daughter, sir. If I
could.

Mr. CARELL: (As Dan Burns) Ah. Jane. Jane!

Mr. DIEPPA: (As Marty Barasco) Actually, I'm here for Cara.

Mr. CARELL: (As Dan Burns) Nice to meet you, Marty. Come back in two years.

Unidentified Actor #5: (In character) Dad!

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Steve Carell, welcome to FRESH AIR. Did you like the idea of being a
leading man in "Dan in Real Life," a leading man without also having to be a
virgin?

Mr. CARELL: It's all I've ever hoped for in life is to be a leading man that
is also not a virgin.

GROSS: What did this movie give you a chance to do that you haven't done
before?

Mr. CARELL: Dance with Juliette Binoche. I've never done that before. I
think tonally it's a bit different than some of the other things I've done,
only in that it's a very plausible character. It's not someone that's much of
a stretch in terms of being ridiculous or up against a ridiculous scenario,
like "40 Year Old Virgin" or the Michael Scott character on "The Office." You
know, both of those are--I try to make them as truthful as I can, but they're
also, you know, they're kind of stretching boundaries of reality in a sense.
But I think this character was a little bit more--I guess--well, without using
the title as a pun, you know, it's a bit more true to life. And at least I
was trying to make a character that was, in most ways, an honest one.

GROSS: Let's talk about some of the parts that you've played in the past few
years. In "The Office," you are so great as Michael Scott, who is the manager
in this small Scranton-based paper--like office products, paper products
office. How would you describe Michael?

Mr. CARELL: Michael Scott is someone with an enormous emotional blind spot.
He is someone who truly does not understand how others perceive him. And if
he did gain any knowledge, his head would explode. He would--he would not--it
would not be able to--he wouldn't be able to assimilate. He wouldn't be able
to take in all of that information because it's just--certain people exist on
a different level and they are only able to exist because they're in a sense
of denial about who they are or how other people view them, and I think that's
who he is. But he's not a bad guy. I think he's a caring person. He wants
what's best, but he doesn't always do the best things in order to achieve what
he hopes to achieve.

GROSS: And as an example of that, let's play a scene from "The Office." This
is one of my favorite episodes. This is the episode in which Michael outs
Oscar, one of the employees, and he just doesn't get it. I mean, he just
doesn't get what he's done. So early in, at like the very start of the
episode, the human resources guy, Toby, is reprimanding Michael for outing
Oscar. So we're going to hear that part, and then we'll hear it when Michael
is directly addressing the camera explaining himself.

(Soundbite of "The Office")

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) No, that is the fun of this place. I call
everybody faggy. What would anybody find that offensive?

Mr. PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: (As Toby Flenderson) OK. I think Oscar would just
like if he's lame or something like that.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) That's what faggy means.

Mr. PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: (As Toby Flenderson) No, not really.

Mr. CARELL: (as Michael Scott) Oh!

Mr. PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: (As Toby Flenderson) Apparently you called Oscar
faggy...

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah.

Mr. PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: (As Toby Flenderson) ...for liking the movie
"Shakespeare in Love," more than an action movie.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) It wasn't just an action movie. It was "Die
Hard."

Mr. PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: (As Toby Flenderson) All right, Michael. But Oscar is
really gay.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Exactly.

Mr. PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: (As Toby Flenderson) I mean, for real.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah, I know.

Mr. PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: (As Toby Flenderson) No, he's attracted to other men.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) OK. A little too far, crossed the line.

Mr. PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: (As Toby Flenderson) OK, I am telling you Oscar is an
actual homosexual. Yeah, he told me this morning. And obviously he hopes he
can count on your discretion.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) I would have never called him that if I knew.
You don't--you don't call retarded people "retards." It's bad taste. You call
your friends retards when they're acting retarded, and I consider Oscar a
friend.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Steve Carell, when you got that script, did you think like, `Oh, this
is so perfect'? Like...

Mr. CARELL: It, you know what, that's one of my favorite lines, what we call
talking heads when we're actually addressing the camera, because that, I
think, sums up his character. He really--he has no--he's not trying to hurt
anyone, he just doesn't understand. And then the rest of that episode
proceeds with him trying to be politically correct and trying to gain a
relationship with this gay character on different footing and to acknowledge
and show how accepting he is. Which, and I felt like it was an
interesting--it was a well-written script, too, because it pointed to that
subject without mocking it, and having a character who truly--he's not
chauvinist. He's not racist. He's not homophobic. He just doesn't get it.
And it's a completely separate issue. He doesn't get how to deal with people.
It's not that he has any sort of axe to grind with any one group.

GROSS: You know, a lot of people who have worked in offices feel like they've
worked with somebody like Michael Scott, but you've never worked in offices.
It's just, you know, you're an actor, so who do you draw on for the character?
Are there teachers that you had or other people who you knew were who were as
clueless? Uh-huh.

Mr. CARELL: Primarily, yeah. I think, for me, it stemmed mostly from
various teachers that I had growing up, because many teachers that I've
had--especially fifth, sixth, seventh grade--would be people who were trying
to be as cool as the students or wanted the students to think that they were
cool, but indeed they were not. And the harder they tried, the less cool they
would appear to be. And that's basically what Michael is up against. He
thinks people think he's cool. He thinks people like him and think he's funny
and charming. But he's really none of those things.

And incidentally, when you say everyone knows a Michael Scott, I guess a rule
of thumb--Ricky Gervais told me this in regards to the character that he
played, David Brent, in the BBC version of "The Office"--is that if you don't
know a Michael Scott, then you are Michael Scott.

GROSS: That's really great.

Mr. CARELL: So better that you actually have a frame of reference for a
Michael Scott.

GROSS: My guest is Steve Carell. He's now starring in the new romantic
comedy "Dan in Real Life." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Steve Carell, and his new movie is called "Dan in Real
Life."

Let me move on to "40 Year Old Virgin," which you co-wrote. How did the idea
get started for the film? Were you in on the very start of it?

Mr. CARELL: Well, I pitched the idea to Judd.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. CARELL: We worked together. He as one of the producers on "Anchorman,"
in which I played one of Will Ferrell's less intelligent compadres.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CARELL: And Judd asked me at the end of shooting if I had any ideas for
movie sort of things. And I had a meeting with him and I just pitched this
idea. It's something I'd been kicking around for awhile. I didn't have a
script in place. But the seed of the idea, the notion was--and this is what I
pitched to him--was a guy at a poker game with a bunch of other guys that he
might not know very well, and everyone is--all the guys are regaling each
other with these tales of conquests and women, and the conversation turns to
him and it's his turn to step up and tell a story. And he has no frame of
reference. He has no--he can't speak this language that these other guys are
speaking. And so he tries unsuccessfully to tell a tale of his own sexual
conquest of a woman, and he just fails miserably. And that is when he is
essentially outed that he doesn't know what he's talking about and that he's a
virgin.

And Judd really liked the idea. And from there--he actually said--as soon as
I pitched it to him he looked at me and he said, `I could call Universal right
now and we could sell that idea this afternoon.' And literally three days
later he was working with somebody from Universal, he casually mentioned the
idea and they bought it right then and there. They just say, `You go and
write it and we will pay for that.'

GROSS: You know, at the very beginning of the film there's a very funny scene
where Seth Rogen is bragging about having spent part of the weekend watching a
woman and a horse.

Mr. CARELL: Yeah.

GROSS: And, of course, you have nothing, nothing that could compare to that
sexual feat.

Mr. CARELL: Yeah.

GROSS: So you tell the story of how you spent the weekend making egg salad.

Mr. CARELL: Right.

GROSS: I guess, like, you know, since the premise of the movie, when you came
up with the idea, was about listening to these sexual exploits and having like
nothing to say that could measure up to that...

Mr. CARELL: Yeah.

GROSS: Had you been exposed to a lot of those kind of sexual bragging type of
stories when you were in high school?

Mr. CARELL: Oh, sure. You know, when any group of young
testosterone-riddled males get together, those stories are kind of inevitable,
I think. And I always thought it would be funny if one person just could not
keep up, and not only not keep up but truly put his foot in it. In the movie,
the character talks about feeling a woman's breasts and he explains that they
felt like a bag of sand. And clearly this is not someone who has any
experience. And to me what was funny was not so much the story but how the
other characters were reacting to the story.

It's like that--there's a scene in which I get chest waxed, and I chose to
actually get waxed for the movie because I thought it would be funny. And I
thought not so much the fact that I'm being waxed is what's funny, at least to
me, but the reaction that--and a very natural reaction, at that--that the
other guys in the scene will have while I'm being waxed. Because that, to me,
you can't act. If someone--if a buddy of yours is having their chest hair
waxed in front of you, you will react a certain way and you'll capture
something. And to me that was the funniest part of the scene, these guys just
cringing and laughing their heads off.

GROSS: Well, let's hear the beginning of the chest waxing scene and then
we'll talk about how you reacted when your chest hair was really waxed. Here
it comes.

(Soundbite of "40 Year Old Virgin")

Ms. MIKA MIA: (As Waxing Lady) So, ready?

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) Yeah.

Ms. MIKA MIA: (As Waxing Lady) (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of tape being yanked)

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) Ohhhh, you...(word censored by network).

Unidentified Actor #6: (In character) Ahhhh.

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's just your
job.

Ms. MIKA MIA: (As Waxing Lady) Do you want me to stop now?

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) Oh, no, no, no. It's OK. Let's do another.

Unidentified Actor #7: (In character) That one little patch looks sexy,
though.

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) Does it look good?

Mr. ROGEN: (As Cal) Yeah, it looks really good.

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer) Ooh-whew.

Actor #7: (In character) It looks mantastic.

(End of excerpts)

GROSS: I love how you're trying to be so nice. `Oh, it's just your job.' So
were you prepared for...

Mr. CARELL: Oh, that was the worst day ever.

GROSS: Yeah, how much did it really hurt and were you prepared for it?

Mr. CARELL: Oh, it hurt so much. And, frankly, all of the women on the crew
who had experienced waxing in their lives, were--each one of them came up to
me individually and they said things like, `Well, aren't you sure you don't
want to trim your hair back a little bit?' Or, `Would you like to take some
Advil? Just anything to kind of ease the pain.' And, of course, I thought,
`No, no. I want it to really hurt. It won't play unless it really hurts
badly.' And the woman who was waxing my chest wasn't, in fact, an actual chest
waxer or professional waxer. She was an actress who listed that as one of her
special abilities. Which, as we all know, are usually lies. So she was just
this side of proficient at it. And if you look closely, on one take you can
see the blood...

GROSS: Oh, I know.

Mr. CARELL: ...sort of bubbling to the surface. It was--it really hurt. It
hurt. And the hardest part was just continuing with it, because after that
first rip, I knew that we had a lot more scene to go. And it didn't dawn on
me--you know, I went in that morning and I thought, `Oh, this'll be fun.' And
they set up six cameras, because obviously we could only do one take of it.
And then as she spread that hot wax on that first strip I thought, `This truly
might have been a mistake. This might not end well for anybody.' But I'm glad
I did it. I'm glad I did it. It turned out well.

GROSS: What ground rules did you give yourself for like how much to curse or
how much to scream?

Mr. CARELL: Well, my idea behind it was to scream all sorts of different
types of obscenities, from Kelly Clarkson to, you know...

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. CARELL: ...to the more generic swearing. But that underneath, as you
pointed out, I apologize to her and say, `Well, I know you're just doing your
job.' So I figured he's a nice guy, but even nice people pushed to those
limits can lash out, and in the face of that kind of pain can drop that sort
of veneer of niceness.

Which is interesting, too, because I thought, you know, just characterwise,
that's what Judd and I wanted to do. Not to draw a picture of just a purely
nice, innocent, wonderful, sweet guy. He had problems. He was just a guy.
He wasn't like--there's a lot of gray area to a character like that. And
rather than kind of paint him as a sort of a stereotype, we wanted him to be a
bit more realistic, I guess.

GROSS: So just getting back to that chest waxing scene one more time, did you
end it prematurely because it hurt so much? Or was the character supposed to
walk out with his chest half done when he does?

Mr. CARELL: The character was supposed to walk out. As soon as she got to
the smiley face, or as Paul Rudd deemed it, "a man-o-lantern," then at that
point was when I was suppose to get up and leave. And, believe me, I had
plenty. I was done.

GROSS: So what happened to your real chest hair that was left afterwards?
Because, you know...

Mr. CARELL: I'm sure...

GROSS: ...you leave in a state where you have some of your hair, you know,
you're half.

Mr. CARELL: That was just left.

GROSS: Your nuded half and half hairy.

Mr. CARELL: Much to my wife's chagrin, it was left as is.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. CARELL: And she--I wore a T-shirt for months after that. I could not
expose my chest to anyone. It was really horrifying looking. And then, when
it grows back in, that is a mess. That is just ingrown hair festival. It is
not anything I would ever recommend that someone do.

GROSS: Now, at the end of "40 Year Old Virgin," after you've made love for
the first time, Catherine Keener, her character turns to you and says, `How
was it for you?' And you break out into song, singing "The Age of Aquarius."
"When the moon is in the seventh house," etc. Was that your idea?

Mr. CARELL: It was my idea to do a big song and dance number at the end. As
I was driving to one of our writing sessions, I heard some song--it wasn't
"Aquarius." "Aquarius," the song itself, was Judd's idea--but I heard some
song and I thought, `Wouldn't it be fun to'--I mean, where else could this
movie go at that point? I mean, I thought, what greater expression of joy and
release, in a way, that everyone would break into a highly-charged song and
dance. It was extremely silly, but I thought it was fitting. I thought it
was as happy an ending to a movie as there could be. And...

GROSS: I love the ending.

Mr. CARELL: You know what? I thought it was sweet. And some people were
taken off guard by it or didn't understand it. I just--I really thought of it
as just the most pure expression of joy that this guy could show at that
point.

GROSS: And had you ever wanted to be in musicals?

Mr. CARELL: Apart from being a sexy leading man, that's all I've ever wanted
to do is be in musicals.

I did musical comedies growing up. I did summer stock and I was Jud in
"Oklahoma" and I played Doody in "Grease." And I, you know, I did a bunch of
that sort of stuff.

GROSS: Steve Carell is now starring in the romantic comedy "Dan in Real
Life." It opens Friday. He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "40 Year Old Virgin")

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy Stitzer, singing) When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets

Mr. CARELL and Backup Singers: (Singing) And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
The age of Aquarius
Aquarius
Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelations
And the mind's true liberation
Aquarius
Aquarius

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Then peace will guide the planets

Mr. CARELL and Singers: (Singing) And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
The age of Aquarius

(End of soundbite)

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.

I'm Terry Gross, back with Steve Carell. He's a star of the NBC series "The
Office," starred in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Evan Almighty," and
co-starred in "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Anchorman." In the new romantic
comedy "Dan in Real Life," Carell plays a single father who falls in love with
a woman he doesn't realize is his brother's girlfriend.

Now, before you started making movies, you were on "The Daily Show." And you
started, I think, just before Jon Stewart got there and continued till--was it
2003, 2002?

Mr. CARELL: I think, yeah, right around there. I was there for about three
and a half years.

GROSS: Well, you were certainly there in part of 2003 because you were there
at the start of the invasion.

Mr. CARELL: Yes.

GROSS: So how did you get on "The Daily Show"?

Mr. CARELL: Stephen Colbert got me the job. I owe it all to him. We'd
worked together at Second City. And then when they were looking for new
correspondents, Stephen threw my name in the hat and they called and they
essentially gave me an audition. But I definitely, I owe him that job.

GROSS: So what was your audition for "The Daily Show"?

Mr. CARELL: Well, what they do instead of a set audition, they send you out
on a field piece. And my audition field piece was interviewing a man in
Colorado who believed that Walt Disney had a subterranean lair built at
Disneyland in which he would kidnap children and make them into mind control
slaves. So that was my first "Daily Show" piece.

GROSS: Was this a real guy who really believed that?

Mr. CARELL: It was truly--and I almost didn't take the job because of this.
Because, essentially, "The Daily Show" back then was a bit meaner than it is
today. It would go after extremely eccentric people who, through no fault of
their own, believed--were just quirky. And some were...

GROSS: Mentally ill?

Mr. CARELL: Yeah. I mean, yes, to put a fine point on it. They were. And
to go out and to mock these people and to do a story about how crazy they
are--this guy was mentally ill, and I felt terrible because, really, we
weren't making any sort of point. We were just mocking the fact that he
believed what he believed. And over, you know, over the next several months
and, you know, when Jon came on, the tone changed dramatically.

And I was--I almost didn't take the job. The only way--and I talked to
Stephen about this, too, and asked him how--because he's a very kind, gentle
guy. And I said, `How can you do it? You know, how can you rationalize this,
because it's just so mean?' And it's like shooting fish in a barrel. It's
just that these people can't fight back. And what I decided to do was to sort
of assume the character of a boob, of an idiot. And the more ridiculous I was
in the interviews, the dumber the questions that I asked, the more they would
react to that. The more--it sort of took the focus off the subject and I
became the idiot. So the audience was laughing at what an idiot and jerk I
was, as opposed to the people I was interviewing, and I felt kind of let them
off the hook. But otherwise, it was a very hard thing for me to rationalize.

GROSS: Did the Disney piece make it on the air?

Mr. CARELL: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that went on. They wasted nothing.

Here's the other side of it, though. There were people that we interviewed
who deserved it, who really deserved to be taken to task. You know, Stephen
went, I think, I don't know. He went somewhere down South and had this run-in
with skinheads and neo-Nazi groups. And that's a different thing. I mean,
that's going after, you know, people of intolerance or people who deserve it,
essentially, that I had no problem with at all. But it was those innocent,
quirky, frankly unstable people, that was never fun, and it was always a trick
to try to turn the joke on myself and away from them.

GROSS: My guest is Steve Carell, and his new movie is called "Dan in Real
Life."

Where did you grow up?

Mr. CARELL: I grew up in Acton, Massachusetts.

GROSS: And tell me something about your neighborhood.

Mr. CARELL: We lived in a garrison, a brown garrison colonial. And my
parents, my dad was an engineer. My mom was a psychiatric nurse. It was a
pretty normal little town. I played with my friends in the neighborhood. We
had something called demolition derby. We lived sort of at the bottom of a
hill, and kids would build essentially soapbox kind of cars. And we would
have races, but mostly it was to try to destroy each other's cars on the way
down. So that's why we called it demolition derby.

It was pretty normal. I wouldn't say bucolic, Rockwell childhood. But it was
a fairly normal upbringing with the youth hockey and the youth baseball and
all of those things. I have three older brothers and I was able to antagonize
them as much as I could.

GROSS: The hockey and the baseball and the demolition derby, and where did
the theater come in? Where did acting come in?

Mr. CARELL: That was just a--you know what?--that was just for fun. That
was always a hobby for me. It's nothing I ever thought would end up being a
career. And really, through college, it was just something I did on the side
and just something that I always enjoyed doing, but I never thought it was a
viable career choice.

GROSS: You thought your career was going to be law, right? You were about to
apply to law school?

Mr. CARELL: Yeah, that was the plan. And I think, ultimately, I was
planning on doing that because I thought--I mean, my parents sent me to
private school the next town over, and I think I--and they were not wealthy
people by any means, and I think I felt obligated to pay them back somehow by
making something of myself, because they had really worked very hard to send
me to this great school. And so I sort of started thinking about law and that
that might be a good fit for me. And it came to filling out the applications
and the essay question asked why I wanted to be an attorney, and I just could
not respond to that. I had no idea, other than that it sounded good, that
it's something that I figured would make them happy.

And I talked to them about it, and they were the ones who said I should try
acting. They were the ones who said, `This is something you've always liked
to do. You should try it. You should at least give it a shot because it's
something you've always just had fun at, and that's what your life should be.
It should just be doing something that you enjoy.'

GROSS: So when you decided that you would do that, that you would pursue
acting, what did you see for yourself?

Mr. CARELL: My goal as an actor was to just make a living. That was all.
And by 1988--1988 is the last year that I waited tables to supplement my
income, and that's when I was able to just start acting exclusively and
supporting myself. And that, to me, that was the line that I was able to
cross. And that was my line of success. That was it for me. Anything beyond
that was icing on the cake.

GROSS: Were you a good waiter when you were waiting on tables?

Mr. CARELL: I was a terrible waiter. I tried very, very hard, but I
didn't--I don't know. No, I don't think I was that good at it. I would--and
I'd have nightmares about waiting tables. I would have nightmares that the
entrees would be done and I still haven't served the soup. And literally for
years after I stopped waiting tables, I still had these nightmares. It's what
waiters call "being in the weeds," when you have too many tables and not
enough time to service everybody. And there was a great anxiety because all I
wanted to do was make people happy and please them. And when their food's
cold or they haven't gotten their salad or--there's so many things that can go
wrong, and I obsessed about it. I tried very hard, but I wasn't smooth
by--no, that didn't work for me.

GROSS: It's funny, like, you wanted to please your audience.

Mr. CARELL: Well, yeah, I think in a sense. It's like you want--well, you
don't want to disappoint people, too, because you realize that they're
spending their hard-earned money to come. They could...

GROSS: Absolutely. Yeah.

Mr. CARELL: And I was brought up--my parents are, you know, depression-era
kids, and it was of their mindset, `Well, why go out to dinner all the time?
You can eat for so much less, you know, less expense at home. And, you know,
it's much better at home. And it's just, it's an extravagance.' That sort of
thing. So when people--when I would serve people who were out at dinner, I
would really want it to be a good experience and just think about the fact
that they are spending their hard-earned money and that I want them to be
happy. And when they weren't, I would take it very personally and feel badly
about it.

GROSS: My guest is Steve Carell. He's starring in the new romantic comedy
"Dan in Real Life." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Steve Carell. He's the star of the NBC series "The
Office." The first movie he starred in was "40 Year Old Virgin." He got his
start on TV as a correspondent on "The Daily Show." He's now starring in the
new romantic comedy "Dan in Real Life."

One of your early big breaks was getting into Second City. How did you get
there?

Mr. CARELL: I took the workshops there, which is generally the best way in.
And you start to learn kind of the formats that they use and you get to know
some of the teachers. And then I just auditioned and started in the touring
company and did that for, I think, six months or so. And from there gradually
worked my way up the ladder of the resident companies.

GROSS: Did you have characters that you did?

Mr. CARELL: Yeah, I have different types of characters, and that was the
best thing about Second City is that you had an enormous freedom to fail
because every night was a new opportunity and a different audience, and you
could try something entirely unique to that night. And if it didn't work,
fine. You know, you just try something different the next night. And
everyone expected that. Everyone expected you to just try different things
and different characters, or throw in different lines here or there. And we
improvised every night, as well, after our set show. And that was a great
time to just play and explore.

And one of the scenes that I tried at Second City in the improv portion of the
show eventually became the poker sequence of "40 Year Old Virgin." And it was
a great place to just try it out and see if people responded to it.

GROSS: So, you know, you didn't get like really famous until you were in your
40s. Do I have that right? I think it was in your 40s.

Mr. CARELL: That's true, yeah.

GROSS: So what were some of the--what's some of the upside and downside of
having success come at what is a pretty late time for an actor?

Mr. CARELL: Boy, upside or downside? Well, certainly I've waited a long
time--well, God, I don't even want to start with that because--you know what?
If I say that I've waited for a long time, it's implying that I always thought
this would happen, and I never thought this would happen in a million years.
I am so shocked that any of this took place that I pinch myself all the time.
And it seems ridiculous, frankly, that any of this actually happened when it
did.

I think the fact that I'm older is helpful because I have it in perspective
for the most part. I realize that, as quickly as it came, it can all go away,
too. And I'm not assuming that it will continue, so I think I'm enjoying it
more perhaps at this age than I would if I were younger, because I think being
younger I would assume that I was just at the beginning and this is just going
to continue to roll and everything will just proceed accordingly. But I don't
believe it. I'm sort of a guy who's always waiting for the other shoe to
drop. And so I think that's a defense mechanism to a certain extent.

GROSS: I remember when you went back to "The Daily Show" when "40 Year Old
Virgin" was about to open, and Jon Stewart was saying, `This is a great film.
It's so good and you're going to be a big star after this. This is going to
be a big success.' And you look kind of like, `What?' And he said, `You don't
believe it, but it's really true.'

Mr. CARELL: Well, that's how I feel. It really doesn't register with me
because I just don't think of myself that way, and it's--I just don't buy it.
You know? I've seen enough at this point to know that, you know, people can
say you're great. People can say that you are terrible. But the reality is
somewhere in between. And I can live with that. That's fine with me because
I think that's the truth. But in terms of all of the success, I'm happy that
I had it. I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can, but I'm not deluding
myself into thinking that it will just continue this way. I don't think it
will. But that's OK. I'm not fearful of that. I think I'm just trying to be
realistic about it.

GROSS: One of the next things you're going to be in is "Get Smart," a movie
adaptation of the TV show about a spy, like a bumbling spy.

Mr. CARELL: Uh-huh.

GROSS: It's like the comedic version of James Bond. Did you grow up with the
show? It seems like you'd be a little too young for that?

Mr. CARELL: I was a little on the young side, but I did see it. I don't
know if I understood all the references at the time, but I did see it and I
liked it. I thought it was a very funny, smart show.

GROSS: What are the TV shows that had the biggest impact on you when you were
growing up?

Mr. CARELL: Boy.

GROSS: And the movies?

Mr. CARELL: Movies are probably easier for me to point to. I liked things
like "Dr. Strangelove." I liked a lot of Billy Wilder's stuff.

GROSS: Now, where were you seeing older movies, on television?

Mr. CARELL: Yeah, on TV we'd watch them. And I always loved Peter Sellers.
I just almost--he could really do no wrong in my eyes. He's one of those guys
that could do a character that was extremely broad but never indicate that he
thought it was funny. That there was always a sense that he was--as Clouseau,
for example, he could do some of the most broad physical comedy and you never
got the sense that Clouseau was aware that he was doing anything that was
ridiculous or funny. And I think, to me, that is the key to at least what
makes me laugh, when people have no self awareness that way and aren't winking
at the camera.

GROSS: "Dan in Real Life" is about to open. What do you do on the opening
night of one of your films?

Mr. CARELL: We will go to the premiere, and I will watch and probably sweat
my way through it, because I hope that people will enjoy it. And then after
all of the revelry, my wife and I will go get a cheeseburger and fries and a
shake and go home.

GROSS: Is the cheeseburger part of a ritual?

Mr. CARELL: The cheeseburger is. We always--anytime we go to any of
these--esentially any time she has to put on a gown and I have to put on a
tux, we will end up the night eating a cheeseburger at this place called
In-N-Out in California.

GROSS: In the evening gown and tux?

Mr. CARELL: Yes.

GROSS: And you're the only people dressed there like that, probably?

Mr. CARELL: Well, we drive through and we bring it home.

GROSS: Oh, OK.

Mr. CARELL: But we're certainly the only people in the drive-through, but
that's it. And honestly, that is the part of the night I look forward to the
most. Because I don't--I always feel extremely out of place at these things,
and I think that might be a sort of a cliche, but we truly do. I do not feel
like I fit into that--walking the red carpet, all of that is just beyond me.
I just don't feel a part of that world. I definitely feel like I'm an
observer on nights like that, so we both are much more comfortable when we
change into our sweatpants and are eating cheeseburgers at 2 in the morning.

GROSS: It's been great to talk with you. I want to thank you so much for
talking with us.

Mr. CARELL: Oh, my pleasure.

GROSS: Steve Carell is starring in the new romantic comedy "Dan in Real
Life." It opens Friday.

Coming up, Milo Miles reviews two new percussion albums. One is a debut. The
other features Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and tabla master Zakir
Hussain. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Milo Miles on Loop 2.4.3's "Batterie" and Mickey Hart
and Zakir Hussain's "Global Drum Project"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Music critic Milo Miles has a review of two recent albums that are centered on
percussion. One is from Mickey Hart and his long-time collaborator Zakir
Hussain. The other is the debut album from the duo known as Loop 2.4.3.

MILO MILES reporting:

About the only constant in the last 50 years of popular music is that it has
become more and more aggressive with rhythms. And yet I find I have problems
with most percussion albums. I wouldn't hesitate a moment to tell anyone to
go see the dramatic and inspirational live performance by the Kodo drummers of
Japan. Yet, even a DVD diminishes the power of the music and the recordings
are even more beside the point.

Percussionists are aware that it's hard to make an all-rhythm album
interesting. A common solution is to add embellishments--other instruments,
voices--while keeping beats central, and to draw on established familiar world
rhythm traditions. This is what Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian
tabla master Zakir Hussain do on their new "Global Drum Project."

A much tougher approach is to re-invent percussion from the bones out so that
drums and other beat makers surprise you, throw you off base and draw you into
a vortex of pulses. This is what the oddly named duo Loop 2.4.3 do on their
debut release "Batterie."

Hart and Hussain's fusion project is smart, honorable and admirable. Maybe
more admirable than purely pleasurable. Though they certainly do work up some
mysterious mojo at times.

(Soundbite of "Global Drum Project")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: So he accepted the job. He accepted the job.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: On our Web site. Web site. On our Web site.

(Soundbite of music)

(End of soundbite)

MILES: I kept wondering, though, why does "Global Drum Project" work best
percolating away in the background? When I focused in track by track, the
underlying concept of world rhythms being universal and unifying seemed
strained, even false. One African tune, one Indian tune, a Latin track and a
couple mild fusions do not add up to an identity.

(Soundbite of "Global Drum Project")

MILES: Hart and Hussain have worked together a very long time, releasing
their first collaboration as The Diga Rhythm Band back in 1976. "Global Drum
Project" is not as fresh or as much fun. Diga Rhythm Band is groundbreaking
for a reason. Start there.

Loop 2.4.3 are Thomas Kozumplick and Lorne Watson. And while they have worked
together as a unit only since 2001, they have extensive backgrounds with
numerous ensembles, notably Kozumplick's quartet Clogs. But what jumped out
at me is that Loop 2.4.3 are in residence this fall at the Harry Partch
Institute. Partch is an outsider classical composer who invented his own
instruments, most of them exotic percussion tools. He also wrote soundtracks
for plays. Not coincidentally, Kozumplick has worked for film and theater.

If Parch was warmer, more linear and had a better sense of dramatic narrative,
he might have made music like this.

(Soundbite of Loop 2.4.3)

MILES: Loop 2.4.3's "Batterie" works best as foreground music, following the
beat stories as they develop. Just when you think you know what's coming, a
wash of glockenspiel or gongs throws you off. Most impressive, Kozumplick and
Watson never sound arbitrary or like novelty music.

(Soundbite of Loop 2.4.3)

MILES: There are action adventures and reveries on "Batterie," and it all
sounds like part of a well-thought-out tradition, only the tradition has never
existed until now.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed Mickey Hart's "Global Drum
Project" and Loop 2.4.3's debut release, "Batterie."

You can download podcasts of our show by going to our Web site
freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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