Steve Carell On Minions, Kind Comedy And Why He Won’t Reboot ‘The Office’

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Steve Carell

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Steve Carell is best-known for playing the oddball, the goof. There’s the oft-unpalatable Michael Scott from The Office; the hapless Cal from Crazy, Stupid, Love; Brick, the terminally awkward weatherman from Anchorman. But in real life, Carell is quite the opposite. He’s gentle and thoughtful; the sort of actor who signs on to star in a kids’ cartoon franchise because he appreciates they’re “nice” movies.

I’m booked to speak to Carell while he’s promoting the upcoming Despicable Me 3, where he plays another oddball, Gru, a supervillain who just can’t help being good. However, Carell is in hot demand, so I have a miserly amount of time to speak to him. As the publicist reminds us of the time limit, Carell, in his way, finds the humour. “They’re so strict!” he says, laughing, then urges me to “Go! Make magic!”

Does Steve Carell Hate The Minions?

Carell clearly adores the Despicable Me films, which are incredibly sweet and affecting, in spite of (or maybe because of) the silliness. “It’s nice when you’re promoting something people seem to like. That makes it easy. I’ve been on the other side,” he jokes. “That’s not as much fun.” Perhaps Carell is referring to his recent performance in Cafe Society, a Woody Allen film that was mired at its release by persistent allegations of sexual abuse against Allen by his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow.

But for the most part, Carell is a well-liked actor and comedian with a slate of popular films under his belt. Despicable Me, which is now on its third film, featuring co-stars Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Steve Coogan and Julie Andrews, is indeed very popular. Carell tells me his son, who is now a teenager, “was in kindergarten when the first one came out, so he grew up with it”. The films are popular not least because they launched the Minions craze on our society. You know, those little yellow nuggets that your aunt is always posting memes about on Facebook?

“I think if not for the Minions, there would not be a Despicable Me 3,” Carell notes shrewdly, when I ask him about the divisive yellow creatures. “I equate [them] with the classic comedy teams that I knew growing up. You know, the Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges, or Laurel and Hardy. Or even Loony Tunes. I think, apart from being just a genius marketing manoeuvre, they’re legitimately like a funny comedic component of these movies. So I think they’re kind of brilliant.”

Carell is a astute observer of current comedy trends; he first made a name for himself on TV as a correspondent on The Daily Show with John Stewart. When I ask him about the appeal of Despicable Me for him, he explains, “I think they’re very kind movies. I think they put a really gentle, funny energy out into the world. And I like to be part of that. I love that they’re completely lacking in cynicism, and they’re just fun.”

When I note that comedy can sometimes be mean, he replies, “It can be, you know. And I think in recent years that seems to be sort of a trend. That it’s not funny unless it’s at the expense of something or someone. It’s kind of refreshing to me when something goes the opposite direction. I like it.”

To Reboot Or Not To Reboot

The Office, for which Carell is probably best-known as boss (and loveable dropkick) Michael Scott, always walked that line between caustic and kind in its comedy. The show, which was beloved in the US and beyond, and which ran for a massive nine seasons (seven of which were led by Carell’s iconic performance), is one job Carell still remembers fondly.

“I’m so thankful to have been on that show,” he says. “That was a special group, you know. The writers and the actors, that’s kind of like capturing lightning in a bottle. All of those people just added up to something very unique and I was lucky to be a part of it.”

It’s true; many of the cast and crew of the US Office have gone on to big things of their own. Mike Schur, a writer on the show (who also acted as Dwight’s country bumpkin cousin Mose), went on to create the late, great Parks and Recreation and Andy Samberg vehicle Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And Mindy Kaling, who wrote for the show and played the daffy Kelly Kapoor, is wrapping up the final season of her rom-com The Mindy Project, in which she also stars.

“The best thing is when you know while you’re doing it that it’s special,” Carell says. “When you can get a sense of how great the writing is and really work hard to honour it, to value it. Because it’s not always going to be so perfect; that energy’s not always going to be there. So to be able to see it when you’re in the moment, I’m really thankful for that. I think we were all just so thankful to be on a show like that at that time. We really appreciated it.”

Despite the success of the series, when I ask Carell if he misses Michael, a character he played for over seven years, he says, “No, I don’t miss doing the character. I’m glad I did the character.” He’s also fairly ambivalent about the idea of an Office reunion or revival. I have to ask, because of our current culture overloading on reboots and revivals of beloved series. I also have to ask because last year Carell trolled Office fans by tweeting, “Breaking News: The Office returning to NBC” followed immediately by, “Wait, sorry. I meant Will and Grace (Typo)”.

Nothing against any revivals that happen, but they are never the same.

“You know,” he tells me, “it goes back to talking about that lightning in a bottle, because, and nothing against any revivals that happen, but these are never the same. You never get the same kind of energy. It would have to be exactly the same as it was to work. And it never could be. So my inclination and I think the inclination of most people who had worked on it would be to just leave it the way it is, and not desecrate whatever it was. Because I think it was special, and everybody who was involved with it thought it was special.”

I ask Carell if he plans to return to television, considering the past few years have been spent building his considerable film portfolio. “Oh yeah, sure,” he replies enthusiastically. “I would definitely do that.” Though he notes that, where TV and film are concerned, “those lines have definitely been blurred”.

“With TV you get to play a character for a longer period of time. And you don’t have to display everything you want to display about this character in an hour and a half or two hours. You can take your time and incrementally reveal different parts of who the person is,” he says.

“So like doing The Office, and Michael Scott, we went in it with the idea that this is going to unfold over several years. That was the hope. So we don’t need to show everything all at once, and these characters can grow and change, and mature as we go.”

Despicable Me 3 is in cinemas from June 28.

Matilda Dixon-Smith is Junkee’s Staff Writer. She tweets at @mdixonsmith.