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Playboy Interview: Steve Carell

Playboy Interview: Steve Carell :

************This past December Steve Carell paid tribute to one of his comedy idols, Steve Martin, at the Kennedy Center Honors. “His act was that of an idiot savant,” he joked about Martin’s onscreen personae. “Minus the savant.” Apparently, it takes one to know one. The same could be said for most of Carell’s comedic alter egos. Take Michael Scott, the clueless regional manager for a fictitious paper company on The Office. Michael may not be nearly as likable or funny as he wants to believe, but that’s part of his charm. Or look at Carell’s version of secret agent Maxwell Smart in the spy comedy Get Smart. He’s an idiot with a heart of gold, a moron with such good intentions it’s impossible to despise him. Carell’s repertoire of characters includes more than just lovable buffoons. Over the past decade he has played a gay Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine, an arrogant newsman in Bruce Almighty* and its sequel, Evan Almighty, a dim weatherman in Anchorman and a widowed advice columnist in love with his brother’s girlfriend in Dan in Real Life. No one is more surprised by this success than Carell himself. The Massachusetts native, the youngest of four brothers, was convinced at a young age he would end up in a nine-to-five job. As a student at Ohio’s Denison University he assumed he would be a lawyer. Oddly, it took his parents to convince him he should give up practicality in favor of something he really wanted to do, like show business. He moved to Chicago after graduation and began performing at the legendary Second City improv-comedy theater, but things didn’t go well. He lost his bid to get on Saturday Night Live. He appeared in a string of failed sitcoms, as an easily incensed Greek chef on Over the Top* and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s obnoxious ex-husband on Watching Ellie. His first break came in 1999, when he was hired (thanks to a recommendation from friend and Second City cast mate Stephen Colbert) as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s news satire The Daily Show. Along with recently hired anchor Jon Stewart, Carell—and the show—became a hit. It wasn’t until 2005 that he made the leap from dependable comedy sidekick to unconventional leading man. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which Carell starred and which he co-wrote with director Judd Apatow, raked in more than $177 million at the box office worldwide. Since then the 45-year-old Carell has apparently been unable to do wrong. And through it all, the actor and comedian has enjoyed a seemingly normal family life, marrying fellow comic Nancy Walls—they met at Second City (she was his student in an improv class), and she has been his occasional acting partner in everything from The Daily Show to The Office—and raising two children. We sent writer *Eric Spitznagel (who most recently interviewed Tina Fey for Playboy) to speak with Carell. He reports: “I expected Carell to put on his usual self-effacing routine. He likes to evade questions that get too personal with a barrage of gags and tongue-in-cheek modesty. But after we waded through the humor, it became apparent that his humility isn’t a facade. When you cut down to the bone, he really is just a nice guy who stumbled into comedy stardom. "When he hosted Saturday Night Live, Carell joked during his monologue that ‘money falls from my ass.’ The more you talk to Steve Carell, the more you realize he really does believe his success is just that random and inexplicable.” *PLAYBOY:** In Get Smart you play a bumbling idiot and— CARELL: No, I do not. PLAYBOY: Really? We’re talking about the same movie, right? CARELL: I never saw Maxwell Smart as bumbling. He’s not a Jacques Clouseau kind of character. He’s very good at his job. If you watch the TV show, Don Adams plays Maxwell as somebody who is quirky but always knows he will succeed in whatever he attempts. He has a lot of self-confidence. PLAYBOY: But his confidence is misguided, isn’t it? CARELL: Well, sure. But when he gets into a fight, he can take care of himself. He knows how to handle a firearm. Part of what makes the character so funny, at least to me, is that he lacks any self-awareness and may take himself too seriously. But he is still a good spy. He gets the job done. PLAYBOY: Adams served in the Marines during World War II and was comfortable shooting a machine gun. What’s your military training? CARELL: You mean aside from being a Navy SEAL? As a special-ops alumnus, I’m not supposed to talk about my training too much. As you’ll see in the movie, I’m extremely proficient in the ways of killing people. No, this was my first experience using a gun. I did some firearms training, mostly safety-based. There’s a lot of gunplay in the movie, and we had live rounds in our weapons. PLAYBOY: Live rounds? They gave you actual bullets? CARELL: Well, no, they weren’t live live. They were blanks. You see, in the magical world of filmmaking it’s always to the producer’s advantage to keep the cast and crew unharmed for the duration of the shooting schedule. Blank rounds are especially helpful if the director wants to do more than one take with living actors. PLAYBOY: Speaking of realism, there’s an urban legend that the CIA called the producers of Get Smart and asked, “Where did you hear about the shoe phone? That’s top secret!” Has anything similar happened to you? CARELL: Oh yeah, they were all over us. The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, Tobacco and Firearms, NASA, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Mint, PBS. They were all closely monitoring our set. You know, that sounds like a good story, but I highly doubt the CIA called the producers of Get Smart and said, “Where on earth did you get the idea for the Cone of Silence? We have one of those!” That sounds a little far-fetched. If the CIA is using shoe phones, we’re all in grave danger in this country. PLAYBOY: The TV show was a spoof of James Bond-type spies and the Cold War. Does that kind of satire translate to 2008? CARELL: Given our present-day international tensions, absolutely. The situation in North Korea, the constant threat of terrorism, worsening relations with Russia—the political landscape isn’t as far from the 1960s as one may think. Also, I’ve never thought of Get Smart as a spy spoof. I think of it as a spy comedy. PLAYBOY: What’s the difference? CARELL: A spy spoof parodies the genre of spy movies, whereas we tried to make Get Smart funny without being self-referential. When Warner Bros. offered me the role, they asked what I thought the movie could or should look like. I wanted it to be a comedic version of the Bourne spy series, in which the villains were actually scary, substantial and posed a threat, the action did not seem contrived or cartoonish, and characters were in situations realistic enough to create a sense of plausible jeopardy. Within that framework the comedy would resonate all the more because there would be a reality to anchor it. PLAYBOY: As with The Office, Get Smart is another remake of a classic comedy. Do you ever get tired of saying, “We can never be as good as the original”? Don’t you want to come out and say, “They’re gonna eat our dust”? CARELL: Never. I’ve never felt that way. I feel very much the same about the original Get Smart as I do about the original Office. It’s not about trying to be better than the original. You want to make something that isn’t just an impersonation or a copy, because if that’s the point, why even do it? The challenge is to take elements of the original and reexplore it in a new context. The most difficult part for me was incorporating some of those famous Maxwell Smart sayings: “Would you believe…?” and “Missed it by that much” and “Sorry about that, chief.” All of those lines are so ingrained, and we’re all familiar with the delivery behind them. So I wanted to pay homage to them without necessarily changing anything just for the sake of change. It was a bit daunting. PLAYBOY: Some fans of the original show are already crying foul, just as they did with The Office. At this point in your career how much do you worry about the expectations of others? CARELL: Just before The Office came out most critics were dubious about our chances of succeeding. There was almost an animosity for the show because the BBC version was so beloved and Ricky Gervais was so brilliant. So in our minds, we realized there was no way to win that battle. There was nothing we could do as a cast or writers or producers to dispel people’s preconceived notions. We just had to put it out of our mind and do the best job we could. PLAYBOY: Is there a freedom in knowing everybody expects you to fail? CARELL: There’s a huge freedom. We knew if our version just didn’t suck, people would be amazed. PLAYBOY: After four seasons do you feel as if you’ve finally gotten out from under the shadow of the original? CARELL: I never thought about it like that. There was never a point at which I thought, Finally! Now we’re doing our own thing, and nobody will ever compare us to the BBC Office ever again. You can’t go into a project thinking you’re going to create a masterpiece or classic that will live forever. You just do your best and hope somebody else will find it funny or entertaining. You can’t have thoughts like, What if we don’t become part of the comedy canon? What if the entire world doesn’t love and respect me? Because you can’t control that. PLAYBOY: Your dad has said it’s difficult for him to watch The Office because Michael does such embarrassing things. Does he still feel that way? CARELL: Not anymore. At first it was probably a little difficult for him to watch his son make such a complete ass out of himself week in and week out. But now he has come to accept that I am, in fact, an ass. He has come to terms with that, and now he fully accepts me and my assiness. PLAYBOY: Sometimes the show can be difficult to watch. Michael does things that are just cringe-worthy. CARELL: Yes, Michael is a man without an ounce of self-perception. He doesn’t understand how others view him. He has an enormous emotional blind spot. I’ve heard the rule of thumb is, If you don’t know a Michael Scott, then you are Michael Scott. PLAYBOY: What’s at the core of Michael’s behavior? Does he crave the spotlight? CARELL: Well, sure, but everyone wants a moment to shine. It’s a very human quality. Even the most reserved and shy people love the spotlight every once in a while. You know what I liken it to? On the game show Deal or No Deal, when the contestants are given the choice of walking home with $300,000 or possibly getting $375,000, I believe part of the reason they stay is that they’re the star. It’s not about the money at that point. I was watching an episode a few weeks ago, and one contestant said something I thought was very telling. She was offered a pretty good deal, and she said, “I don’t want to leave.” She was the center of attention. It’s the same for Michael. He is the focus of this documentary. Camera crews follow him around all day. He embraces it, and it gives him a sense of importance he would not otherwise have. It’s kind of the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to him. PLAYBOY: Michael has an interesting relationship with Pam, the receptionist played by Jenna Fischer. He makes frequent references to Pam’s boobs, from reminding her about the dangers of breast cancer to encouraging her to show more cleavage. Does he have a secret crush on Pam? CARELL: Are you asking me about boobs just because this is Playboy? PLAYBOY: Yes, we’re contractually obligated to bring up breasts at least once an interview. CARELL: Let me think. [long pause] Wow, this is embarrassing. I can’t think of a single boob joke. PLAYBOY: You do realize this interview may not make it into the magazine now. CARELL: I know. I feel terrible. I’m sure Michael Scott knows a bunch of really luridly descriptive boob jokes, but they’re all very bad, and I wouldn’t want to repeat any of them here. PLAYBOY: Is it cathartic to play Michael Scott? Is there anything of you in his personality? CARELL: There’s a part of you in anything you play. What that could be, I have no idea. He probably represents aspects of people I know and maybe certain aspects of who I am, and—oh God, I have to stop myself. I sound so pretentious and dull. I hate it when actors talk about their process. I just can’t do it. PLAYBOY: Is that because you think it’s boring, or you don’t want to give away too many secrets? CARELL: Trust me, I don’t have any secrets. And even if I did, to dissect what went into making something sort of ruins it. I want to watch a movie or TV show and just enjoy it for what it is. PLAYBOY: Growing up, were you the funny one in your family? CARELL: Not really, no. We weren’t a jokey family. I mean, we could all be funny in our own ways, but we weren’t a laugh riot around the dinner table. My brothers and I had a daily ritual of watching the Three Stooges when we got home from school. We bonded over eye pokes and smashed fingers. PLAYBOY: Did you dream about becoming a big comedy star? CARELL: Not at all. I never watched Saturday Night Live and said to myself, That’s what I’m going to do. Maybe in the back of my mind I might have fantasized about it. But it’s like having dreams of going to the moon. You don’t wake up and think, Yeah, that could totally happen. I don’t know if I lacked self-confidence or what, but I never allowed myself to dream of something like that happening to me. PLAYBOY: When did that change? CARELL: I honestly don’t know. Even when I was in college, performing was just an extracurricular activity. I had no intention of becoming a professional actor. I didn’t think of it as a viable career. It would be like saying you wanted to be an astronaut or a cowboy. Those are just fantasies. There was a real disconnect between what I enjoyed and what I thought I would ultimately do with my life. PLAYBOY: Ironically, your parents encouraged you to become an actor. Isn’t that right? CARELL: Yeah, that’s basically what happened. I was going to be a lawyer, which I thought was the right thing to do. It was the most responsible, most practical thing. PLAYBOY: You never thought about what might make you happy? CARELL: That was never a part of the equation. I knew I could become an attorney and might be good at it, but there was never a question in my mind about whether I would enjoy it. Of course I wouldn’t. But enjoyment and a career seemed mutually exclusive. It was really a practicality issue. And becoming an actor didn’t feel practical or realistic. It took my parents to get me out of that pragmatic way of thinking. They said, “It’s your life. You have to live it, and you’ve got to enjoy it. If acting is how you’re going to enjoy it, then you’ve got to take that chance.” So they absolutely gave me permission. PLAYBOY: You have very cool parents. Do you remember your first paying job as an actor, the first time you realized you could do this and it might actually work? CARELL: Those are not one and the same. It took a lot of time before I thought…actually, I can’t even say now I’m 100 percent convinced it’s going to work. My first paying job was in Chicago in the play Charley’s Aunt. It wasn’t enough to live on by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a paycheck—the first I ever received. It was the first time I made a dime for performing, and it was exciting, but I didn’t for a second say, “I’m off and running now. My tough days are long behind me.” PLAYBOY: Your first screen role was in the Jim Belushi comedy Curly Sue. Although you don’t have any dialogue, at the time did you feel it might be your big break? CARELL: Absolutely. It’s kind of silly to look back on it now. I spent three days on the set, and all I did was look askance at Jim Belushi. That was it. But it was a huge deal for me to get a walk-on part in a movie. When it opened I took all my friends to the theater. My scene is in the first 45 seconds, and after that was over my friends stood up and walked out. I’m sure the rest of Curly Sue is great, but they didn’t want to sit through an hour-and-a-half movie about an adorable moppet. PLAYBOY: When Stephen Colbert recommended you for The Daily Show, were you hopeful this was a gig that would click? CARELL: It was a complete surprise. I got a call out of the blue from an executive producer. That was just Colbert being a friend. I owe him for that. I was in Los Angeles doing some commercial work but nothing of great consequence. When they offered me a job as a Daily Show correspondent, my agent was on the fence because it required me to relocate to New York. At that time The Daily Show wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was a very low-profile cable show. PLAYBOY: Jon Stewart has joked he didn’t trust your abilities in the beginning. CARELL: I know. He’s a real bastard for saying that. And yet I respect him for doing so. PLAYBOY: How long did it take before you thought he was wrong? CARELL: Oh, right away. As I recall, my first field piece was about a guy who ran a venom-research facility in Nebraska. That essentially meant he lived in a double-wide full of poisonous snakes. Also, for no apparent reason, he was an Elvis impersonator. This poor man had been bitten by snakes so many times, the nearest hospital refused to send an ambulance all the way to his home. Instead, they would just meet him halfway. He was a sweet guy, and I hope he’s still with us. PLAYBOY: As a correspondent, did you play a character or just a version of yourself? CARELL: It was definitely a character. In the same way Stephen plays an archconservative, all the correspondents take on a slightly different persona. PLAYBOY: So how would you describe the Steve Carell of The Daily Show? CARELL: I always thought of him as someone who had been a network anchor but had since been demoted to working on a Comedy Central news show. He had a bad attitude about where he should be as opposed to where he was. It was an unspoken backstory, obviously. PLAYBOY: At least during your first few years as a correspondent The Daily Show wasn’t the satiric juggernaut it is today. CARELL: That’s true. The only people who recognized us were Starbucks baristas. For some reason our fan base was people who brew coffee professionally. PLAYBOY: Was that frustrating, or did you prefer the relative obscurity? CARELL: Oh, we never cared about being famous. It was great because we could get away with anything. Just after I was hired we covered a presidential debate in New Hampshire. No one knew who we were, what The Daily Show was, nothing. We were thrown into the press corps with actual credentials, and we had no idea what we were doing. We decided to ask the candidates questions from a stack of Trivial Pursuit cards we had brought with us. I remember Mo Rocca asked John McCain who Iceland’s most famous female pop singer was, and without missing a beat McCain replied, “Björk.” God, we had fun. PLAYBOY: You retired from The Daily Show just as it was gaining credibility. Do you have any regrets about leaving? CARELL: Actually, The Daily Show gained credibility because I left. The only bright side of leaving was I hated everyone involved with the show—Colbert, in particular. He seems to be very intelligent on TV, but trust me, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Everything is written for him. His scripts need to be spelled out phonetically. I just got tired of carrying him. He has no idea what he’s talking about. He can hardly spell his own name. PLAYBOY: Will he enjoy your assessment of him? CARELL: Maaaaaaybe. [laughs] Yes, Stephen and I are old friends. He is a lovely human being. I also enjoy his Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor. PLAYBOY: You worked with him long before The Daily Show, right? At the Second City theater in Chicago? CARELL: That’s right. We met at the Second City. He was my understudy for the main-stage show. In one scene I played the baritone horn, and he actually learned how to play it in a week. For somebody who had never played a brass instrument before, that’s pretty impressive. PLAYBOY: You played a wide range of characters at Second City, including a surprisingly kindhearted serial killer. What inspired you to find the softer, gentler side of sociopaths? CARELL: I don’t know. I wrote that scene with Amy Sedaris, and we thought it would be fun to make audiences laugh and feel a little uncomfortable at the same time. She played a woman who runs into my character in the laundry room of our apartment complex, and when she finds out I’m a serial killer she teases me because I won’t tell her how I murder people. She says…aw, I can’t remember the line. PLAYBOY: “I’m not going to steal your idea.” CARELL: [Laughs] Yeah, that was it. It was funny and sweet, but it was also a little disturbing. It’s a scene with a lot of conflicting emotions. And I guess, in general, I’m just fascinated by that gray area. I like characters that can’t be easily defined. You don’t know whether you should like them or hate them. Because that’s true in life. People aren’t always what they seem. They’re complicated. I don’t think people are fundamentally good or bad. There are so many different shades of gray. PLAYBOY: Didn’t you come up with the idea for The 40-Year-Old Virgin at Second City? CARELL: Not really. I mean, I did improvise something at Second City that was essentially the bare bones of what would become The 40-Year-Old Virgin. We tried it a few times during an improv set, but it never made it into a show. It was basically just a bunch of guys sitting around, regaling one another with these tales of sexual conquest, and one guy clearly can’t keep up. Eventually it becomes obvious he’s never had any kind of serious encounter with a woman. He says something like, “You know how when you touch a woman’s breast, it feels like a big bag of sand?” The harder he tries to tell his own invented tale, the deeper he gets and the more he indicts himself. PLAYBOY: That eventually became the poker scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. CARELL: That’s right. When I ran into Judd Apatow on the Anchorman set—he produced the movie—he asked if I had any ideas and I told him, well, basically what I told you just now. He really liked the “big bag of sand” line. He said, “I could walk into a studio right now and sell the movie based on that line alone.” PLAYBOY: The 40-Year-Old Virgin could easily have been another forgettable, raunchy sex comedy. When you and Apatow were writing it, did you worry it might be too lowbrow? CARELL: We didn’t censor ourselves in any way. We weren’t making it for a demographic. We just wanted to make something we thought was funny. We wanted to tell a human story about a guy who sort of slipped through the cracks. PLAYBOY: Were there any battles with the studio for creative control? CARELL: A few but nothing major. We did some test screenings, and we didn’t always see eye to eye with the studio. There’s only so much you can test, so much you can gauge by formulas. If you try to tailor a movie specifically to people’s wants or desires, you’re just taking a survey. PLAYBOY: Did you and Apatow fight to save anything in the film? CARELL: Well, there were some concerns about the chest-waxing scene. PLAYBOY: The studio wanted to cut it? CARELL: Not cut it but edit it down. They thought it dragged on for a little too long. But Judd and I figured the audience would ultimately enjoy the prolonged agonizing process. PLAYBOY: Your agony during the chest waxing has become part of comedy lore. Did you fake any of your reaction? CARELL: Not at all. It was all real pain. A lot of people still don’t think it was real and assume it was just a special effect. People on the crew, especially women who had had some waxing done, came over to me and asked, “Do you want to take some ibuprofen? Or maybe trim your hair a little so it doesn’t hurt as much?” I thought, No, it has to hurt. It has to be real. I did not heed their advice, and I was sorely mistaken. PLAYBOY: Why is watching somebody in pain so inherently funny? CARELL: What makes that scene funny has nothing to do with me. It’s the three other guys. Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen and Romany Malco were so clearly uncomfortable with what they were seeing, and the comedy came out of their reactions. Romany got so disturbed that he had to leave the set. It was their sheer horror and disgust, tempered with the glee of watching another man in non-life-threatening pain. That will always be the perfect recipe for hilarity. PLAYBOY: You may be the world’s first method comedy actor. CARELL: I’ll take that as a compliment, but I don’t necessarily think it’s true. I can think of a bunch of comics who have endured various levels of discomfort. Look at somebody like Will Ferrell: He will do almost anything, sometimes at the expense of his physical well-being. Guys like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton wouldn’t think twice about putting their body in harm’s way for the sake of a gag. Harold Lloyd lost a couple of fingers in search of laughs. I didn’t even lose a nipple. PLAYBOY: How did you survive your chest waxing without losing a nipple? CARELL: I was very lucky. They put wax on my nipple without any oil, which is what you’re supposed to use to protect the nipple from actually being detached. My waxer wasn’t a professional. She was just an actress who said she had some experience with waxing, but obviously she hadn’t. I came dangerously close to becoming…what would you call it? I’m sure this magazine has a word for it. What would you call somebody who has just one nipple? PLAYBOY: A mononipple? CARELL: Yeah, something like that. Mononiplistic? PLAYBOY: What’s your chest-hair situation these days? Are you keeping it cleanly shorn? CARELL: Not a chance. I’ll never endure that again. And I don’t think my wife would like it much either. When I came home after the shoot and she saw my chest, she was horrified. She thought my chest was smiling at her. She does not care for the man-o’-lantern. PLAYBOY: Your wife, Nancy Walls, is also a comedian, formerly of Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. What’s the secret to a successful marriage between two comics? CARELL: My wife probably makes me laugh harder than anyone else. We share the same sense of humor. When we read or watch something funny, we’ll laugh at all the same parts. She’s pretty easy on the eyes as well. I married up, that’s for sure. We have a pretty normal life together. We have two kids, eat sloppy joes once a week and take trips to the mall and the zoo. It’s a happy house but certainly not a zany, crazy, laugh-a-minute kind of existence. If anything, it’s a diaper-changing, kid-chasing madhouse. PLAYBOY: In your 2006 Golden Globe acceptance speech, which she wrote, you thanked her for putting her career on hold and enduring a painful labor. Was she really responsible for that speech? CARELL: We came up with the idea together. Well, actually, I guess it was mostly her idea. I didn’t think I had any chance of winning, but on the off chance that I did, I thought I should have something in my back pocket. I talked to Nancy about it, and she said, “You should just thank me. Forget everybody else. Just thank your wife.” And it sort of snowballed from there. PLAYBOY: You haven’t won any acting awards since, but almost every movie you’ve appeared in over the past few years has been a hit. Are you feeling your star power yet? CARELL: That’s a dangerous way to think about yourself. If you start feeling your power or even think you have any power at all, you run the risk of turning into a huge dick. PLAYBOY: But you do have power now. You are aware of that, aren’t you? CARELL: [Scrunches up his face] I don’t think so. PLAYBOY: You don’t like the idea of being a Hollywood celebrity with clout? CARELL: That intimates you are somehow changing, you’re not the same person you were before. I don’t feel any different or assume anything now I didn’t assume before. I don’t want to be some asshole who expects the world to bend to his will just because he sold a few tickets at the multiplex. That said, I do love prostitutes. PLAYBOY: You did flex some star power during the writers’ strike. You were one of the first marquee-name actors who refused to cross the picket line. Was that frightening? CARELL: Yeah, it was a little scary. But I just did what I thought was right. It gave me a chance to grow a beard for a while, which is always fun. PLAYBOY: According to some rumors, you called NBC and said you couldn’t show up for work because you had a “case of gigantic balls.” Please tell us that actually happened. CARELL: That was attributed to me, but I never said it. I wish I had said it, but it’s far too clever for me to have come up with on my own. PLAYBOY: The real question is, do you have gigantic balls? CARELL: Not in terms of personal courage but in sheer physical volume, yes. PLAYBOY: A few years ago you said your goal was to “become completely overexposed in the next nine months and then disappear in a fiery wreck of a career.” That didn’t work out for you, did it? CARELL: Maybe I undershot it by saying nine months. But I’m still holding out for my eventual career demise. Obviously, I said that in jest, but there’s an element of truth in it. I want to enjoy every second of my success, have fun with it and never take it for granted. At the same time, I don’t want to worry too much about its ending or not working out. PLAYBOY: But why jokingly predict the fiery wreck of your career? Is it a defense mechanism? CARELL: Absolutely. I know that’s what it is, because I’m naturally a glass-half-empty kind of person. Which is sort of sad in a way, too. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it protects me from disappointment. The irony is, there’s no way to truly protect yourself from being disappointed. No matter what you do, you’re going to be disappointed. PLAYBOY: That’s a pretty grim personal philosophy. Does that come from years of struggling as an actor? CARELL: It does. When I got into acting I knew I was going to be disappointed most of the time. I would be rejected more than accepted, and that’s generally the case. So early on I decided I’d be happy with whatever success I could get. Even now, with whatever success I’ve apparently had, I don’t buy into it. I’m happy about it, but I don’t believe in it. PLAYBOY: Why don’t you believe it? CARELL: It just seems so transient. It’s something that passes through you, but you can’t hold on to it. I don’t think for a second my success will continue. If it does, fantastic. But if it doesn’t, I want to be totally prepared and not let it shock me. I still have a contingency plan. If this acting thing doesn’t pan out, I know what I’ll do. PLAYBOY: And what’s that? CARELL: I’ll teach history at a prep school and maybe coach a sport. That has always been my backup plan. PLAYBOY: You wouldn’t miss all the attention? CARELL: I worry more about my family than my acting career. I’d be more concerned about providing some kind of security for them than whether my face is up on some billboard or my TV show has the biggest ratings. If I didn’t have a career anymore, that would just mean I would get to spend more time with them. If it all ends tomorrow, I have the best possible life in the world. PLAYBOY: Is there any comic’s career that you envy or would like to emulate? CARELL: I certainly admire a lot of people’s careers. I love guys like Steve Martin and Alan Arkin, but I’d never compare my career with theirs. I can’t even talk about myself and Alan Arkin in the same sentence without feeling kind of foolish. I hold Alan and Steve in such high regard. I love their movies, and I’m constantly blown away by what they’ve accomplished. But using their careers as templates for my own seems pointless. I can’t orchestrate my career like that. I’m just not that smart. I’m still surprised any of this happened to me. PLAYBOY: Well, what did you expect? CARELL: I didn’t expect anything. I just hoped I would be able to make a living, support my family and afford college for my kids and a decent place to live. Aside from that, I didn’t have any preconceived notions. PLAYBOY: The way you talk about it, you sound like a working-class actor. You just go to your job in the morning and put in your hours. CARELL: Because that’s what it is. It’s just a job. That’s part of the reason I moved to Chicago when I was starting my career. I wanted to work. New York was way too competitive and too big a pond, as was Los Angeles. I figured in Chicago I might not make any money, but at least I would get some experience and learn something. It wasn’t about being discovered or showcasing myself or trying to get somebody to notice me. PLAYBOY: Even with everything that has happened, you’re still convinced the odds are against you? CARELL: That’s because they are. It’s a one-in-a-million shot that anybody has even a little success. So much is based on luck and timing. I know a lot of incredibly talented people who aren’t working. There’s no barometer for how something will turn out. You just have to leave it up to fate. You can’t fight it, because if you do, you’ll be frustrated, angry and bitter. PLAYBOY: When you’re in public, do you find people expect you to be funny all the time? CARELL: No. And I hope you haven’t expected that, because I clearly have not made this a very amusing interview. I can only imagine what people will think when they read this: Woooow, that guy is dull. He must’ve been a gem to hang out with. As you can probably tell, I’m not someone who tends to be on. I don’t perform. Well, frankly, I’m just not that funny. [laughs] I don’t have much to say, and what I do say is ineloquent. PLAYBOY: Your humility does seem to be sincere. CARELL: Ah, then you have fallen into my web of deceit and manipulation. PLAYBOY: Marlon Brando didn’t wear pants while shooting his last film. Are you at a point in your career where you could get away with something like that? CARELL: I see what you’re doing here, and it’s not going to work. As this interview is clearly lacking any sort of levity, you’re trying to get me to say something even slightly humorous so your readers aren’t disappointed. “Wow, could Steve go into a little more depth about Get Smart? I really want to hear all about his character development to play Maxwell Smart.” Let me help you out. Readers, please stop reading this interview immediately. There’s nothing to see here. Please move along, thanks for your time, off you go. PLAYBOY: Are you declining to answer the question? CARELL: What was it again? Do I put oatmeal in my underwear while shooting a movie? You know, one of my acting teachers in college told me about that trick. He said put things like oatmeal in your underwear before a performance because they will—you know, I don’t really remember what the hell his reasoning was anymore. I think it was something about taking yourself out of your comfort zone and giving your mind something to occupy itself so you wouldn’t overthink a character. PLAYBOY: That sounds like good advice. Have you ever tried it? CARELL: No, I have never put oatmeal in my underwear. PLAYBOY: That would be a great anecdote, though. CARELL: If you’d like to claim I do that, by all means go ahead. You certainly have my permission to write that I haven’t done a single episode of The Office without at least a few cups of fresh, warm oatmeal in my underwear. I’m sure the tabloids will pick up that story and run with it. PLAYBOY: You have a reputation for being a sweet and respectful guy. We’re going to give you a chance to say something mean-spirited. CARELL: About whom? PLAYBOY: About anybody you want. Surprise us and say something horrible, callous and unreasonably cruel. CARELL: Hmmm. Let’s see. One horribly negative awful thing? [long pause] I’m trying to come up with something. It’s tough. [another long pause] Does it have to be a person, or can it be an animal or object? PLAYBOY: Whatever you want. Why in the world is this so difficult for you? CARELL: I don’t know. I’m thinking, I’m thinking. [another long pause] Okay, I’ll go so far as to say this: Sometimes in the summer mosquitoes can get sort of annoying. PLAYBOY: Wow. That’s what you’re gunning for? Mosquitoes? CARELL: I hope I don’t offend anyone in the mosquito lobby or mosquito-tolerance groups, but it needs to be said. I want to put a message out there that mosquitoes can be annoying. I’ll even push this a little further and say I do not like mosquitoes. PLAYBOY: We can’t help but notice a slight hesitation in your voice. CARELL: Well, my hesitation is that I know mosquitoes are just doing what they do naturally and it’s no fault of their own. I know my blood is like nectar to them. I can’t fault the mosquito. At the same time, I can’t help but dislike them. Screw it, I’m just going to come out and say it: Mosquitoes are assholes. PLAYBOY: We’re proud of you, Steve. We didn’t know you had it in you. CARELL: [Laughs] I already feel kind of guilty. Is it too late to take it back?

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