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.