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?