Q&A With Steve Carell

Steve Carell is on a roll. He plays the hilariously annoying (and all too real) boss Michael Scott on NBC's "The Office"and he scored a massive summer hit last year with "The 40 Year Old Virgin." He's hoping to make it a hat trick with "Evan Almighty," a modern retelling of Noah's ark that is chockablock with special effects and scores of animals. Carell turns in a sweet performance cementing his newfound position as one of Hollywood's freshest stars. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: W. C. Fields always said you should never work with animals or children, and yet you did both in "Evan Almighty."
Steve Carell:
I say, never work with W. C. Fields. I think that's the rule of thumb. Actually it was quite enjoyable for me. They, you know, do what animals do, they don't smell particularly good, and they sometimes want to attack you when you raise your voice.

The baboons took umbrage, shall I say, when I improvised with them.

Why? They wanted to follow the script?
Yes, they like to do Mamet. I raised my voice during one take and they picked up on it, that I was getting aggressive and so they started to get aggressive back at me.

Sounds a little scary.
It was a little scary. The trainer said, "Eh, don't do that, probably not a good idea." Overall, I quite enjoyed it. I've never been up close to wild animals.

You say quite. Sounds like you have some reservations.
No, I guess I was trying to sound more eloquent. After a week or two of being surrounded by these animals, you got used to it and it was commonplace to walk on the set and be five feet away from an elephant or giraffe. I think that became the oddest thing. But we did have to be careful. Obviously there needed to be a built-in respect and patience and awareness that they are wild.

Did you start feeling like Johnny Weissmuller at the end of the movie?
Oh yes, well, that's my next film. A remake of "Tarzan."

This movie cost like what, $3 billion to make?
Um, no it was $18 trillion.

Feel any pressure?
I can't say that I do because it's something that is and was completely out of my hands. I like it; I think it turned out well. It's funny, has a big heart and it's a sweet movie for the family. On that level I think it's perfect. But in terms of pressure on me, no, I tend to not worry about things that I have no control over.

This movie has a religious theme to it. Did it make you go to church?
Certainly it's based on an Old Testament story, but I didn't see it necessarily as a religious movie. I saw it as a fable more than anything else. It's a real gentle tale that has incredibly valuable messages. I don't really like to talk so much about the religious aspects of the movie because I feel like it's limiting it in a way. I believe the movie can be enjoyed by….

Yes, I don't want to limit it to people of any faith or belief system.

I was very shocked to read that your last name isn't Carell. It's Carello.
That's not true. I was born Steven Carell. My father was born Edwin Caroselli.

So it's not any shame over your Italian heritage.
No, no, frankly I almost wish I'd grown up with it because it would have been misspelled far less frequently. Everyone puts in two R's and two L's.

Caroselli. Sounds a little like Costello. Lou Costello.
If you want to draw that conclusion, go right ahead. It's a stretch, but I'll go with it.

Michael Scott is the best character. I thought the U.S. version of "The Office" would suck. Did you get a lot of that?
Oh, yeah. I think people were really dubious about it because the British one is iconic. It really couldn't be replicated, so I tried to take the pressure off myself by not trying to be as good, frankly.

Have you worked with any Michael Scotts?
I've worked with a few. I've actually had a few teachers growing up who were not unlike Michael Scott.

You have two little kids at home. Are you the fun, crazy dad?
I'm a fun dad, but I don't know if I'm the fun, crazy dad. I'm not one of those people who are always on or performing. I don't think my kids have to worry too much about me embarrassing them because that's not how I would want to grow up, with wacky dad showing up at school and performing for everyone. We definitely laugh a lot, and I have to say my kids at 3 and 6 already understand the concept of irony. It's interesting to see them figuring out humor and what makes them laugh.

You seem like one of those comedians like Will Ferrell. No baggage, no bitterness, and no "My dad used to hit me."
You know what's ironic? Will Ferrell's dad used to hit me.

Perfect! I just heard the cymbal in the background.
I know. I saw it coming. I had to.