Steve Carell on ‘Despicable Me,’ Fatherhood and Michael Scott’s Swan Song

Despicable Me may not have the high-profile status of Toy Story 3 or Shrek Forever After, but it’s certainly a worthy entry in this summer’s 3-D digitally-animated family comedy realm. One might even say it is heavily influenced by both of those franchises.

The notion of a supervillain like Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) adopting three orphan girls as part of an evil plot only to have his heart warmed by them would seem to have some of the hallmarks of the original Shrek, when the ogre was just a surly misanthrope out for himself before maturing into a friendlier sort. It would also be difficult to mention Gru’s hordes of cute little gibberish-spouting minions without making at least a passing mention of our little three-eyed alien buddies from Toy Story 2. Despicable Me certainly does its own thing with them, though – and it makes for a pretty entertaining bit of comedy that rolls during the credits, too, taking amusing advantage of their three dimensions. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

Carell cut his teeth doing crazy voices (check out this old clip of a young Carell on The Dana Carvey Show doing a sketch entitled “Germans Who Say Nice Things”) and goofy characters (we shall never forget Brick Tamland of Anchorman), and he showed a little bit of that again on last night’s Colbert Report. After spending so many seasons with the quietly awkward moments of The Office and playing more realistic characters in the movies, Carell says the process of creating the loud and silly voice for Gru was a good time.

“It’s fun to go wild,” Carell said, “and it’s interesting when you’re trying to create a character in animation, it’s really a communal effort. It’s not like I would just come in with a singular idea and start doing it. I saw the artwork, I talked to the director and the writers and got a sense for what they wanted. What’s great about it is that you do have the license to just go for it, and you trust that the editors and the directors will put in what’s necessary. I guess I felt like my job description on this was just to give as wide a range as possible. This character’s accent was just ridiculous, and it’s fun to just play and experiment. What was great about this in particular was there was no impetus to do it correctly or within the line. It was very free wheeling and very supportive. We had a great freedom to fail, which I think is really liberating.”

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Yet, the character is not all silliness and tomfoolery – there’s an actual character there whose Grinch-like heart grows three sizes when the three oddball sisters enter his life and awaken a part of him he didn’t know existed, and that’s a big part of what drew Carell to the project. “I think one of the things I identified with in the script was that here’s a guy who has his life set up the way he’s accustomed to,” he said, “and then is introduced to these three little girls who essentially turn his life upside down. They change all of his patterns, they change everything about what he thinks is important, and I think that happens when everyone has kids. You try to explain it to people who are about to have children, and I don’t anymore because you can’t. It’s something you understand once it happens. Everything changes. It’s such a diametric change that you really can’t explain it. For me at least, all of my career goals, all of my focus, everything just shifted and the importance was my children. And that’s where all the joy came from as well, and I think that’s what’s kind of touching about the character too in that it doesn’t change him, but it taps into a part of him that was always there that he didn’t know about, which I think is what happens when you have kinds.”

Perhaps that change of career goals is part of the reason he’s called the upcoming season of The Office his last with the show, saying “and I just feel like now is the time for my character to move ahead. It just feels like time to me.”

That, of course, begs the question of how he’d want the inimitable Michael Scott to take his leave. Surely, NBC would want him to go out with a bang, but not Carell. “I don’t want him to, frankly,” he admitted. “What I love most about the show is when it examines the minutiae of life and those little tiny moments that you then base a whole… There was one show that Stanley and I waited in line for pretzels the entire show. It was pretzel day in the office, and all we did was stand in line and wait and talk about what kind of pretzel we were going to get. I love those sort of moments, so I would be inclined to make it a more subtle and more simple sort of departure as opposed to any big, ‘very special episode of’ kind of thing.”

Watch Steve Carell in full episodes of The Office.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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