Steve Carell isn’t really a ‘Schmuck’


Move over, Michael Scott. Steve Carell’s character in “Dinner for Schmucks” is even more oblivious than the socially inept manager that the actor plays on NBC’s “The Office.”

In the comedy, which opens Friday, Carell portrays Barry, an IRS employee and amateur taxidermist who’s the hilarious heart of the film.

“It’s just a guy trying to make it through and to
keep a healthy, positive outlook on things,” says Carell. “And it’s
nice to run into somebody like that, even if they make your life a
living hell.”

The 47-year-old star of movies and television
didn’t see the French film “The Dinner Game” that inspired “Dinner for
Schmucks” on purpose.

“It was for the same reason that I didn’t watch the
British ‘Office.’ I just didn’t want that to sort of cloud whatever
characterization I was going to attempt,” he explains.

Carell delivers an endearing performance as Barry, a well-intentioned man who wreaks havoc on the life of Tim (Paul Rudd), a financial analyst who’s hoping to move up the corporate ladder.

Tim is asked to attend the next monthly dinner at
his boss’s house, only it’s not just an ordinary gathering of
colleagues. It’s a contest to see who can bring the most ridiculous
person to the dinner. And Tim, who meets Barry by accident, decides to
invite him.

In “The Office” and movies like “The 40-Year-Old
Virgin,” Carell excels at playing offbeat characters who are lovable
and have a sensitive side. He’s able to see that there’s a lot more to
the roles than just the goofiness.

Barry may be irritating, but he’s essentially a good guy, according to Carell.

“I think he is oblivious to a certain extent
because of his own heartache and pain. And I think who he is is very
much defined by what has happened to him. I think he’s somebody that
has always been a very trusting, good, positive person. And in being
that way, he’s certainly been injured emotionally many, many times,” he
says in a recent phone interview.

Talking about Barry, he recalls covering a convention of Klingon speakers when he was a correspondent for “The Daily Show.”

“Of course, you have all these predetermined
attitudes of what these people are going to be like. And they turned
out to be just the sweetest group of people who like to get together
and talk Klingon. There was nothing even weird about it. They were just
having fun.”

Barry’s hobby isn’t inspired by “Star Trek,” but
it’s equally unusual — and oddly charming. He makes elaborate dioramas
where dead mice are dressed as people.

“Boy, would I love to keep one of those dioramas,”
says Carell. “I think they’re being used for promotion right now, but I
hope at some point I get to have one of the mouse dioramas — the
mouseterpieces — for myself.”

“Dinner for Schmucks” is directed by Jay Roach, who helmed “Meet the Parents,” and boasts costars like Jemaine Clement (HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover”) and David Walliams (HBO’s “Little Britain”).

Carell says it was fun to work with those actors
and his friend Rudd, who previously starred with him in “Anchorman: The
Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

“He and I have kind of parallel lives right now,”
says Carell of Rudd. “We both have two little kids. And we’ve both been
married for a number of years. And I think he has a very similar work
ethic … I think the things we find funny are very similar as well.”

Although Carell has become a box-office star — this year, he’s also starred in “Date Night” with Tina Fey and “Despicable Me,” for which he did voice work — he didn’t envision this sort of success when he was starting his career.

“I moved to Chicago
after college in the hopes of just getting some experience and I really
had no designs on being discovered or anything beyond a potential
paycheck,” says Carell, who’s originally from Massachusetts.

He worked at Chicago’s Second City, the famous comedy troupe. And he’s still an ensemble actor at heart.

“With ‘The Office,’ with this (‘Dinner for Schmucks’), I feel most comfortable as a member of an ensemble,” he says.

There’s been a lot of buzz about what will happen
over at “The Office” now that Carell plans to leave the show at the end
of the next season.

Asked about the flurry of media attention, he says,
“It’s good that there’s that much interest in the show and that after
six seasons, people still care. I think that’s a nice sign. Whatever
the speculations are, I’m sure the show will continue on and be
incredibly strong.”

But he doesn’t want to play the who’ll-replace-Michael-Scott game.

“I don’t know what the plan is. I don’t think I
even want to weigh in. I think I want them to decide where it goes from
there. I think there are better people than I to decide the future of
the show.”

This could be the year that Carell gets an Emmy for
his acting on “The Office.” He’s competing again as best actor in a
comedy series.

“It’s really wonderful to be nominated and the fact
that I’ve been nominated a few times is a real feather in my cap, I
think,” he says.

“So I don’t harbor any great aspirations to
actually win. But it’s a very fun night for my wife and I to get
dressed up and go out.”


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