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Steve Carell: A Life Less Ordinary

29 September 2010 by Tim Evans

Steve-Carell-voicing-GruSteve Carell voices the tyrannical Gru in Despicable Me


American funnyman Steve Carell  burst onto our screens as the hapless Andy Stitzer in the comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin and has gone on to star in hits from Get Smart to Date Night.

He's also providing the voice of Despicable Me's uber-villain Gru, a spiteful tyrant who discovers that his badness is about to be undone...by fatherhood.

He's made a comedy virtue out what is seemingly suburban normality and is now the speed-dial go-to guy for Hollywood producers requiring a safe pair of hands to guide a mainstream laugh-a-thon...

The New Yorker went as far as to call the 48-year-old actor "Hollywood's most reliable comedy star" with each of his last four studio films grossing at least £100m worldwide while his fee has risen to around £10m a Melinda-&-MelindaEarly role...Melinda & Melindamovie.

Intriguingly, the secret of his success appears to be that he a genuinely regular guy. "I don't know how other people perceive the lives of actors but my life is fairly ordinary. I go to work, I come home, I put my kids to bed. If I'm home in time for dinner, I have dinner, and then it's bedtime," he says.

When he quit his $170,000-an-episode role in The Office he really was going to spend more time with his family...not using the phrase as a desperate euphemism thrashing out some legal deal after being papped snorting something off the chest of a 21-year-old lap dancer.

The-AnchormanCarell with the Anchorman crew...Born the youngest of four sons to a psychiatric nurse and an electrical engineer, he embarked on an acting hobby (of sorts) when he joined a Massachusetts historical re-enactment group (a sort of New England Sealed Knot) and went on to study history at Ohio's Denison University.

Early career options considered included DJ-ing and the law before he opted for acting and joined a children's touring theatre and graduated to the celebrated Chicago troupe The Second City.

He made his film debut with a blink-and-you'll-miss it role in Curly Sue and then joined primetime sketch comedy The Dana Carvey Show, could briefly be seen in Woody Allen's 2005 outing Melinda and Melinda and became a Saturday Night Live regular.

Carell also broadened his appeal with his regular role as a roving reporter on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and had regularly been appearing in movies - Jim Carrey's rival Evan Baxter in Bruce Almighty and dim-witted weatherman Brick Tamland in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Bergundy.

The 40 Year Old VirginThe 40-Year-Old VirginHowever, it was the 40-Year-Old Virgin that catapulted him into the Hollywood firmament, a sharply-written, Judd Apatow-directed comedy that made the best use of Carell's innate ability to play an unassuming everyman.

Made for $26m, before going on to take $177m, the movie - which came out of a suggestion from Carell to Apatow - propelled him on equal terms into a comedy pack that includes Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell.

"What I didn't realise, since that was my first attempt at writing any sort of screenplay - I had no idea how many things are written that never get produced, or how many things are developed that never get filmed. But for some reason this just went through," he says.

For Carell, the icing on the cake was being cast in the lead as Andy Stitzer, the gauche hi-fi shop worker who eventually succumbs to the charms of Catherine Keener's yummy-mummy.

Little-Miss-SunshineLittle Miss Sunshine"I never dreamt of being a leading man," he says. "I dreamt of being employed. I set the bar there for myself. I dreamt of being able to make a living doing something that I love. And that really does make me happy and is fun. Being a leading man… that's like saying I want to be astronaut."

However, the hit comedy transformed Carell's fortunes - and his bankability - overnight...although his subsequent choices - while bestowing a comedy quality on certain films that didn't deserve it - have been hit and miss.

The role of suicidal Uncle Frank in Little Miss Sunshine showed that he could do subtle but the sequel Evan Almighty (where his character of Baxter is expanded) and Dan In Real life seemed to be riding on the back of 40-year-old Virgin rather than presenting Carell with a challenge.

Date-Night-04With Tina Fey in Date NightAction remake Get Smart and Date Night (with a helping hand from Tina Fey) saw him on firmer ground but sound judgement deserted completely him when he appeared in Dinner For Schmucks, an abysmal remake of the black French satire La Diner de cons.

Where he's fared better is providing the vocal talent for a series of hit animated cartoons, kicking off with Hammy the hyperactive squirrel in the animal fantasy Over The Hedge.

Carell memorably voiced father-of-96 Ned McDodd, the Mayor of Whoville, in the glorious adaptation of Dr Seuss's Horton Hears A Who and the paternally-minded super-villain Gru in the sublime cartoon outing Despicable Me.

Making a virtue of his perceived ordinariness, Carell has carved an impressive career in a very short time. Maybe he isn't getting the roles that really show what he's capable of but that's just a matter of time.

"It's not like I'm a wallflower. I think I'm fairly average. I don't stand out. I don't attempt to stand out in any way. I'm not out there.

"I'm not somebody who's constantly entertaining. I'm not the life of the party. But, on the other hand,...I am at the party."