‘I didn't try to get overly caffeinated': Steve Carell on 'Despicable Me'
The Hollywood comedy megastar on the joys of voice artistry and why he wants to keep his options open for the future.
How did you decide on the Russian-inflected voice of Gru, the super villain you play? Was it politically motivated?
‘Oh, absolutely not. There was no political motivation whatsoever. We were just looking for an accent that would be fun, and kind of accessible. I didn’t want to depict a nationality of a specific country, I just wanted it to sounds like a nebulous accent. And in the same sense, I don't think its important where he's from, just to create an aura about him. We just played around. That’s the accent that I went in with, and they liked it, and we tinkered with it and spent a couple of work sessions honing on it.’
Were there any inspirations? Maybe subtle hints of Peter Sellers?
‘Someone referred to it as a hybrid of Bela Lugosi and Ricardo Montalban. People compare it to lots of different accents and voices. I wanted to cast a wide net. There were no conscious inspirations. I just wanted it to sound menacing, but not overly so.’
Is voice artistry limiting for you as a performer?
‘I think its actually very freeing. You can try anything and you have an enormous freedom to fail. The tricky part is giving enough options, a wide enough spectrum of performance to go with the other performances. You don't know what the other actors are going to be doing, so you have to give the director varying reads on every line. So that was my goal: to give them countless ways of editing it in with the other actors. But I don't see it as limiting at all. It's fun, because whenever you put perceived limitations on a performance, I think you can expand in other ways. If you just focus on the voice you can play with it, you can paint a picture with just that.'
You’re known for your improvisatory style. Did that come in to play here?
‘Absolutely. The directors didn't hold us to the script at all. They encouraged us to go off the playsheet as much as we could.’
Do you have any special preparation techniques, like drinking lots of Red Bull?
‘I didn't try to get overly caffeinated here. It is fiddly though because this was done over the course of three years. So the trick for me is to try to match the voice sessions I'd done maybe months previously. Sometimes they'd play me a bit of the last session to get me up to speed as to where I was, where the accent was, what the character was doing, and that would get me in the zone, energy-wise.’
There are rumours you are going to be in ‘The Abstinence Teacher’, the new film by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris who directed you in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’?
‘That was one of those things that appeared online that there was no truth to. I’m familiar with the story, but it wasn't true. Sandra Bullock and I were attached, but I would love to work with Dayton and Faris again.’
Would any non-comedy roles interest you?
‘Sure. I try not to be pretentious about that. I don't want to do a part just to show people that I'm capable of it. I'd take a part if it’s good or potentially entertaining or something unique or interesting. But not specifically, I’m not targeting any particular style of film.’
You now produce a lot of the films you star in. Do you have any ambitions to direct?
‘I've directed a few episodes of “The Office”… Maybe, but it feels like such a cliché, especially for a comedic actor, to say “Well what I really want to do is a serious dramatic turn' or, on top of that, 'My heart will really be fulfilled when I direct!' Perhaps at some point I’d like to, but I think it should be an extension of what I’m doing already rather than to prove a point to people. But if the right thing came along I would, definitely.’
Read our review of ‘Despicable Me’
Author: Interview: David Jenkins
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