I'm Bad, I'm Bad: In the new animated film Despicable Me, Steve Carell plays the world's most incompetent supervillain.
I'm Bad, I'm Bad: In the new animated film Despicable Me, Steve Carell plays the world's most incompetent supervillain. Universal Studios
We're halfway through the summer, and Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After have already come and gone. This weekend marks the release of the latest animated kid flick, Despicable Me. It's about a fellow named Gru — who's trying very hard to be the world's biggest bad guy.
TV and movie star Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, NBC's The Office) provided the voiceover for the film's protagonist, a top-heavy supervillain with a very unusual accent indeed. Carell says that Gru's bizarre diction — a "kind of pseudo-Eastern European" thing — came from minutes of inspiration, rather than months of fine-tuning.
"It was always in that realm," Carell tells NPR's Liane Hansen. "We just figured that that sounded sort of evil, yet comical at the same time." And he's proud of its elusive, nonspecific quality: "I don't think anyone can really determine what accent I'm doing in the movie, which was my choice, of course."
One of the accent's biggest fans is Carell's 6-year-old son, John, who particularly fell in love with the way Carell's Gru pronounces "light bulb," the actor says. (It's a recurring gag in the film.)
"We'll be watching TV or doing something and he'll lean over and say, "Daddy, say 'light bulb,'" Carell laughs.
Of course Carell wanted to appear in Despicable Me for reasons other than the desire "to be cool in my kids' eyes." He says he was really taken by the story — and by the film's unique visual style.
"I just thought it was a very simple and beautiful story, and the animators are exceptional. It looks different."
And he thinks the movie will be able to reach different audiences, be they young or old, male or female.
"The three little girls are orphans, but I think the little boys who go see the movie are going to enjoy all the techno-gadgets and the big spaceship chases. There's a science-fiction element to it as well that I think is really fun."
Tangents In The Recording Booth, And Minions Everywhere Else
Despicable Me isn't the actor's first foray into voiceover work. In 2006 he played a hyperactive squirrel in Over the Hedge, and in 2008 he appeared alongside Jim Carrey in the Dr. Seuss adaptation Horton Hears a Who! Carell says he's drawn to animated films because they're a lot of fun — and also because they're easy.
"Whenever I hear somebody complain about how difficult it is [to do voiceovers], I want to punch them," he says. "Because it's really fun, and pretty easy. ... You go in, you do a silly voice, you walk out."
Of course Carell, being Steve Carell, gets to improvise.
"[The directors] would allow me to go off on tangents and play around and see what else would be there," he says, "because frankly, it's all disposable anyway. If it doesn't work they just don't use it. I would just give them 20 or 30 or 40 different options, and they could pick and choose."
No mention of Despicable Me would be complete without a shout-out to Gru's minions, the little yellow blobs — "allergy pills running around in farmer's overalls," as Liane Hansen puts it — that have become a ubiquitous presence on screens and billboards across the country.
Even Carell claims to be surrounded: "Everywhere I turn, there are the minions. There are minions at the premiere, there are minion dolls, there are minion inflatable balloons. The minions have become I think a cottage industry at this point."
Still, Carell says he's learned to love the little creatures: "You know what, they totally creep up on you. And whether you want to like them or not, you will like them by the end of this movie."
Leaving 'The Office': Steve Carell recently announced his intention to leave the TV show that made his a household name.
Packing Up His 'Office' Desk
Over the past few years, Carell has become a Thursday-night fixture in the NBC sitcom The Office. After seven seasons, though, Carell has decided to call it quits. He says he's been astonished by the public outcry over his decision.
"I was really surprised that this caused any sort of stir," he says. "I look at the show as a great ensemble show, and I look at my departure as just one piece of that ensemble going off. I have no doubt the show will continue and be incredibly strong."
But while he's on his way out, Carell wants to make sure he leaves on the right note. As one of the show's producers, he's closely involved in the creative process, so he'll have a say in how his character, paper-company manager Michael Scott, will make his exit.
"I think it would be nice for the character to find happiness," he says. "He's really utilized the staff as his family, because he doesn't have anything like that in his personal life. And I think [it would be great] if he were able to find happiness apart from the office, in a soul mate."
Carell shies away from specifics, but does admit that Michael would probably be happiest with HR representative and one-time love interest Holly (played by Oscar nominee Amy Ryan) — who "was the one woman that truly got him." The show's writing really showed, in a subtle way, how Holly "brings out a different side of awareness in [Michael] and makes him a better, more sort of connected person," Carell says.
While Carell wants to find the right ending for his stint on the show, he wants to make sure it doesn't go overboard.
"I'd like it to end in a subtle way, too," he says. "My favorite episodes are the ones that are kind of small and subtle and examine the mundane, and so I would love it if it kept away from being a big ratings-bonanza sort of episode."
In the end, he argues, Dunder Mifflin is a regular office, not much unlike any other. And in real life, "people leave offices all the time for various reasons," he says.