Steve Carell is back in the game as Gru, the curmudgeonly super-villain with a crazy accent whose life has been completely transformed by his daughters. In the comedy adventure sequel, Despicable Me 2, he’s left behind his life of crime to raise Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and become the perfect dad. But just as he starts to adjust to his new role, he’s recruited by an ultra-secret organization and finds himself unexpectedly working for the good guys. Opening July 3rd, the sequel also features Benjamin Bratt, Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand and Ken Jeong.
At the film’s recent press day, Carell talked about reprising the role, how he first found the voice for Gru, and why he’s happy with the evolution of the story and characters and the way the film celebrates a family’s love and commitment. He also revealed what he’d have Minions do for him in real life, why edible guacamole sombreros are bound to be a big hit this summer, the interview he did in character on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the backstory behind The Office finale, and his upcoming role in The Way Way Back. Hit the jump to read the full interview.
Steve Carell: She’s twelve. You’re pushing it. Don’t rush it. We’re not quite there yet, and I hope I’m not the same sort of dad. I hope I don’t react that way with a Freeze Ray gun. It’s tricky because I don’t want to be that overprotective dad, but at the same time, I do want to protect them. I understand what the character in the movie is going through because you don’t want to see your kids get hurt. That’s the main thing. You just don’t. You know they’re going to have their hearts broken at some point, and you can’t ultimately protect them against having that happen. I’m enjoying their childhood as long as I can, because I know there’s another period of time that’s going to be a very, very different and difficult growth period for everybody, for my wife and I as well.
How do you like returning to this role and do you like how your character has evolved in the sequel?
Carell: I love it. I think the movie itself is an evolution. It’s a natural extension of the first movie, which I thought was smart. The characters changed and grew, no pun intended, but at the same time the sense of the movie feels familiar. The tone of it is the same as the first one, but the family is different. That dynamic is different, and he’s no longer officially a villain. And not to make too fine a point on it, because you don’t want to over analyze the movie, but there are certain things that struck me about the story. One is that Gru is looking, he’s searching for what’s he’s going to do. He thinks he’s going to start a jam and jelly business, and that doesn’t seem to be working out. He can’t go back to being a villain, but ultimately he needs something that will fulfill him, which is a very relatable thing for parents, because when you do have kids, I found, it becomes all about the kids, and it’s very easy to lose your sense of self within that. You do have to keep your career and that side of it intact, because ultimately that makes you a better parent as well.
I’m a big fan of adoption and that’s part of what I love about this film. What do you think fathers can learn from Gru’s parenting methods as a father?
Carell: I think it celebrates family more than anything. It celebrates the sense of love and commitment to one another, but I don’t think it has any sort of political stance on anything. At its heart, it’s just a very sweet, kind movie with these dark trappings. That’s one of the things that attracted me to the first one. It’s a movie that doesn’t condescend to children. It plays to the top of their intelligence, and I know when I was a kid growing up, I wanted to be challenged. I wanted things that might be a little bit scary. Edgy might be too strong a word. I wanted things to challenge me, even as a kid. That’s one of the things that attracted me about it. But underlying all of that, it’s just a real sense of family and warmth. The first one just made me feel good when I saw it, and that’s why I wanted to do this one too. It does the same thing and it’s funny.
One of the things that people love about Gru is that he’s able to get away with a lot of things. As a comedian, are there things you’re able to get away with that other people couldn’t?
Carell: You are connecting my real life to what Gru gets away with. Alright, I’ll try to bite on that. Are there things that I get away with? No. I don’t think so. I mean, I certainly don’t with my family. I’m trying to think based on what I do. I can’t say. I can’t really think of an instance. I’m sorry. I’m not helping you out at all on that.
I recently saw The Way Way Back where you played a decidedly more dysfunctional parental figure. Which of these characters was more fun to play as an acting challenge and which one do you feel you can learn more from?
Carell: They’re so different. Keep in mind, I show up and I provide a voice. So much of this character is the animation, really most of it. They’re geniuses at it, and you go and see the final product, and you want to claim credit for all of it, but I only have to do with such a small percentage of what goes into the movie. It’s just fun. There’s an enormous freedom to fail, and you can do anything. The voice is really simple and easy. With the accent, I set the bar really low for myself, because it’s not really an accent. There’s no doing it wrong, because it’s a conglomeration of every middle European country in the world, plus a little Latin America, and maybe some French. I mean, it’s all over the map. I made it very, very simple for myself in that way and very easy. It’s just fun. It’s light. There are things. I don’t know if they’re necessarily lessons to be learned within it, but there’s a sense of goodness. I don’t want to overstate it either, but the movie is very kind, and that’s what I liked about both of these. It’s very simple in a way, and it has a very good heart, and it’s so much fun to do. There’s a kind of villainous but comedic character within that. In The Way Way Back, the guy is a jerk. In my opinion, he’s someone who might himself have had a trying childhood. I liken him to a coach. I had a lot of coaches growing up that were very hard on the kids in the name of building character, but it could have the opposite effect on kids. Both are identifiable, but for different reasons and I think different results.
Can you elaborate on finding the voice for Gru and how that helped you develop the character in the first film and then returning to do that voice again for the sequel?
Carell: We just started playing around with different voices that first session of the first movie. I didn’t really know what he would sound like. Actually the look of the character changed quite a bit from the very first illustration that I saw. Originally, he was much more angular looking and darker, sort of more menacing looking than he ended up being. I wanted the voice to match that, to be vaguely menacing but also kind of approachable in a strange way and funny. That’s definitely the voice that made everybody laugh. That’s the voice that made my kids laugh the most. When I went home and said, (channeling Gru’s accent) “What do you think of this guy?” They were like, “That’s it, dad!” And no matter what I said, they laughed at almost everything. (channeling Gru’s accent) “Who wants pancakes? I’m going to make pancakes now.” They were like, “More, more, more, more!” That was a good sign that I was on to something. And the animators, too, they’re so good at layering in all of these things. I saw the movie for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know how you felt, but with animation now, it’s like you’re watching real living, breathing people. Even though they’re from a parallel universe, they might not look exactly like human beings, but you really get the sense that they’re alive. It’s kind of remarkable.
One of the charms of the film is everyone is doing a voice and it’s not just celebrities doing their own voice. Have you had any encounters with younger fans where they meet you, hear you do the voice, and believe you’re really Gru?
Carell: I did Ellen a couple of weeks ago as Gru. I figured I want to do it once. I want to go on a talk show and just be interviewed as the character and not wink about it, not try to get me to break character, but just do an interview with this guy. They designed an outfit that was the exact match for what I wear in the movie. I had a bald cap. I had a big round face and this nose that came out to about here. It’s on the intranet. One of Ellen’s staff member’s daughters was there, and when I went out, she said, “Mommy, see? He’s real. I told you this guy’s real.” So she brought her back to the dressing room afterwards, and I hadn’t taken off any of my make-up or costume. She was shy, but she wasn’t scared. I think she was five or six. I played the whole thing out with her, (channeling Gru’s accent) “Hi. What’s your name? Hello, Stacy. It’s very nice to meet you.” I went through the whole thing, and she thought she was talking to this guy. It was really sweet. Just in terms of the voice, it’s the best party trick for friends of my kids. They love it. My kids might be getting sick of it at this point, but they like it when I do it.
I think we all fantasize about having our own Minions in real life. If you had your own group of Minions, what would you have them do for you?
Carell: Car wash. Because I figure they’re sort of porous, like sponges. I think they would make a perfect…just spin them around and drive a car through, and they would wash, wax and polish your car. I can’t imagine anyone could do it better than the Minions.
You were just talking about how the voice comes into your real life sometimes. Were there any moments in the film where your wife and your kids watched and said, “Oh, that’s so you!” or “That’s your face!”?
Carell: They notice it. I don’t. That’s the weird part, because you don’t see yourself in the mirror all day, but your wife and your kids do. As you’re recording, they have a camera as you’re taping it, as you’re doing all the voices. There’s a little camera that’s on you at all times, and the animators will watch that tape and use it for reference. It’s not that they’re modeling the character completely after you, but they do use expressions. And so, from time to time, and I couldn’t tell you where, but my wife will nudge me and say, “That’s you. That’s it. That’s exactly what you do.”
One of the little touches about this that I loved was the edible guacamole sombrero. Have you ever seen that in real life?
Carell: I have never, but you know that it will exist. You know in Cancun this summer, people are going to be walking around with taco hats on, for sure. And I loved how subtly they did it, too. Toward the end, people walking by would just take a chip off and eat some guacamole out of the hat. Those guys, the writers and the animators, are really smart. Now I’ve seen the movie twice, and there were things I noticed the second time that I didn’t pick up on the first time. It’s really layered. There’s a lot of stuff going on.
It makes sense. It’s just like the hat with the two beers and the straw.
Carell: Of course! Yeah. After a while, that could get pretty ugly though, pretty messy. If you’re not having equal amounts of guacamole and chip, you’re going to have a problem.
Carell: From the very first scene in the movie, it feels like Despicable Me because of the music, because of that theme song. I think it’s hugely important because it’s also really cool. Again, it’s not kid music per se. It’s current. It’s modern. Again, it gives the movie an edge. I hate using the word “edge,” but I think it does in a really good way, in a really positive way, that kids could potentially like really good modern music, and it doesn’t have to be a calliope. It doesn’t have to sound like kid music to be in a kids’ movie.
In Despicable 2, we discover Gru’s weak spot is women and dating. How did you feel about the backstory that showed him being rejected as a youngster?
Carell: I completely related, I have to say.
Do you think that has an effect on men later on in life?
Carell: Are you kidding me? Yeah. Definitely. I honestly did relate to that, and I bet most people do in one way or another, not just in terms of girls or boys or dating. Even the most self-confident people, at one point of their lives, felt like outsiders or felt like they weren’t being heard or seen or witnessed in some way. So I think that’s a really relatable scene, and it definitely informs a lot about who Gru is now. But yeah, I was so shy, and all you need is that one [rejection]. See that could go either way, too. You have that one time where the girl says, “Hey, you’re alright.” Then that boosts your confidence. But that one time where you get shut down, although I didn’t have exactly that scenario, it stays with you. Personally, I was shy for a long, long time with girls.
Carell: I know. It’s amazing.
Both Gru and Eduardo try to do something else. They go into a different business and then start missing the action. Do you ever fantasize about going away and doing something else? If you did, do you think you would miss acting?
Carell: Boy, I don’t know. Part of me thinks that if I stopped, I could very easily not do anything, like not have something else to go to, but happily not do anything. I’m inherently a very lazy person. But I don’t know. That remains to be seen, because there will be a time when I slow down and just don’t do anything or move onto other things. I’ll let you know.
Your appearance in the final episode of The Office was such a great surprise. How early in the process did you know and how did you keep it a secret?
Carell: I lied for months to the press, to almost everyone really. I felt terribly for the cast and for Greg Daniels, because they all lied, too. They all went on talk shows and everyone just lied continually. We just figured it would be a fun surprise if people weren’t expecting it. I didn’t want it to be a big, big thing. I did it out of respect for the show and the actors, and it was based out of that. And how early? Several months. I talked to Greg Daniels about it. My only hope with it was that I didn’t want it to be about Michael coming back. I didn’t want the story to be about him in any way. I wanted it to be more of a tip of the hat to the show.
You’ve been on this ride from The Daily Show through Anchorman and The Office and now animation. Is it still surreal at this point or does it just become second nature?
Carell: No, it’s still surreal. This is still surreal. I mean, I’m doing a press conference for an animated movie that I’m going to be in. How did that happen? Who cares what I have to say? I don’t think it will ever feel second nature. I don’t think it will ever feel deserved. You know what I mean? “Oh, well of course, this is the culmination of my career. This is where it was ultimately headed.” I’ve never felt that way. It’s a continual surprise that it’s continued.