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Steve Carell on What Michael Scott Said to Pam in Their Final Scene of ‘The Office’
It’s not every day you get to sit down for nearly three hours with Steve Carell over lunch at a slightly musty 70-year-old restaurant in Burbank that still serves shrimp Louie. I did, and you can read all about it in Esquire’s November cover story. Spoiler: he’s a generous, funny, and thoughtful man.
But there was a lot we talked about that didn’t make it into the article. (The magazine insisted it be finite.) So below, some outtakes from our interview, including Carell’s first account of shooting his final scene on The Office. He also talked about working with Christian Bale for the film Vice (due out December 10; Bale and Carell play Don Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld respectively) and his first stab at motion capture—the digital technology that allowed Andy Serkis to play Golem and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes movies—for his new Robert Zemeckis film Welcome to Marwen (out December 21).
On doing motion capture for the first time—and admitting to having had some actual mime training
Esquire: Had you ever done motion capture work before you shot Welcome to Marwen?
Steve Carell: I feel like you either really like it or you hate it. And I liked it. You just got to use your imagination. You see a tennis ball and you just have to imagine that it’s a Nazi platoon that’s about to attack you. And it’s kind of fun. I mean, all of [acting] is make-believe, but this is really, really make-believe. And it’s silly, too, because all of the actors are walking around in these ridiculous unitards with ping-pong balls attached to them. In what they call a “volume,” I think. It’s just an enormous room with sensors and cameras all over the place. I liked it.
Esquire: I would think that’s a particularly physically nuanced kind of acting. Did you ever had any dance or mime training, anything like that? Does that come into this at all?
SC: [Laughing] No. No. No. That makes me laugh. It really does. If you’ve ever seen me in a film or on TV dancing, it’s pretty apparent that I’ve never really had training.
Esquire: But isn’t hard to dance deliberately badly? I always thought one of the greatest physical performances ever was Julia Louis-Dreyfus doing her famous awful dance on that episode of Seinfeld. Don’t you have to be skilled to be that bad?
Sure, they say that.
Esquire: They say that, but you’re a natural?
SC: Naturally bad. No, I think training probably would have helped. I played around with some mime, like, in high school. And, yes, I took movement classes and dance, but it was never anything that I studied with any sort of intensity. But yeah, it was important to learn some of that stuff, to learn how your body moved.
On working with Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy
Esquire: Tell me about working with Timothée. Or do you call him Tim? Or Timmy?
SC: Mr. Chalamet. He demands it at this point. Man, I’ve never seen someone nail an audition like he nailed that audition [for Beautiful Boy]. As soon as we started doing [the scene] together, at least from my perspective, we knew instantly that he was exactly the right person.
Esquire: What scene was it?
SC: It might have been the diner scene [where Carell’s father has a particular wrenching confrontation with Chalamet’s son.] What was so special about it he was just there. He was just that guy. He was completely open. He was listening — as an actor he was listening. He wasn’t trying to do more than he needed to do. He wasn’t trying to act. He wasn’t trying to elicit any sort of response. That was key for me, too. I think movies like this can become very manipulative, and it was important not to do that—I mean the material was powerful enough. I didn’t feel the need to overdo with the performance.
On performing with Christian Bale and Amy Adams in Vice
Esquire: You’ve done a lot of improvisation on your past films with [director] Adam McKay. Did you do much on this film, and if so, how was Christian Bale at improvising? My sense is that’s not normally his thing.
SC: There wasn’t a ton of improv, but Christian is excellent at it to answer your question. Any actor, I believe, who’s that good is normally an excellent improvisor — whether they be “improvisors” or not. He’s obviously such an accomplished actor, and he can do it as scripted. But if you wanted him to do it completely unscripted, I have no doubt that he could do that in a heartbeat without even thinking twice because he’s so dedicated to the characters that he plays. He understands them. He’s done so much preparation that he doesn’t necessarily need the script, and therefore, I think he can improvise on any point. Amy Adams is the same way. They’re both so good.
On what he observed while researching how to play Donald Rumsfeld
One of the things I found interesting was that there was something very playful about Rumsfeld. And at the same time extremely rigid and slightly terrifying. But you see these interviews with him and he’s very soft-spoken and kind of quiet. I feel like there was so much power behind him, that he had so much confidence, that he didn’t need to speak loudly. He didn’t need to. The way he spoke was like your kind uncle — you know, he’s out on the porch and he’s going to give you a little bit of his wisdom. But at the same time, there was this other side. Did you ever see the SNL skit where Phil Hartman played Reagan and he’s in the Oval Office, and these little kids come to visit? He’s like, “Oh, my, how are you! Oh, so good to see you.” He’s like that grandpa Reagan, and then as soon as the kids leave, it’s [shouting] “Let’s get back to work!” He’s really in charge and aggressive and kind of scary. I thought that sketch was really funny. And that public persona, with Rumsfeld, there was that public version of who he presented himself to be, and then that [other reality]. He was a player.
On his final moment on The Office
Esquire: An Office-obsessed colleague asked me ask you: what did you say to Jenna Fischer in the last scene of your final episode—the long shot in the airplane terminal?
SC: I don’t remember specifically. It was basically just the two of us saying goodbye and crying, like, “I’m going to miss you.” “It’s going to be okay.” That sort of thing. I don’t remember the specific words, but it wasn’t like small talk. It wasn’t, “Is the camera still rolling?” It was an actual moment between us.