With 19 films under his belt, sweetly bumbling comedian Steve Carell is on a roll as he ditches his hit TV series 'The Office' to star in more movies. Who can blame him? So far he's three-for-three in 2010, and pulling in $12 million paydays. 'Dinner for Schmucks' opened well, 'Despicable Me,' in which he voiced lovable megalomaniac anti-hero Gru, is a summer animated hit, and romantic action comedy 'Date Night' launched him as part of a popular new movie team with ace comedienne Tina Fey. Does he have the momentum to continue his film success and join the ranks of TV actors-turned-film-stars like Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams? Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they've made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Steve Carell.
With 19 films under his belt, sweetly bumbling comedian Steve Carell is on a roll as he ditches his hit TV series 'The Office' to star in more movies. Who can blame him? So far he's three-for-three in 2010, and pulling in $12 million paydays. 'Dinner for Schmucks' opened well, 'Despicable Me,' in which he voiced lovable megalomaniac anti-hero Gru, is a summer animated hit, and romantic action comedy 'Date Night' launched him as part of a popular new movie team with ace comedienne Tina Fey. Does he have the momentum to continue his film success and join the ranks of TV actors-turned-film-stars like Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams?
Latest Misfire: He doesn't have many. His biggest flop was his 1991 debut film, 'Curly Sue,' opposite James Belushi. Carell scored raves as Uncle Arthur in 'Bewitched' (which otherwise earned nasty reviews) and as Evan Baxter in 'Bruce Almighty.' That movie unfortunately yielded the bloated 2007 sequel 'Evan Almighty,' in which Carell glued on Noah's beard and took over the lead from Jim Carrey -- a tricky feat for anyone to pull off. Carell's most notable failure to date is the dead-serious 2007 indie romance 'Dan in Real Life,' opposite Juliette Binoche. He's unlikely to make that mistake again.
Signature Line: "That's what she said." -- Michael Scott, 'The Office'
Career Peaks: Building on a strong foundation in improv comedy, Carell moved from Chicago's Second City to performing skits with buddy Stephen Colbert on 'The Daily Show With Jon Stewart' (and 'Saturday Night Live's' 'Ambiguously Gay Duo' shorts) and writing and acting on 'The Dana Carvey Show.' This led in 2005 to Carell's signature role as Michael Scott in NBC's American remake of the Brit series 'The Office,' which was a stateside hit partly because Carell understood how to make the his Dunder Mifflin regional manager more likable and less venal and annoying than Ricky Gervais had been, from waking up to the smell of bacon sizzling on his George Foreman Grill to taking his staff to lunch at Hooter's. While he leaves 'The Office' after his contract expires at the end of next season, Carell will keep the door open for guest appearances.
Meanwhile, Carell's movie roles were taking off: In 2005 he broke out as a credible comedic lead in Judd Apatow's '40-Year-Old Virgin' (which he co-wrote), showing he was willing to sacrifice his own chest hair for a screen laugh. He displayed his dramatic chops as a depressed gay professor in indie smash 'Little Miss Sunshine,' which was nominated for Best Picture. Carell perfected his portrayal of dimwits as TV weatherman Brick Tamian in 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,' and as doofus secret agent Maxwell Smart in the 2008 remake 'Get Smart,' opposite Anne Hathaway, which grossed $200 million worldwide. Carell also developed his chops as a voice artist on such animated features as 'Horton Hears a Who!' (mayor of Whoville) and 'Over The Hedge' (Hammy the Squirrel).
Awards Attention: Carell has won a raft of nominations and prizes from the Golden Globes, Emmys, Writers Guild of America, Television Critics Association, Screen Actors Guild of America and MTV Movies; he collected the Golden Globe for best actor on TV for 'The Office' in 2006.
Biggest Problem: While Carell is currently in that magical fluke zone in which audiences are loving whatever he does, that career window can be dismayingly short for comedians. For other major comedy stars, from Carrey, Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams to such brilliant screen idiots as Rowan Atkinson, Peter Sellers and Steve Martin, the trick has been making the near-impossible transition from dundering guffaw-getter to leading man. As the lovably retarded taxidermist in 'Dinner for Schmucks,' Carell knows how to make moviegoers split their sides laughing; it's much more difficult to widen his appeal as a dramatic actor or romantic lead.
Biggest Assets: Whip-smart Carell understands his limitations. He knows he doesn't look like a conventional leading man. And sitcom star Will Smith's action career is not a likely scenario. Carell's greatest strength is knowing how to play humor with a straight deadpan. "I think a character in a comedy should not know they're in a comedy," he has said. "I don't think of myself as funny -- I don't fill up a room with my humor ... I would fail miserably as a stand-up comedian."
Current Gossip: The happily married father of two is too dull to be the subject of tabloid speculation.
Next Step: Warner Bros' family comedy 'Crazy, Stupid, Love,' co-starring Julianne Moore and Emma Stone, is in the can, due out in 2011. There's talk of a Peter Segal 'Get Smart' sequel and a remake of the 1967 Peter Sellers film 'The Bobo.' Carell is developing a number of projects as a producer that may or may not get made or involve his acting, including 'Hi-T,' 'Juvenile,' 'Mail-Order Groom,' and 'Missing Links.' DreamWorks has attached him to its acting comedy 'Raised by Wolfs.' And 'Little Miss Sunshine' directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton have attached Carell and Sandra Bullock to their long-in-the-works indie drama 'The Abstinence Teacher,' about a divorced sex-ed teacher in Middle America at odds with a born-again soccer coach.
Career Advice: Keep up the good work. And steer clear of too-dramatic roles -- like 'Dan in Real Life' -- that don't rely on some humor.
Anne Thompson -- who has served as Deputy Editor of Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter, West Coast Editor of Premiere and Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly -- writes a daily blog on indieWIRE, Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:
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