‘It went against ev­ery fi­bre of my be­ing…’

From a drug ad­dict’s fa­ther to Don­ald Rums­feld – how Steve Carell swapped com­edy for trauma and cor­rup­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - FILM - ROB­BIE COLLIN

‘Ihope you weren’t ex­pect­ing me to be funny,” says Steve Carell, with what sounds like gen­uine con­cern. “Be­cause when peo­ple talk to me, they quickly re­alise

I’m not su­per-funny in per­son.”

This is not false mod­esty: the star of such thigh-slap­pers as The 40-Year-Old Vir­gin and the Amer­i­can re­make of The Of­fice is not, in the flesh, the life of the party. In terms of un­bri­dled show­busi­ness zing, he is more like the party’s left ear­lobe, or one of its smaller toes. To­day, in a cen­tral Lon­don ho­tel suite, wear­ing an im­mac­u­lately tai­lored jacket, dark jeans and navy cash­mere pullover, he car­ries him­self less like a com­edy leg­end than the smartest dad at par­ents’ evening. Some ac­tors are known for dis­ap­pear­ing into their work. Carell dis­ap­pears into him­self.

Per­haps he feels a par­tic­u­lar need to re­treat at the mo­ment: there’s so much Carell around. He is the star of Robert Ze­meckis’s odd­ball fan­tasy Wel­come to Mar­wen, about the am­ne­siac pho­tog­ra­pher Mark Ho­gan­camp, which opened in cin­e­mas ear­lier this week, while later this month he will be seen as the for­mer US sec­re­tary of de­fence Don­ald Rums­feld in Adam McKay’s satir­i­cal Dick Cheney biopic Vice, and also the jour­nal­ist David Sh­eff in Beau­ti­ful Boy, a true story of a fa­ther try­ing to shake loose his son from the coils of crys­tal meth.

All three films draw on his comic tal­ents, even though their sub­jects – trauma, cor­rup­tion and drug ad­dic­tion – are hardly laugh­ing mat­ters. Yet it turns out this new phase of his ca­reer is pos­i­tively light-hearted, com­pared with what could have been. When The Of­fice was ap­proach­ing the end of its nine-sea­son run, Carell made a film called Fox­catcher, for which he earned a best ac­tor Os­car nom­i­na­tion for play­ing the evil mil­lion­aire wrestling en­thu­si­ast John du Pont. It was a supremely chill­ing per­for­mance – and as soon as it screened, Carell says he was in­un­dated with scripts for “psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers, al­ways with me as the mur­der­ous vil­lain”. He looks du­bi­ous. “So some doors cer­tainly swung open. But they weren’t nec­es­sar­ily ones I wanted to go through.”

Nev­er­the­less, ever since Fox­catcher pried Carell out of his groove, he’s been con­tent to try any­thing direc­tors will throw at him, even if it means leav­ing the com­edy com­fort zone he’d hap­pily in­hab­ited since his im­prov days in Chicago in the early Nineties. His role in Beau­ti­ful Boy, a clear-eyed ex­plo­ration of both the col­lat­eral toll of ad­dic­tion and the strength and lim­its of fa­therly love, is some way out of it.

While pre­par­ing for the film, Carell spoke to Sh­eff about his el­dest son Nic’s years-long strug­gle with crys­tal meth. He also read Sh­eff ’s 2008 book, with which the film shares a ti­tle. Nic’s own mem­oir, Tweak: Grow­ing Up On Metham­phetamines, pro­vided a use­ful coun­ter­point, and was like­wise pored over by Carell’s 23-year-old (and oh-so-hot-right­now) co-star, Ti­mothée Cha­la­met.

Carell finds this stuff a source of anx­i­ety. Meet­ing David re­minded him of his con­ver­sa­tions with the rogue fund man­ager Steve

Eisman, a ver­sion of whom he played in McKay’s fi­nan­cial-crash satire The Big Short: “It’s al­ways odd, be­cause you don’t want them to feel as if they’re some sort of sci­ence ex­per­i­ment,” he says. “But at the same time, you don’t want to be cava­lier.”

Es­pe­cially thorny were the parts of Nic and David’s story in which David’s tem­per or judg­ment lapsed: “Be­cause he makes bad de­ci­sions and acts self­ishly, and be­haves in ways that re­flect badly on his ego more than any­thing else.” There is a des­o­lat­ing scene in which David tells Nic by phone he has reached the end of his rope, and is cut­ting him out of his life.

‘Do I ever find my­self wish­ing I had some big source of dam­age? I’m not say­ing I don’t!’

NO JOKESteve Carell and Ti­mothée Cha­la­met, stand­ing left, as fa­ther and son in Beau­ti­ful Boy

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