Steve Carell on ‘Burt Wonderstone’: “I think anyone loves to play a character that is either evil to a certain extent or has a real definable character flaw”
Though The Incredible Burt Wonderstone hasn’t received the best pre-release reviews, it seems most people are happy just to see star Steve Carell doing a full-out comedy again after several turns as a dour man having a mid-life crisis. In a lengthy interview with Time magazine, Carell elaborates on his performance in Burt Wonderstone, working with co-star Jim Carrey, and how he shifted his mindset for his upcoming dramatic turn in Foxcatcher… and then right back to comedy for Anchorman 2.
Though Carell was inspired by Vegas-style magicians, he explains that his character wasn’t based on a single particular trickster. He says, “It was more of an aesthetic thing. I was really just trying to get the sense of the showmanship and the performance quality that these guys have. There are different styles. There are more comedic-based magicians, there are close-up, sleight-of-hand magicians, there are big-prop magicians, there are shows ranging from incredibly spectacular to intimate. You kind of pick and choose, and you try to emulate different aspects of each of them. What I was doing was a conglomeration of a bunch of different things I observed.”
Carell knew he was on the right track when he walked around Vegas in costume — velvet suit and all — and nobody seemed to notice. He recalls, “That, to me, was a sign that we were on the right track in terms of the character looks. We didn’t want it to be a parody. We wanted it to be an amplified version of Las Vegas, but we also wanted to be tethered to the reality of Las Vegas. I found that no one batted an eye. When we were doing this big Hot Box sequence, Steve Buscemi and I were suspended in this Plexiglas box over the Las Vegas strip. We figured a crowd would gather, and we’d shoot the crowd. Nobody stopped because it’s Vegas. Stuff like this is happening every day.”
Part of the fun of the characters that Carell plays it they are overtly funny mostly because they are deeply flawed. Burt Wonderstone, for example, is a character with a massive ego. Carell points out that that’s part of the fun of playing such a character, saying, “I think anyone loves to play a character that is either evil to a certain extent or has a real definable character flaw. Those are always really fun, and, I think, funny. This guy deserves so much of what happens to him. At the same time, the challenge for me in this — and not to put too fine a point on it, because it’s comedy and it’s silly and fun — I did want to walk the line between a character that’s deplorable, but at the same time, someone you hoped would redeem himself.”
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone also marks the second time Carell worked with Jim Carrey (the first was Bruce Almighty). Yet Carell confesses that he’s still floored by Carrey’s comedic abilities. He says, “He’s a phenomenal person to watch perform. You see him in a movie, and it’s funny and committed, and he does things nobody else does. But when you watch him on a take-after-take basis, it’s like a different planet. He is so supremely gifted, and his mind is so fertile. I’ve never seen anyone commit to a character like he does. He’s unrelenting, and he works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. He wants it to be perfect. He wants it to be the very funniest it can possibly be, and he won’t quit until he achieves that. It’s inspiring. He’s just in another league.”
Since leaving The Office for movie stardom, Carell has been careful about choosing his roles. After Burt Wonderstone wrapped he began filming a dark drama, Foxcatcher. But don’t bank on Carell leaving comedy. He explains that the two processes are similar, pointing out, “It’s a completely different thing tonally, but it’s the same level of commitment. You just have to jump into it and trust the writing and trust the director, so it’s very similar. What’s fun about it is, for the last three months, I did this very dark, tragic story, but now I’m about to go into Anchorman 2. I couldn’t be more happy to be doing it. Where what I just left was very dark and not a laugh a minute, Anchorman is diametrically opposite to that as just a work experience. So it’s jarring, but in a really good way.”