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Steve Carell - Biography

Steve Carell

Personal details

Name: Steve Carell
Born: 16 August 1962 (Age: 51)
Where: Concord, Massachusetts, USA
Height: 5' 10"
Awards: Won 1 Golden Globe, 2 Emmy Nominations

All about this star

Biography:

Quite rightly, much is made of Saturday Night Live's track record in churning out top-line film comedians. Less credit, though, is given to Second City, where many of SNL's stars served their apprenticeship. Formed in Chicago and spreading into Canada and beyond, the organisation has served as a comic college for such heavyweights talents as Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Peter Boyle, George Wendt, John and James Belushi, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Candy, Gilda Radner, Dan Castellaneta, Mike Myers and Chris Farley. More recently, it also spawned Steve Carell, one of the biggest breakthrough stars of the mid-Noughties.

Serving six years at Second City, both as an improv performer and teacher, Carell would first gain national attention as a field reporter for spoof news programme The Daily Show. Then his association with the Frat Pack - that extended brotherhood of funnymen including Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller and Jack Black - would lift his profile still higher, his career reaching a new peak when he scored mighty hits with The 40 Year Old Virgin and the US version of TV series The Office, and then won the title role in Evan Almighty, the most expensive comedy film ever made. Many saw Carell as something of an overnight success. However, well into his forties when he found worldwide fame, he had been working at his craft for over twenty years. It had been a hard road, indeed.

He was born Steven John Carell on the 16th of August, 1962, in Concord, Massachusetts, growing up in nearby Acton. He was the youngest of four sons born to Edwin and Harriet. A Catholic, Edwin was of Italian ancestry and had changed his name from Caroselli before Steve's birth. During WW2, he'd served in the 100th Infantry Division that had landed at Marseille in 1944 and helped to drive the Germans out of France. Harriet, meanwhile, was the sister of Stanley Koch, a highly skilled glassblower who'd worked closely with Allen Dumont in creating cathode ray tubes that proved vital in the large scale production of televisions and also in the US Navy's radar systems during WW2. Springing from a family of 8 kids, Stanley and Harriet came from tough stock, their mother Francis having worked as a cook and run a boarding-house in Mineville, NY, during the mining boom of the early 1900s, their father Zygmond actually being a miner, sadly dying young of silicosis.

25 miles north-west of Boston, Acton was the epitome of rural New England, a place of neat stone walls with a well-groomed village green. Close by was the Old North Bridge where, during a skirmish on April 19th, 1775, "the shot heard around the world" was fired, heralding the start of the American Revolution. This sense of US history was certainly felt in the Carell household, Edwin being not only a war vet but also a longstanding member of the Acton Minutemen, a society formed to commemorate their ancestors' treacherous actions on Patriots' Day.

The Carells were not born into riches, they worked hard to give their boys a good start in life Harriet would work as a psychiatric nurse between 11pm and 7 in the morning, arriving home in time to prepare the kids for school, then grabbing a few hours sleep before their return. It was, she reckoned, the only way she could earn decent money and have a life with her children. Their home was a happy one, and many of the laughs would stem from young Steve. Though in later years he'd deny he was ever a funny kid, his mother would reveal that he was a constant source of amusement at mealtimes. The others might tell the same story, she said, but never with the same effect.

Growing up in the Sixties and early Seventies, when hit kids' shows included the manic, surreal likes of The Monkees, The Banana Splits and HR Pufnstuf, Steve was clearly touched by the anarchic humour of the time. He'd later recall a daily ritual where his father would arrive home from work, put down his car-keys, turn on the hallway light and open the closet door to hang up his coat. This is when young Steve, hidden in the depths of the closet, would leap forth, scaring the bejesus out of Edwin, who never appeared to expect it. There'd be another time when one of Steve's brothers invited a new girlfriend to dinner, the girl arriving at table to find Steve dressed as an alien, covered in tin foil with a large motorcycle helmet and flashing light on his head. He wasn't after laughs necessarily, later explaining that he was interested in people's reactions when confronted with such lunacy. This curiosity, this interest in normal people in strange circumstances, would heavily mark much of his future work.

For his official schooling, his parents' efforts would see Steve sent to The Fenn School in Concord. A small establishment teaching some 300 boys, this was an independent day school on a former farm, with huge playing fields, science labs, art studios, gyms, library and woodwork shop, all of it designed to develop confidence and character. Average class sizes of 13 would help in that. From here, he'd move to The Middlesex School, also in Concord. Co-ed and deliberately non-denominational, with its campus designed by the sons of Frederick Olmsted (who created New York's Central Park), Middlesex had a close traditional affiliation with Harvard and attracted students from all over the States.

Music and drama would be central to the school's activities, with a very high percentage of students involved in choruses, bands or theatrical productions. Known for years for its exceptional stagings of Gilbert & Sullivan operas, the school would ordinarily produce one drama and one musical a year, both of an abnormally high standard.

Commuting from Acton, Carell would prosper in this nurturing atmosphere. One of his earlier memories was of being praised at age 7 for the mimed canoeing he'd performed in a play about Native Americans. The acknowledgement had felt good and since then he'd always involved himself in his schools' theatrical efforts. At Middlesex he'd be introduced to the backstage mysteries of light, sound and set-building. Pupils would also be encouraged to write sketches and perform them in the black box theatre that served as a testing ground for the school's main Cornelius Ayer Wood Theatre. Carell would furthermore play baritone horn in the school band and edit the school newspaper.

Carell would graduate from Middlesex in 1981 and move on to Denison University in Granville, Ohio, some 30 miles east of Columbus. Specializing in liberal arts and sciences, Denison's other alumni would include Michael Eisner, former president of Disney, as well as actors Hal Holbrook and Christopher Atkins of Blue Lagoon fame, their ranks later being joined by Jennifer Garner. With a double-major in History and Theatre, Carell believed himself to be aiming for a career in law, but again he found himself drawn more to the theatrical side. He DJed on WDUB, Denison's award-winning radio station and, as well as participating in Dension's University Theatre, he'd join Burpee's Seedy Theatrical Company, a recently formed improv comedy group run by students. Only freshmen were permitted to become Burpees and each had to commit to the group for their entire college career. They'd practise twice a week and perform in variety shows both on and off campus, as well as touring across the country. Carell would have a blast, so much so that he'd later return to perform in Burpees reunion shows.

Graduating from Denison in 1984, Carell would return briefly to Massachusetts, working as a mail carrier in Littleton, near Acton (earlier he'd worked at Store 24, a 24-hour grocers on Waltham Street in Maynard). He claims not to have been a very good mail carrier, driving into mailboxes, being bitten by dogs and, on one miserable occasion, finding undelivered letters under his car-seat. The choice facing him was difficult. Having seen his parents scrimp to give him and his brothers a good start, he felt duty-bound to continue on into a legal career. He had, though, misunderstood his parents' intentions. They'd worked not to give him a shot at riches but at fulfilment and, clearly recognising that their son's inclination was towards performance, they now encouraged him to follow that path.
So, in 1985, along a few friends of a similar bent, he took off for Chicago and a life as an actor.

. Carell had reckoned that New York and Los Angeles were too intimidating, there'd be too much competition for jobs and he really needed experience. He wasn't thinking about stardom, about self-promotion, simply about working, finding groups to work with and learn from. Over the next three years he'd take a host of unpaid parts in small productions, supporting himself in time-honoured fashion by working as a waiter. He was poor, but then he had few overheads; his place was cheap and his car was old. All the while he was improving himself. Soon he began to attend classes at Chicago's famed Second City.

Second City had opened back in 1959, springing from the Compass Players, an experimental theatre group begun by students at the University of Chicago. A host of soon-to-be-stellar talents had been involved, including Alan Alda, Jerry Stiller (Ben's dad), Mike Nichols, Valerie Harper, Elaine May, Paul Mazursky, Ed Asner and Alan Arkin. As an ensemble, Second City would specialise in improv, satire and revue comedy, in 1967 forming a touring company to visit colleges and other venues around the country. They'd set up a training centre for the study of acting, writing and improv and, come 1982, opened etc, the Experimental Theatre Company, showcasing new talent and testing the boundaries of form and content right next door to Second City's mainstage in Piper's Alley. Carell had seen a Second City troupe perform at Denison and been impressed by their skill and wit and, above all, by the great time they appeared to be having.

It was not easy to gain admittance to such a respected and popular group, but Carell got lucky. At the time, in 1987, Second City was experiencing a rare outflux of performers and replacements were needed. Beyond this, preference was generally given to applicants already studying at the centre. He was in. At first he was in etc and the touring company and immersed himself in the work. Players had real freedom to experiment and were thus able to turn any morning's big news stories into sketches that same night. Carell would perform sketches written by past alumni like Bill Murray and the Belushi brothers, as well as building characters based on oddballs he'd met while working in Store 24. Six nights a week he'd perform, working his way up through the ranks until, by 1989, he'd made it onto the Mainstage.

Come the 1990s he was a star performer, a teacher at the centre and, according to Elaine May, a notorious ladies man, Carell thought he had it made. Secure in his position at Second City and getting occasional TV ads, he was supporting himself through his acting - all he'd ever really wanted. But there was more to come. While teaching at the centre he fell for one of his students, Nancy Walls, three years his junior and also born in Massachusetts.
Before joining Second City, Walls had been at member of the My Mother's Fleabag improv group at Boston College and was set for far bigger things. Her influence on Carell's career would be huge, as would that of another Second City student, Stephen Colbert, who'd made his debut as Carell's understudy in the touring company. Carell and Walls would marry in 1995, with Walls eventually putting her own career on hold to have daughter Elisabeth Ann in 2001 and son John in 2004.

. Carell has often said that he fell into rather than chose comedy. Despite his success with Second City he still considered himself an actor, even popping up in a tiny role in Curly Sue, a 1991 comedy starring former Second City star James Belushi and filmed in Chicago (his only other screen appearance of the time was in Life As We Know It, a Best Of Second City collection). Come 1993, Carell would take steps away from improv and test himself in Chicago's more "serious" theatre scene. At the Wisdom Bridge Theatre he'd star in a new play, Tour De Farce, a rapidfire romp by Philip LaZebnik and Kingsley Day where Carell would play no fewer than 5 parts, including one half of a bickering couple, a promiscuous Southern senator, a nosy bellboy and a super-intellectual cameraman who once worked with Ingmar Bergman. All the female roles would be played by Hollis Resnik, soon to be one of Chicago's top stage actresses and singers and, like Carell, a Denison graduate. It was crazy stuff, with myriad costumes changes, and was a big hit, eventually transferring to New York. By then, though, Carell, had moved on.

In 1995, Carell would appear in another new play, this time Wendy MacLeod's Sin (A Contemporary Morality Play), directed by David Petrarca. Set amidst the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, this would see a high-minded and judgmental traffic reporter, played by Kelly Coffield, forced the deal with and accept those around her, each of them representing one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Carell would play Jonathan, Coffield's unpleasant blind date, who believes AIDS to be an act of God. Another success, the play would debut as a studio production at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, then travel - with Carell - to New York where, between September 12th and October 29th, it would be staged at the McGinn-Cazale Theatre (the Cazale being John Cazale - Fredo in The Godfather).

New York would soon become the centre of Carell's life. Comedy star Dana Carvey, offered his own show by ABC, began to audition for writers and performers across America. Carell would audition in Chicago, then Los Angeles, but couldn't quite score a part, just as he'd missed out on a place at Saturday Night Live. In the meantime, wife Nancy Walls was breaking through. Along with fellow Second City star David Koechner, she'd be snapped up during the 1995-96 season of Saturday Night Live as the show revamped itself once more.
Just departed were Mike Myers, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley, newly arrived were Will Ferrell (who'd got in instead of Carell), Cheri Oteri and Molly Shannon. Indeed, Walls would appear in Ferrell's very first SNL sketch, Get Off The Shed, playing an ever more disgusted guest at a barbecue where Ferrell's gradually turns psychotic in disciplining his children. Beyond this, she'd play alongside Norm MacDonald and become known herself for her impression of CNN anchorwoman Bobbie Batista.

. Of course, Walls would have to relocate to New York for SNL. Carell moved with her and, while in the Big Apple, auditioned once again for Dana Carvey. This time he was accepted, joining a crew that would include former understudy Stephen Colbert and maverick writer Charlie Kaufman. With Carvey such a popular success on SNL and with the Wayne's World movies, this was a great chance for Carell to showcase his talents.

Sadly, it didn't work out. ABC and the general public had expected Carvey to continue with such loveable characters as the Church Lady and Hans and Franz. Carvey, though, had other ideas entirely, wanting to place himself firmly on the cutting-edge of comedy. The very first sketch in the very first show saw Carvey as President Clinton explaining his desire to be a nurturing president. The shock came when he was revealed to be breast-feeding Labrador retriever puppies. As this was before Monica Lewinsky and Clinton's descent into scandal, audiences were outraged, sponsors pulled out and ABC's support for the show quickly began to dwindle.

During the 7 episodes screened (8 were filmed) before ABC pulled the plug, The Dana Carvey Show was a blast. Vulgar, gritty and politically sharp, it attacked not only the president but also pop culture in general and its own sponsors. Carell would appear in many sketches. Alongside Colbert, he'd be a bidder at an auction fronted by a monumentally sarcastic Carvey, he'd be a member of a Herman's Hermits-type band backing Carvey's Prince Charles as he bemoans paying alimony to Princess Diana, he'd be a dancer for Madonny, a Chinese food delivery boy who claims Madonna stole all his ideas, and there'd be a lost scene from The Wizard Of Oz where a new character wants the wizard to provide him with genitalia. Beyond this, Carell and Colbert would play a pair of waiters unfortunately nauseated by food, and there'd be The Ambiguously Gay Duo, animated shorts by Robert Smigel where, once again with Colbert, he'd play half of a crime-fighting unit even more camp than Batman and Robin, constantly having their sexuality questioned while battling super villain Bighead. When The Dana Carvey Show was cancelled, some of the sketches written for that eighth show would be reworked for Saturday Night Live, where Colbert would briefly become a writer. The Ambiguously Gay Duo would be taken, too, Carell's voice at least appearing on the show 11 times over the next 10 years.

Having been told by pretty much everyone that The Dana Carvey Show was a guaranteed ticket to the top table, Carell was hit hard by the cancellation. Nevertheless, having moved to LA and, along with wife Nancy, tried to get an agent, he persisted, quickly finding himself a prime role in the TV series Over The Top. Sadly, this was another troubled production, the original pilot having been scrapped and half the cast fired. Now the show would see Tim Curry as an out-of-work thespian seeking out former wife Annie Potts, who's now running a hotel in New York. Curry would be his usual larger-than-life self, yet would still be overshadowed by Carell, playing the hotel's screeching, whining, crazily eager chef Yorga Galfanikos. The critics absolutely hated it, piling in with maximum venom, Carell taking much of the heat. Though 11 episodes were shot, only 3 would make it to air before the show was pulled in October, 1997. Another disaster for Carell.

. 1998 would be a round of auditions and disappointments. He'd pop up very briefly in the strange, disturbing comedy Tomorrow Night, directed by Louis CK, one of Carell's cohorts on The Dana Carvey Show. Then there'd be an episode of Just Shoot Me!, where hot-blooded journalist Laura San Giacomo would be forced to work on dad George Segal's frivolous fashion mag. After this there'd be Eric Weber's Suits, a spoof of the marketing business where two rival ad agencies would have to come up with campaigns to sell a new kind of sanitary towel. Carell's efforts as a towel company exec would come to nothing, Suits failing to win a proper release.

Thankfully, after three years in the wilderness, help was at hand. As said, after The Dana Carvey Show, Stephen Colbert had moved to SNL as a writer. The following year, 1997, he'd moved on to The Daily Show, a spoof news programme basically dedicated to taking the rise out of everyone, from the great and the good to the poor and defenceless. Come 1999, with Jon Stewart having taken over from Craig Kilborn, the show had become less smug and patronizing and was looking for new blood. Colbert suggested his old friend Carell and he was hired as a field reporter, keeping a straight face as he interviewed some of America's oddest and, as the show grew in popularity, most powerful people. Carell would play his character as an idiot asking hilariously foolish questions. His experience in improv would help but, as he was usually in a scene with someone who didn't know they were in a scene, it didn't help that much. He was always walking a comedic tightrope. Luckily for him, if a report was a failure there was always tomorrow, and Carell's hit rate was high. Beginning by interviewing an Elvis impersonator in the middle of Nebraska who also ran a venom research facility in a trailer filled with snakes, Carell would quickly become one of The Daily Show's mainstays.
He'd continue with his field reports, appear in the studio posing as an expert on whatever topic was being covered, he had a slot called Ad Nauseum where he lampooned different adverts and products, another called Slimming With Steve with dumb diets, and there was Even Stev/phen where he'd engage in an absurd argument with Colbert, getting angry and personal rather than dealing with the red-hot issues of the day.

. Carell would stay with the show for 6 years though, after the first three, his appearances would become less and less frequent. His best experience, he said, was the time he spent on the campaign bus of presidential candidate John McCain, an unexpectedly playful fellow. His worse would be with a conspiracy theorist who believed that Walt Disney had built a subterranean city beneath Disneyland where he was waited upon by armies of kidnapped and brainwashed children. Also believing that Donny Osmond and the Mandrell sisters were alien robots, the man was an obvious target for mockery and, even though he was digging his own hole, Carell felt guilty for letting him do it. Quiet, unshowy and humane, he was not in the business of comedic cruelty.

Over those first three years there was not a lot of time for extra-curricular work, especially once his daughter was born in 2001. 2000 saw the screening of another pilot, titled HUD and directed by David Zucker of Airplane! fame. This would envisage the government's Department of Housing and Urban Development as a front for a super-secret agency protecting the nation from master criminals, with Carell starring as a top agent partnered by Meredith Salenger. Despite being written by Zucker and Steve Koren who'd worked on Seinfeld, the pilot was not picked up by NBC. And there'd be more Seinfeld-flavoured rejection from NBC in the 2002-03 season when Carell joined the cast of Watching Ellie, a new vehicle for Seinfeld veteran Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Here Dreyfus would be a jazz singer dealing with her relationships with both a dashing Brit bandmate and Carell, playing her obnoxious former partner who lives in the same building. To begin with, episodes would play in real time, like the hit 24, but NBC felt it wasn't working. After 10 episodes (with a further 3 filmed but unshown) the show was pulled and rejigged. After a further 6 episodes, though, it was finally cancelled. Carell would have to wait just a little bit longer.

Though he could always fall back on The Daily Show, Carell now had a string of flops behind him. To progress further, he needed a hit. 2003 would see him in Street Of Pain, an excellent, Matrix-satirising comedy short where he exacted revenge on 3 guys who'd attacked him with dodgeballs when they were children. The short's success was a sign of good things to come for Carell's next outing was his initial breakthrough - Bruce Almighty.
Here Jim Carrey would play a TV news reporter who, missing out on promotion to anchorman and losing girlfriend Jennifer Aniston, blames God for all his troubles. In turn God, played by Morgan Freeman, gives Carrey divine omnipotence for a week to see if he can do any better. He can't, obviously, but he does have a hell of a time trying, and the film's funniest moment came when he went after Carell, the rival reporter who actually got that anchor job. With Carrey taking away his ability to make any kind of sense, Carell was righteously humiliated on air, but he was also sidesplittingly funny in his doomed attempts to communicate with his viewers - one of the very few times Carrey was bettered in one of his own movies. Carell was clearly a talent beyond the norm, his chance would surely come. The $242 million Bruce Almighty took at the US box office would do much to smooth his path.

. 2004 would be a vital year for Carell who was now making strenuous efforts to find success beyond The Daily Show (he was also, it should be noted, carrying the thought of his wife having given up her career for him). He'd begin it with an appearance in the very last episode of TV series Fillmore!, a Disney animation where a former delinquent would try to come good in middle school. Next would come another NBC series, Come To Papa. This would be written by Tom Papa, who'd also star as a newspaper journalist who dreams of leaving Jersey to become a comedy writer. Carell would appear as Papa's boss, an unpopular guy whose attempts to make his staff like him constantly backfire. As Come To Papa was canned after only 4 episodes, it seemed Carell was the Grim Reaper for TV series. Really, his record of TV catastrophe was quite remarkable. Indeed, it's worth wondering if Fillmore! would have made it through two seasons had he appeared in the first episode and not the last.

TV stardom would thus be delayed. For now Carell would be concentrating on movies, seriously concentrating, as the summer of 2004 would see him in two releases in the same week. The less successful of these would be Sleepover, a high school romp where a gang of girls go on a scavenger hunt - breaking into boys' bedrooms, sneaking into bars etc - in order to win control of the "cool" table for lunch. A moustachioed Carell would be the girls' nemesis, a guard for Patrol Tech Security dedicated to cleaning up the neighbourhood, attempting to catch them at their mischief. Better, and far more important in terms of contacts made, would be Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. Here, Carell's former SNL rival Will Ferrell would star as the titular newscaster, a big-shot in 1970s San Diego, who's challenged both by rival news-teams and the arrival of an ambitious Christina Applegate. Carell would play mentally challenged weatherman Brick Tamland, along with David Koechner and Paul Rudd a member of Ferrell's macho gang, much humour being derived from his misunderstanding of almost every situation.
His miserable failure to seduce Applegate was a highpoint, as was his inappropriate ultraviolence in a battle between rival news-teams that featured Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Tim Robbins and spoofed Scorsese's Gangs Of New York.

. Anchorman was a big hit and, better still for Carell, it placed him right in the middle of the so-called Frat Pack, a loose brotherhood of comedians featuring Ferrell, Vaughn, Stiller, Rudd, Jack Black, Owen and Luke Wilson and Seth Rogen, amongst others. Also taking a cameo in Anchorman - and meeting Carell for the first time - was Judd Apatow, who'd earlier written The Cable Guy, starring Jim Carrey and directed by Stiller. Carell and Apatow hit it off and began to work together, Apatow encouraging Carell to flesh out his best ideas. The results bringing huge success to both.

Before this, Carell would find himself in several high profile productions. First, he'd join Ferrell in Woody Allen's Melinda And Melinda where two playwrights would argue whether the world is essentially comic or tragic, each telling a tale where the neurotic Melinda brings confusion into the lives of her friends and neighbours. In one story, Ferrell would play the out-of-work actor husband of film-maker Amanda Peet, with Carell popping up briefly as a friend of Ferrell's. He'd remain alongside Ferrell in 2005's Bewitched, a cinematic reworking of the 1960s TV series. Here Ferrell would play a fading star hoping to revive his career by remaking, of all things, the 1960s TV series Bewitched. Seeking an unknown to play the reluctant witch Samantha, he comes across Nicole Kidman who is, unbeknown to him, really a reluctant witch. Cue misunderstandings, secrets and heartache, with Carell appearing as Uncle Arthur, the effete warlock originally played by Paul Lynde, persuading Ferrell that Kidman's occult gifts are not such a bad thing.

Just before Bewitched, Carell would have yet another stab at TV and, to most eyes, it looked like he was in for another critical mauling as well as quick cancellation. In the UK, The Office had been a much-lauded hit for Ricky Gervais, who'd starred as David Brent, the insufferable middle-manager of a dull company in Slough. Much of the show's humour lay in the excruciating embarrassment the viewer felt on the behalf of Brent and his staff - in that, it was very British - and so it was widely felt that the show would not impress American audiences when it was remade. Still, NBC persisted in its plans and kept the faith with Carell, with whom they'd had several failures in the past. Brent became Michael Scott, his company became the Dunder Mifflin paper supply company and was relocated to Scranton, Pennsylvania. To begin with, the show kept strictly to the original scripts, maintained the pregnant silences and horrible embarrassment, but quickly veered away into new territory.
Carell's Scott - self-important, deluded, insensitive, but still desperate to be liked (not far from the character he'd played in Come To Papa) - was backed by a strong cast, including John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson and Carell's longtime co-worker David Koechner, as well as wife Nancy Walls. And American audiences loved it. At last, Carell had scored on TV away from The Daily Show, winning a Golden Globe in the process.

. It really was his time. Just as The Office was taking off, Carell would hit big on the Silver Screen, too, as his writing collaboration with Judd Apatow now bore fruit in the shape of The 40 Year Old Virgin. Here Carell would star as Andy Stitzer, a lonely nerd working in an electronics store, a man in arrested development who can't drive, has never had a girlfriend and obsesses over computer games and collectable models. Taken under the wing of workmates Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and Romany Malco, he's encouraged to break his duck with any available woman, all the while holding a torch for Catherine Keener, an e-Bay dealer across the road. Based on a character Carell had invented for a sketch back in his Second City days, Stitzer would prove to be more than just a man-child, his innate decency eventually affecting his macho mates as they're revealed to be just as dysfunctional as he is. And this humanity was the root of the movie's success. Amidst the hilarious blokeish philsophy and inevitable gross-out scenes, the relationship between Carell and Keener was genuinely moving. Word of mouth would push the film's US take over $100 million - Carell was now a bona fide star.

2006 would be another big year. First there'd be the comedy short American Storage, where Carell would play the insanely dedicated owner of a storage facility. Going off on a paintballing weekend, he'd leave the place in the hands of dopey worker Martin Starr, only for Starr to find a dropout living, and living well, in the storage units. Next he'd lend his voice to the successful animation Over The Hedge, where Bruce Willis's racoon would lead a team of animals into the suburbs to hunt to food to pay off big bad bear Nick Nolte. Carell would play a squirrel delighted by his discovery of nachos, and his character would prove so popular it also appeared in the short Hammy's Boomerang Adventure where he'd be tormented by Willis's practical jokes.

Aside from these, 2006 would bring Carell's first dramatic hit. As said, he'd always considered himself to be more an actor than a comedian and Little Miss Sunshine gave him a great chance to showcase his talents. Here workaholic Greg Kinnear and long-suffering wife Toni Collette would decide to take sweet young daughter Abigail Breslin across country to the finals of a beauty pageant. Joining them on the trip would be son Paul Dano, who's taken a vow of silence, and his foul-mouthed but good-hearted granddad Alan Arkin.
Completing the van-load would be Carell, playing Collette's broken brother, a college professor who's attempted suicide after being rejected by his young lover and losing out on a grant to his bitterest rival. The film was a comedy with real depth, with Carell's emotionally battered Frank lending both darkness and gallows humour - Carell being able to draw on genuine tragedy as two of his brothers had recently lost their wives. Arkin would win an Oscar for his performance while Carell, who'd entered Second City a quarter of a century after Arkin had left, would receive special critical mention. He was clearly one to watch.

. Now the pressure was on. 2007 would see Carell performing cameos for his comedy buddies, for David Koechner in The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show, and Judd Apatow in the hit Knocked Up. But the year would be dominated by his first major lead, in Evan Almighty, a sequel of sorts to Bruce Almighty. Impressed by Carell's efforts in the original movie, and by advance screenings of The 40 Year Old Virgin, the producers had asked him to step in when Jim Carrey decided to pass. Without Carrey, the movie became a far riskier proposition, particularly as its budget of over $175 million was the highest ever for a comedy. But Carell took it in his stride, reprising his Evan Baxter character, now a congressman sent by Morgan Freeman's God on a biblical mission to build an ark and save the world's fauna from extinction. It was fun, and made over $100 million but, despite being heavily marketed at church-goers, could never hope to cover those huge costs.

Still, Carell was hot. His next picture, Dan In Real Life, would be another comedy-drama where he played to his strengths as a serious guy placed in crazy circumstances. Here he was a straight-laced advice columnist, widowed and trying to raise three daughters. Wanting to get back into the dating game, he meets his soul mate, Juliette Binoche, in a bookshop, only to find she's already dating his irresponsible brother, Dane Cook. Cook would also be involved in Carell's next production, as would Seth Rogan, when they all lent their voices to the animated Horton Hears A Who, the Dr Seuss classic originally filmed as a 26-minute short back in 1970. This time Jim Carrey would voice the poor elephant who suffers at the hands of his peers for his belief in a microscopic community, Carell playing the mayor of that community, Whoville, having trouble convincing his people that they're at the mercy of giant elephants.

Besides Horton, Carell's other big release of 2008 would be Get Smart, like Bewitched a "re-imagining" of a hit 1960s TV show - Get Smart having been created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Re-teaming with Alan Arkin, and moving back into the kind of territory he'd covered in the failed pilot HUD, Carell would play a humble analyst for government agency CONTROL. Desperate to become an agent, he gets his chance when CONTROL comes under attack from Terence Stamp's evil KAOS organisation. So, partnered by Anne Hathaway and with only his enthusiasm and some handy gadgets to help him, Carell's bumbling Agent 86 sets out to save the world.

It's been said that where Jim Carrey is an onscreen causer of chaos, Steve Carell's more effective when chaos is caused for him. Tom Shadyac, director of Evan Almighty, claimed that after shooting scenes he was often afraid that they'd missed the humour. Carell hadn't moved, hadn't reacted. But, looking back at rushes, he recognised that Carell HAD reacted, the humour was there in his face, in his eyes. This will stand him in good stead. Far more subtle than the majority of his Frat Pack peers, he has a long career in screen comedy ahead of him, and probably a bright future in serious drama, too.

Dominic Wills

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  • LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  (L-R) Actors Jenna Fischer, Nancy Carell, and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet
    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: (L-R) Actors Jenna Fischer, Nancy Carell, and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
  • LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  (L-R) Actors Jenna Fischer (L) and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet
    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: (L-R) Actors Jenna Fischer (L) and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
  • LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Actors Jenna Fischer (L) and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet
    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actors Jenna Fischer (L) and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
  • LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  (L-R) Actors Jenna Fischer, Nancy Carell, and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet
    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: (L-R) Actors Jenna Fischer, Nancy Carell, and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
  • LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  (L-R) Actors Jenna Fischer, Nancy Carell, and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet
    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: (L-R) Actors Jenna Fischer, Nancy Carell, and Steve Carell arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
  • UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 05:  Actor Tom Felton (L) accepts the Best Villain award from actor Steve Carell onstage during the 2011 MTV Movie Awards at Universal Studios' Gibson Amphitheatre on June 5, 2011 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
    2011 MTV Movie Awards - Show
    UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 05: Actor Tom Felton (L) accepts the Best Villain award from actor Steve Carell onstage during the 2011 MTV Movie Awards at Universal Studios' Gibson Amphitheatre on June 5, 2011 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
  • BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16: In this handout photo provided by NBC, Presenters Tina Fey (L) and Steve Carell speak onstage during the Golden Globes at the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC via Getty Images)
    68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Show
    BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16: In this handout photo provided by NBC, Presenters Tina Fey (L) and Steve Carell speak onstage during the Golden Globes at the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC via Getty Images)
  • BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16:  Actors Nancy Carell and Steve Carell arrive at the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
    68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals
    BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16: Actors Nancy Carell and Steve Carell arrive at the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06:  Actors Ben Stiller and Steve Carell attend the after party for the premiere of "Date Night" at Aureole on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - After Party
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actors Ben Stiller and Steve Carell attend the after party for the premiere of "Date Night" at Aureole on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06:  Actor Steve Carell attends the after party for the premiere of "Date Night" at Aureole on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - After Party
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actor Steve Carell attends the after party for the premiere of "Date Night" at Aureole on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06:  Actress Tina Fey and actor Steve Carell attend the after party for the premiere of "Date Night" at Aureole on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - After Party
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actress Tina Fey and actor Steve Carell attend the after party for the premiere of "Date Night" at Aureole on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actor Steve Carell attends the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actor Steve Carell attends the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06:  Actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06: (L-R) Producer/director Shawn Levy, actress Tina Fey and actor Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: (L-R) Producer/director Shawn Levy, actress Tina Fey and actor Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06:  Actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actor Steve Carell attends the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actor Steve Carell attends the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06:  Actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Premiere Of "Date Night" - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell attend the premiere of "Date Night" at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 07:  Nancy Carell and husband actor Steve Carell arrive at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
    82nd Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
    HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 07: Nancy Carell and husband actor Steve Carell arrive at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
  • HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 07:  Actors Cameron Diaz and Steve Carell present onstage during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
    82nd Annual Academy Awards - Show
    HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 07: Actors Cameron Diaz and Steve Carell present onstage during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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