UNIVERSAL CITY, California — Evan, help us: Steve Carell is on a roll.
In the four years since “Bruce Almighty,” Carell has gone from scene-stealing sidekick to full-blown movie star, stepping into Jim Carrey’s shoes for the lead role in “Evan Almighty.” The newly minted Noah recently sat down with MTV News to dish on what he’d say if he met God, the magical powers of Morgan Freeman, the world’s funniest animals and his upcoming remake of “Get Smart.”
MTV: After “Son of the Mask” and “Dumb and Dumberer,” this may be the first Jim Carrey-less sequel to match the original.
Steve Carell: Oh, that’s nice, thanks. That’s nice to say.
MTV: Did you feel pressure to fill his shoes?
Carell: I didn’t see it that way. The first one I thought was great, and I think Jim is fantastic — he’s one of the [most] iconic comedic actors that we’ve ever had. [But] I didn’t enter it thinking I would be as good or better than him — or even try. I wasn’t looking at it so much as a follow-up, because it’s not really a sequel. The common thread is Morgan Freeman as God, but it’s a completely different story, and I think tonally it’s a bit different too.
MTV: Speaking of Morgan Freeman, we often hear that actors who play heavies — and none come heavier than God [see “Thou Shalt Read Our List Of Top 10 Film Portrayals Of God, In Rewind“ ] — that they keep an imposing persona on set. So how many people did Morgan Freeman smite to get into character?
Carell: I think he smited — Smote? Smoted? Did he smote? Smoot? — he smooted several thousand people every time he entered the set. And he would just appear on set too, that’s the other thing. You know, some of us took a van to the set, some of us walked. You never saw [Freeman]. He just would appear. It’s like in the movie — he’d appear behind you and then we’d do the scene. And then as soon as they yelled cut, he wasn’t there. He’d be back in his trailer.
MTV: Not to get all “Inside the Actors Studio” on you, but, OK, you meet God. What do you say?
Carell: Boy, you know, that is exactly a James Lipton question. [Imitating Lipton,] “You’re at the pearly gates, what do you say to get in?” I couldn’t even conceive of speaking to God, frankly. If it happened, I have no idea, I honestly have no idea what I would say. Probably nothing. I’d probably let whoever or whatever God is speak to me.
MTV: What would He say about the spiritual message of this film?
Carell: You know what? I look at this movie more as a fable as opposed to anything biblical. I think it’s derived from, obviously, an Old Testament story, but I don’t look at it as so much a biblical movie. I look at it as the story of a man, just a normal guy who has flaws, who makes a leap of faith and learns something. Within that, there are messages about the environment and about caring and about random kindness. So I think there are some nice messages that we tried to put across without being overly precious or sentimental. But I don’t necessarily see it in terms of great, religious overtones.
MTV: What’s the funniest animal Evan has on his ark?
Carell: I’d say the funniest animal in this movie was Jimmy Bennett, one of my sons. He was disgusting. He’d throw his poop on certain days and tear up the trailer. But in terms of real animals, boy, the baboons are pretty funny. They just can’t help [it]. When they do the scene where they come out and hand me the lemonade — that was fascinating because, every time, the sun is setting and it’s sort of this romantic shot. They’re sort of intrinsically funny.
MTV: We’re all geeked out about “Get Smart.” Have [original series writers] Mel Brooks and Buck Henry blessed the remake?
Carell: They have, actually. They are completely onboard. They’ve seen early footage. Mel might be coming! We’re up shooting in Montreal right now, so he may be coming to visit us next week.
MTV: For a cameo?
Carell: We asked him, but he’s too busy. He’s actually casting “Young Frankenstein” on Broadway right now, but we had a cameo all set for him. He just couldn’t, scheduling-wise, make it up. But … we do have some cameos involving some people from the original. In that sense we’re really lucky because it’s been given their seal of approval.
MTV: We’ve heard rumors that Will Ferrell has a cameo — that he’s playing the president.
Carell: James Caan plays the president.
MTV: Do you get to do the famous scene where Maxwell Smart walks down the hallway?
Carell: I’m not telling. Yes! What? Did I say yes? [He laughs.] There are a lot of iconic elements that have been incorporated into this, and I think kind of intriguingly. It’s not out of the blue. It’s set in modern day, so you [might] ask, “Why would there be a shoe phone?” [But] they’ve been able to incorporate certain things from the original kind of seamlessly. I think it’s going to be good.
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