DETAILS: You famously waxed your chest for The 40-Year-Old Virgin. For this month's The Incredible Burt Wonderstone—in which you and Steve Buscemi play down-and-out Vegas magicians—it looks like you dared to go bare again.
Steve Carell: I didn't wax it this time—I took an electric razor to the chest, much to my wife's chagrin. We shot a couple of weeks in Las Vegas, and at one point I walked around the casino dressed like my character and no one batted an eye. Out of context, wearing a velour jumpsuit with a big blond wig is outrageous, but within that world . . . not so much.
DETAILS: Do you try to keep your characters grounded
in the real world?
Steve Carell: The audience doesn't care about that—"Ooh, I'm gonna see that movie because these comedic characters are grounded!"—but it's important. Although Anchorman, for example, is not grounded in anything—it's just unrelentingly silly. There is absolutely no heart to that movie, which I love.
DETAILS: You met your wife, Nancy, when she was a student at Second City and you were her teacher. How did you ask her out?
Steve Carell: I beat around the bush and said something stupid like, "Well, you know, if I were to ever ask someone out, it would be someone like you." It's so stupid, but it was all self-protection. She was the same way: "If somebody like you were to ask me out, I would definitely go out with him. If there was a person like you."
DETAILS: Fortunately, there was.
Steve Carell: Fortunately, it happened to be me.
DETAILS: You have two children. Did they shift your
priorities as a performer?
Steve Carell: Suddenly, my career wasn't the most important thing anymore. I remember having an audition for Julia Louis-Dreyfus' show Watching Ellie, and it was the first audition I'd had since we had my daughter a week before. I couldn't have cared less about it—I was just showing Julia pictures of my baby—and then I got the role.
DETAILS: As a producer, you sat in on casting for Crazy, Stupid, Love. What was it like on the other side of the table?
Steve Carell: You see people coming in, see how nervous they are, how prepared they are, how desperate they are. When someone is good, but it doesn't seem like their world will collapse if they don't get the part, it's more appealing. It's like dating someone: You don't want someone who's too into you.
DETAILS: You wrote one of the best episodes of The Office ever: the second-season finale, "Casino Night," where Jim confesses his love to Pam.
Steve Carell: John [Krasinski] and Jenna [Fischer] were worried that we were rushing into bringing the characters together too fast, but I pitched that we shouldn't be like every other show that drags out its romance for six seasons.
DETAILS: So you're responsible for making the women
in America fall in love with John Krasinski?
Steve Carell: I'll take credit for that!
DETAILS: Do you remember your first screen kiss?
Steve Carell: 40-Year-Old Virgin. Catherine Keener. I didn't even think about it. Everyone will say the same thing: It's not a thing. There's a difference between making it look like you're into it and actually being into it. And there's sort of a creepy line that has never been part of my experience.
DETAILS: Did you have any sense of how much The Daily Show would launch your career?
Steve Carell: Nobody had any sense of that. As a matter of fact, my agent couldn't have cared less that I was taking that job. "If you want to take it, that's fine." Stephen Colbert got it for me. There wasn't even an audition. That was a bone thrown by a friend.
DETAILS: Did working as a correspondent for The
Daily Show cure you of your inhibitions?
Steve Carell: It was so out of my comfort zone, because I'm not a very gregarious person. The difficulty I had was feeling as if I was tricking people in my interviews. The only way it worked for me was that either people deserved it, in my opinion, because they were intolerant, or I made myself the butt of the joke.
DETAILS: Do you feel like people expect you to be gregarious, since they associate you with comedy?
Steve Carell: I don't know what people's expectations are, but I think people quickly understand that it's not going to be a cavalcade of laughs with me.
DETAILS: So you're not always on?
Steve Carell: I just feel that would be exhausting. I enjoy my friends who are larger-than-life and always funny, but that's just not who I am.