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Interview: Steve Carell

Photo credit : Paramount Pictures
Interview: Steve Carell

LOS ANGELES - Remember when Steve Carell was the funny little no-name correspondent from The Daily Show, hired to headline the American TV version of The Office?

Nearly cancelled in 2005, The Office received a reprieve in anticipation of Carell's starring role in Judd Apatow's The 40 Year Old Virgin. Not only did Carell's hit film bring the series back from the dead, it gave the actor a breakout he never thought he'd have after more than a decade of obscurity.

And now there's this - his seven year itch.

The comedy actor confirmed recently he was leaving the series in which he won acclaim portraying the dunce-like Dunder Mifflin boss, Michael Scott.

"My contract expires at the end of the seventh season and I always wanted to honour my contract," says the 47-year-old during a recent interview at a Beverly Hills Hotel.

Bad news for fans of the show, but good news for the folks who have been following him in movies. In fact, this summer hints at some multi-tasking to come. He's one of the main voices in the just-released animated hit, Despicable Me, and he co-stars with his buddy Paul Rudd in the farce, Dinner for Schmucks, which opens July 30. Loosely based on Francis Veber's French film and play (Le diner de cons), the Jay Roach-directed translation is a lot less caustic and a great deal more audience-friendly.

In the new movie, Rudd plays Tim Conrad, an ambitious financial analyst at a Los Angeles private equity firm who has been invited to a special competitive dinner by his boss (Vancouver's Bruce Greenwood). The winner is the executive who brings the wackiest idiot.

Enter IRS employee and all-around doofus Barry Speck (Carell), an amateur taxidermist who enjoys recreating memorable scenes with stuffed mice. When Rudd's businessman, literally, runs into Carell's nerd, while driving his car, their journey together seems clear.

As luck and laughs would have it, though, not everything comes together as initially planned, in what becomes a very unusual jokefest with a lot of crazy twists, and some bizarre appearances by quirky comic actors.

For instance, Flight of the Conchords funny man Jemaine Clement shows up as a vain sex-obsessed artist. The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis has some odd moments as a mind-control specialist and rival of Barry's.

All involved - especially Carell and Rudd - improvised constantly, which was encouraged by Roach, giving pause, at first, to Greenwood, who usually finds himself acting as a hero or villain in dramas, and hardly ever ad libbing in a comedy.

"On the first day, I was weeping into my handkerchief," confesses Greenwood of his irresistible laugh attacks. "Yeah, I am used to doing what is in the script."

Not surprisingly, Rudd and Carell, despite their characters' extreme opposites in personality, develop an instant bond on screen. They've been there and done that before. Both had co-starring parts in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, but confirmed their chemistry in The 40 Year Old Virgin.

So Carell says it was a no-brainer to reunite with Rudd on Dinner for Schmucks and bring in director Roach, who had helmed the hit Austin Powers films, as well as Meet the Parents and the sequel Meet the Fockers.

"Working with Jay (Roach) and Paul (Rudd) were enormous factors for doing it," says Carell. "And I like the Dinner for Schmucks storyline because it's funny, a little weird, and it has heart, and I like things that have a grey area to them."

A late starter in the comedy game, Carell officially began his journey at Second City in Chicago, back in the early 1990s when he was in his late 20s.

After gigs on Tim Curry's sitcom Over the Top and a memorable guest appearance on a Just Shoot Me episode, he finally earned a spot on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from 1999 to 2004, and showed up in Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty in 2003 and eventually the sitcom The Office, starting in 2005.

After headlining The 40 Year Old Virgin, he showed his range playing the suicidal professor in the comedy-drama Little Miss Sunshine, but stumbled with Evan Almighty. Dan in Real Life didn't find an audience, but the remake of Get Smart did (a sequel is set for release next year), and this spring's Date Night with Tina Fey received decent notices and a healthy box office.

And there's more to come.

"I just completed a movie with Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore that my production company did," says Carell of Crazy, Stupid, Love, which will be out next spring.

With several projects on the go, fans will be seeing a lot of Carell after he leaves The Office.

"And I hope I will be able to start writing again once my tenure at The Office is up," he says.

And what sort of movies will he write?

"I will only make office movies," says Carell with a straight face.