After depicting several real-life people in movies, Steve Carell explained how he captures a person’s persona.
“It is weird, meeting someone in person that you are playing that exists in this world,” the actor, 56, explained during a conversation at the 92nd Street Y on Thursday night.
“To sit down and have a coffee with David Sheff from ‘Beautiful Boy,’ you don’t want him to feel like he is your science experiment, that you are picking apart how he eats his soup [and thinking], ‘Oh, I’m going to put that in the movie, that’s just creepy,’” he explained of one of his latest dramatic roles. “I don’t like to approach it that way because they’re human beings and this is their story and I want to have more respect for them than that.”
Carell spoke as part of the 92nd Street Y’s “Reel Pieces” film series moderated by author Annette Insdorf.
“When I meet them, in part, I just want them to know who I am too and that I’m going to take great care with their story and their persona in a way,” he said. “I just want to get a sense of who they are, not so much their personality tics or quirks, just what they emulate.”
He continued, “David Sheff is just a quiet, peaceful, very intelligent but soft-spoken man and very generous and those are the things that I tried to take away, it’s a strange thing.”
The actor also revealed that while promoting the film — which was released in October and also stars Timothée Chalamet — his niece died of a drug overdose, giving him a closer connection to the film.
“I think everyone has a story related to this and up until that point, I didn’t have as close a connection and now I do,” he said, also mentioning that he was happy to be filming the drama in Los Angeles so he could see his family every night.
When it comes to depicting a famous real-life character like Bobby Riggs in “Battle of the Sexes,” or Donald Rumsfeld in the upcoming “Vice,” things are different for Carrell.
“I remember Bobby Riggs when I was a kid … I think I was 10 or 11,” he recalled. “I knew it was an act and he was playing it and he was making money from it because there was a twinkle in his eye,” he said. “Some of the other characters in that movie are really bad guys and really chauvinistic and it’s inside of them, I think [Riggs] was just a player and liked to perform.”
And as for Rumsfeld, Carell quipped, “You find out that people like Nixon and Kissinger said ‘Watch out for that guy,’ they were terrified of him, and for those two to be terrified of anybody, that’s high praise.”
Carrell’s latest film, “Welcome to Marwen,” hits theaters Friday, while “Vice” will be released on Christmas Day.
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