Improv veteran, character actor, and former Daily Show correspondent Steve Carell became an unlikely movie star when, after giving the funniest performance in a movie packed full of them (Anchorman), he won the lead in TV veteran Judd Apatow’s first feature as a director, the sleeper smash The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Since then Carell has built a diverse career of both leading and supporting roles, leading up to this week’s release of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a comedy about magicians with Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, and Steve Buscemi. So let’s take a look back!
Both Judd Apatow and Steve Carell burst on the scene with the story of a man who’s completely given up on love and dating after a lifetime of failure, forced to grow up when he meets Catherine Keener. This movie also brought Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Mindy Kaling, Jane Lynch, and Kat Dennings to their widest audiences yet, and each and every one of them took that ball and ran it downfield, through the locker room, and past the parking lot.
On the far opposite end of the tone spectrum, Carell plays a gay Proust scholar, despondent about the end of a long-term relationship and dragged on a cross-country trip with his sister’s family. Though Alan Arkin won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Carell’s performance is the best in the movie.
Taking the role made famous by Don Adams in Mel Brooks’ 1960s TV spy spoof, Carell plays Maxwell Smart, an intelligence analyst whose dreams of becoming a field agent come true when all the other agents’ identities are exposed. Anne Hathaway costars as Agent 99, Smart’s super-competent new partner, with Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, and Terry Crews along for the ride.
Carell paired with fellow Second City alumnus Tina Fey to play a married couple bored by routine and life in the suburbs. Things get interesting when, on their weekly date night to the city, a case of mistaken identity puts them at the center of a cops-and-crooks chase, pursued by all manner of unsavory characters. It’s a fun ride, buoyed by the considerable chops of the leading couple and appearances by James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Mark Wahlberg’s abs.
“Cartoonish” could be an insult, but in an animated comedy, it’s just what the doctor ordered, and here Carell plays Gru, a supervillain slowly domesticated by three orphan girls he adopts for nefarious purposes. The practical realities of being a supervillain are very amusingly explored, and Gru’s minions are hilarious. If you have kids, definitely give this one a whirl.
A comic take on the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark, with Carell as a newly elected Congressman called by God (Morgan Freeman, because who else?) to gather up all the animals and build them a great big boat, to the alarm of his family, friends, and Congressional staff.
Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep play an empty-nest couple slowly losing interest in each other, until they go to see a marriage counselor, played by Steve Carell, who tells them to paint a big yellow stripe down the center of their house and each keep to their own side of it. Just kidding! He helps them rediscover their love.
The title is not a joke: there is a huge meteor headed for Earth, and everyone reacts differently. Carell’s wife immediately leaves him, so he befriends his next-door neighbor (Kiera Knightley) and they team up to tie up a couple of loose ends before everything blows to smithereens.