A Serious Man: How Steve Carell Became Our Most Surprising Dramatic Actor
The 2003 Jim Carrey comedy Bruce Almighty was the first DVD that I ever bought. For all its flaws, this ridiculous movie left an impression on a young French girl. “Is this what Hollywood considers funny?” was one of the many questions that sprung to my mind. But so did “Who is this weird-sounding actor who steals the spotlight from Carrey even as he does nothing more inspired than mumble incomprehensibly pretty much every time he shows up on screen?”
This man was of course Steven Carell, then still an ex–Daily Show correspondent who would soon drop the ‘n’ to be just Steve. It was his ability to scream like a man possessed (while never going too far like Carrey) yet remain somewhat deadpan in his expression—with his serious eyes fixed straight ahead at the camera that his TV journalist character was addressing—that made me at once deeply uncomfortable and fascinated. In the 15 years since Bruce Almighty, Carell has used this same composure in the face of discomfort to great comedic effect, in films such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (as yet another stoically deranged TV reporter) or Crazy, Stupid, Love, and still more memorably on television as Michael Scott in the now-iconic American version ofThe Office. But Carell’s interests as an actor have changed in recent years. The events he confronts in his latest film, Beautiful Boy, are no laughing matter: He plays David Sheff, a journalist and a father trying to help his son (Timothée Chalamet) recover from devastating substance addiction. This very serious movie is far from Carell’s first attempt at making his mark in more “reputable”—i.e, Oscar-contending—roles. These are the roles that have forced us to take him seriously.