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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Foxcatcher Magic of Steve Carell Is No Trick & Performer of the Year Award for 2015

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Steve Carell tells a story about working with Vanessa Redgrave in Foxcatcher, the movie for which he is Oscar nominated, and in this one scene he reveals a lot about actors. It also reveals why the Academy tapped Carell, and he has been named Performer of the Year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

To set the mood, Steve Carell’s bad son, heir John E. Du Pont, tries to hand his matriarch, Mrs. Du Pont (Redgrave) a wrestling trophy. Eyes downcast, adorned in class-appropriate herringbone tweed, Redgrave’s character has just said “it is a low sport.”

Director Bennett Miller, although very adept, had nothing to do with what happened next.

“Vanessa Redgrave is so economical. She can do a lot with nothing, does little changes. Instead of reaching for the trophy,” Carell notes, “she made me put it in her lap. It showed everything about her status. Her power. Her relationship.”

Overnight, before Steve Carell is about to receive his Performer of the Year Award, which will be presented by Jennifer Garner who starred with him recently, he has no idea what is happening overseas at the Berlin Film Festival.

His new drama, Freeheld, about a female cop starring fellow Oscar-nominee Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, has entered a bidding war so steep that Focus Features and Sony Pictures Classics are going head-to-head against Lionsgate, even Amazon and Netflix are in the fray for distribution rights.

Breaking news will hit at about the same time he gets this award, that hotly contested Freeheld’s highest bidder was Lionsgate, the victor of this unusual night-long tussle amongst the studios in Berlin. 

This bidding war for a Carell picture reflects where he is now in his career.

Right now, the mostly comedic actor has no idea what is happening with the picture. “I just did, Freeheld, with Julianne Moore.” He tells this to Pete Hammond, senior reporter from, who hosted the “fastest (ever) sell-out evening” with Carell.

When asked to describe working with other co-stars, like Moore from Crazy, Stupid, Love, Carell is instantaneous in his assessment.

“Jim Carrey is a genius, And he is out of his mind talented. Sometimes you forget you are in a scene, because you are watching him.”

“Will (Ferrell) is one of the funniest guys, on and off screen.” Carell adds, “working with those guys (from Anchorman) is like going to camp.”

For Melinda and Melinda, a fantastic lesser-known Woody Allen comedy that starred Radha Mitchell with Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Wally Shawn, Johnny Lee Miller, Chloe Sevigny, among others, the actor doesn’t hold back.

“Woody Allen scared the shit out of me,” Steve Carell says of the auteur. “I just didn't want to engage. I wanted to stay on the periphery. All very mysterious. Very scary.”

However, Alan Arkin, his co-star from Little Miss Sunshine?

“I love Alan Arkin, it was like getting to work with an idol.”

Meanwhile, Tina Fey, on the other hand, “is one of the best improvisers. Very generous.”

Carell tells a Ryan Gosling story that “he probably wouldn’t want me to tell,” but decides to tell it anyway. “I love him. He is such a good guy. Very soul-ful.”

On a break from filming Crazy, Stupid, Love, “I asked Ryan ‘What are you doing this weekend? Do you have any plans?’ He said ‘Oh, my band has a gig.’ I asked ‘Where?’ He says ‘There's a nursing home in Glendale. The residents seem to like it.’”

Then he switches gears about the movie Hope Springs, where he played a couples counselor to heavyweights Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, an old married couple on the rocks sexually.

“Being opposite Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in a scene is very daunting. Definitely outside of my comfort zone,” he admits.

And? How was The Streep to work with? Since she is half movie-legend, half superhuman to most actors…

“Meryl Streep is The Worst. That is all smoke and mirrors. In print, that will not read ironically,” Carell jokes.

On the red carpet, he smirks at "you are too good for the GAP," a line ripped from Crazy, but that perfectly reflects how stylish the man is in real life.

Before Foxcatcher, Steve Carell’s comedic timing mixed with a thorough understanding of dramatic acting really came to light in Little Miss Sunshine.

“The whole movie had an extraordinary tone.... at Sundance, it was embraced. Every member of that cast read the script, not a word changed. We all just knew it told everything you needed to know about these characters. That happens very rarely.”

As far as comedic vs dramatic acting, “I don't think a character is in a comedy or a drama. You are unaware (as an actor). And as far as the ups and downs of getting jobs, “You always think, 'that was it,' you're going to go off the cliff professionally.”

Hard to imagine how popular his Despicable Me character is, only second to his run in the TV series The Office.

Next the funnyman, who played it straight as the thunderous idiot Brick in the Anchorman franchise, shares a great story from Evan Almighty, a sequel to Jim Carrey’s Bruce Almighty. The gimmick of these movies is that the lead is infused with superpowers of the mundane, juvenile kind.

Evan Almighty, "that was strange, to be offered a movie. A sequel based on movie you were barely in, I mean it's surreal… I mean when you stand there for 13 hours with birds wired to your arms. You will be covered in bird poop. And you think 'I trained for this.’”

Then he was in a scene with a baboon and the director said “Offer the baboon a glass of ice tea.”

“The baboon did not like iced tea very much. I improvised with the baboon, I said ‘hey man don't bogart it’ - the baboon looks at me and goes ‘RRRrrhhrrr. Don't improvise with the baboon. The trainer came over later, and said ‘Don't look the baboon in the eyes’. A baboon wants to eat your face.”

If you threw darts at the board of American Cinema Comedians, living and dead, Steve Carell’s dart would fall between Bob Hope and Cary Grant.

A native of Massachusetts, educated in private schools, Carell is whip-smart but dashing. He likes jobs where “there was a high fear factor. But it inspires me to do that again. Because I think we learn a lot when we are scared.”

And this brings us to Foxcatcher, the reason he is being feted tonight as Performer of the Year.

The true story is that John E. du Pont, suffering from mental illness and cocaine abuse, shot and killed an Olympic Wrestler who was part of a team he funded and trained at his mansion. They were literally Team Foxcatcher.

Born in France, the real first of the dynasty was Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, who brought gunpowder to America. From a Delaware plant, he manufactured munitions to such a scale, especially for the 1812 War, that he emerged as one of the country’s best-known corporate moguls. The name Du Pont thrives today.

Being a Du Pont in a movie is not easy with both families still living, and the victim remembered as a well-loved man. Mark Ruffalo is also in the Oscar race for portraying the slain wrestler, among other noms the film has received.

Producer Megan Ellison famously gave Miller an extra 10 months to get the final cut together. Her films under banner Annapurna Pictures include quality projects, The Master and Lawless, also portraits of real off-screen counterparts.

When Jennifer Garner presents the award to Steve, she jokes, “I don't know what I could possibly add to this evening. If something seems too good to be true. He just might be too good to be true.”

She starred with him in the 2014 release Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

“I don't name-drop, I ‘Steve’ drop. Nancy and Steve just love the Cape. Steve and Nancy, Nancy and Steve..." 

“This Mr. Carell is the best leader. His kids are funny. His wife is funny. This is a performance that can not be ignored, such a unique textured and complicated role... John du Pont was a creepy little man. I'm happy for you, Steve.”

In a well-timed reverse, Carell presents Garner with a trophy, to her utter amazement. “The Number One Performer Trophy,” he says.

Having described “Jen Garner” as not only a good person, beautiful, Steve adds “but obviously very talented.”

And with that, Steve Carell begins the long wait until Feb. 22, to see who wins the Oscar.

But more importantly, Carell has done what Jim Carrey failed to do, convert his comedic magic into dramatic magic.

To become a respected dramatic actor is no small trick for any comedian.

Congratulations, Steve Carell.


# # #



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About Quendrith Johnson

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