Steve Carell

Steve Kroft talks with the gifted actor about the challenges of making the film "Foxcatcher" and his success in Hollywood

The following is a script of "Steve Carell" which aired on November 9, 2014, and was rebroadcast on July 5, 2015. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. Michael Karzis, producer.

For years now Steve Carell has been one of Hollywood's most reliable and highest paid comedy stars, both on television and in the movies, a gifted versatile performer equally adept at sophisticated or sophomoric humor. But Carell says he's always considered himself an actor who does comedy...not a comedian. It's particularly noteworthy because he turned in one of the most unusual and remarkable screen performance's of 2014 in a film called "Foxcatcher." As we first reported in November, the role is about as far away from Carell's personal and professional persona as you can get. Which always entails a certain amount of risk.

This is the Steve Carell audiences have become familiar with over nearly a decade.

The lame-brained weatherman in the movie "Anchorman." The hairy 40-year-old virgin, who was told he needed his chest waxed.

[Woman: We are going to need more wax.]

[Steve Carell: You f-----!]

And the well-meaning office manager who always managed to come up with just the wrong words.

[Steve Carell: Let me ask you is there a term besides Mexican that you prefer? Something less offensive?]

But no one is going to recognize Steve Carell in "Foxcatcher," as the dark, delusional, drug addicted and ultimately dangerous heir to one of America's oldest fortunes.

[Steve Carell: I am a patriot and I want to see this country soar again.]

[Channing Tatum: I want that too.]

Carell plays John e. du Pont, who in the 1980s became the patron to some of the best young wrestlers in the country, enticing them to his 600-acre Pennsylvania estate with a lavish training facility and dreams of Olympic gold.

[Steve Carell: As a coach, I want you to be champions in sport and winners in life.]

Steve Kroft: It was different than anything you had ever done.

Steve Carell: Completely different. I felt like I was experiencing something as opposed to going in and acting for a camera. It was a different thing.

Steve Kroft: You're one of the most successful, highest-paid actors in Hollywood. Why would you want to take the chance?

Steve Carell: Well, when you put it that way, it was really an ill-conceived idea. Frankly, I'm glad we didn't have this talk when I was considering doing this. Well why not? Because it was exciting and it was potentially something great. And why wouldn't you want to be part of something like that?

It turned out to be a very good decision. The true-crime psychodrama about wealth, patriotism, class, manipulation and murder has already won acclaim at film festivals around the world. And so has Carell's performance in a magnificent ensemble cast that includes Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Vanessa Redgrave. Director Bennett Miller, whose other films "Capote" and "Moneyball" were both nominated for Academy Awards, spent eight years working on "Foxcatcher." He didn't want anyone obvious to play du Pont. He was looking for someone benign and non-threatening who had never shot anyone in a movie before. When Carell's name came up, Miller booked a lunch.

intv-benett-and-carell-1.jpg
Director Bennett Miller and Steve Carell
CBS News

Bennett Miller: To be totally honest with you, right after our first lunch, something inside of me just clicked. You know, the coin dropped and I thought, "Oh, I could see that I want that."

Steve Kroft: What happened at the lunch? What did he do during the lunch? What did he say during the lunch that made you think that he was right?

Bennett Miller: Deadly serious. Deadly, deadly serious. Somebody who had read the script and had done some research. And part of it is a commitment knowing that you're both feet in. And that it might not necessarily be easy, but that, "I get it. And whatever it takes."

What it took was three months of long days on a lonely shoot with a small cast and crew outside Pittsburgh. They would go over and often rework scenes well into the early morning hours. There was not much time for small talk.

[Steve Carell: Hey Mark. Let's gear up. Practice in the gallery.]

Steve Kroft: Did you stay in character?

Steve Carell: Not in an actor-y sort of way but I think, inadvertently, we all sort of did.

Some of it had to do with Carell's makeup. He was almost always the first one on the set because it took three hours to apply. He wore it all day until the shooting was over.

Steve Carell: I think that just sort of lent to being in character. When I was around other people, I got the sense that they didn't feel like they were around Steve. They were around this other person.

Steve Kroft: That must've been pretty intense.

Steve Carell: It was intense. The whole thing was intense.

Steve Kroft: Did you enjoy this?

Steve Carell: I did. It wasn't fun. But I enjoyed it.

Carell has never been afraid of hard work or big challenges. He was born 52 years ago and raised in an upper middle class family in Acton, Massachusetts, the youngest of four boys. His father was an engineer his mother a psychiatric nurse. At Denison University in Ohio, he graduated with a degree in history and theater, and preferring the latter, set off to Chicago to try and make a career. After a few years as a starving actor, he got his first big break with the famed Second City comedy company, which has produced the likes Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Tina Fey.

Steve Kroft: That's a big job.

Steve Carell: Big job. Second City in Chicago was one of the best gigs you can have, I think, in Chicago. It was a big deal.

[Steve Carell: You know I am going on about myself. What do you do?

[Woman: I'm a waitress at the crab shanty.]

[Steve Carell: Oh, no way. I used to stalk a woman from the crab shanty.]

For five years he often performed seven or eight shows a week before live audiences perfecting his timing, expressions and reactions while improvising a reservoir of characters that would serve him in the years to come. All of it was done alongside incredibly talented people including his future wife Nancy Walls and Stephen Colbert, who he would later join in New York in the earliest years of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

[Stephen Colbert: Next question: Yes or no?]

[Steve Carell: Yes.]

[Stephen Colbert: No.]

[Steve Carell: Yes!]

[Stephen Colbert: Does the French election signal the re-emergence of fascism in Europe?]

[Steve Carell: Oui.]

[Stephen Colbert: Non.]

[Steve Carell: Oui!]

They were correspondents on "The Daily Show" together for five years. During which it rose from a blip in the cable ratings to a mainstream hit.

Steve Carell: That was a terrifying show to do at first.

Steve Kroft: Why?

Steve Carell: You can't really describe it, professionally. Because you're not really -- you're sort of an actor, but not really. You're definitely improvising. You're sort of a correspondent-journalist. But none of us had any sort of journalistic background. So you were winging it and pretending. We all dressed in suits, and we went and we had little "Daily Show" logos on our microphones. And no one knew the show. And they just thought, "Oh, you know, some cable outlet is covering the debate."

And before the politicians caught on, it produced moments like this one.

[Steve Carell: Senator, how do you reconcile that you were one of the most vocal critics of pork-barrel politics and yet while you were chairman of the Commerce Committee, that committee set a record for un-authorized appropriations?]

[Steve Carell: I'm just kidding. No, I don't even know what that means.]

Carell left "The Daily Show" in 2005 and in less than six months he had already filmed a pilot for an American version of a British sitcom called "The Office" plus a movie he had co-written with producer Judd Apatow based on a sketch he'd developed at Second City.

Steve Carell: The idea that I had was a group of guys playing poker and just regaling each other with stories of sexual conquest and one guy who clearly didn't have a frame of reference and was trying to keep up with these stories.

[Romany Malco: Are you a virgin?]

[Steve Carell: Yeah, not since I was 10.

[Seth Rogen: That makes so much sense. Look he is a virgin.]

[Steve Carell: Alright you guys are hilarious.]

The "40-Year-Old Virgin" would gross more than $100 million and over the course of one weekend, change Carell's life. His popularity propelled "The Office" to a seven-year run, at the end of which, Carell would be making $300,000 an episode.

And his career has not slowed down. By our count he has made 24 movies in the past 14 years, but he doesn't care much for celebrity and he tries to stay as far away from the limelight as he possibly can.

Steve Kroft: Most people who are in comedy and most people in show business, like to be the center of attention. I don't get that sense from you.

Steve Carell: I hate it. It's embarrassing.

Steve Kroft: Why?

Steve Carell: I just have never liked it and it sounds like I'm being precious when I say that. Because I always did plays and I was always on stage. But that was different. Because it wasn't me. But just as myself, yeah, I don't crave it. I don't know. I just don't, it makes me uncomfortable.

When he's not on location, Carell splits his time between L.A. and Marshfield Hills, Massachusetts, where he and his wife Nancy bought and restored this general store and post office that goes back to the Civil War.

[Steve Kroft: Lots of candy.]

Both of their extended families still live around here and they were afraid that someone would turn the store, which anchors the village, into a real estate office.

Steve Kroft: So you bought this place right when your career was beginning to take off.

Steve Carell: Yeah. Yeah. And, as a fall back. Just thought, "You know what, if it all goes south, I still can man the cash register and sell penny candy." No, it's neat. I mean it's a gathering place. And that was the draw for me, a place that people can come and hang out. And there aren't that many places like that anymore.

Carell's sister-in-law runs the place. And Steve and Nancy spend their summers and holidays here with their two children to give them a taste of life outside Los Angeles.

Steve Carell: I wanted to show you this. My mom knitted this. And she put a little, and these are for sale.

Steve Kroft: Really?

Steve Carell: Yeah, she put a little tag on it. "Made by hand by Harriet Carell."

Steve Kroft: Wow, how many of these does she crank out?

Steve Carell: Oh, I have her working day and night. Because these things turn over, like, "Come on, Mom. You have to pay for the roof of the house. Let's go."

Steve Kroft: It's beautiful. I can see why she would want her name on it.

Steve Carell: You're not taking it. You buy that.

When the camera aren't rolling the private Carell seems to be more shy, quiet and reserved, keeping his feelings and his opinions about things to himself.

He and his wife Nancy are widely considered to be among the most normal people in Hollywood. They drive their kids to school, rarely go out to glitzy events, and if they do, they don't stick around for the party afterwards. Nancy, another veteran of Second City, "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live," says she was blown away by her husband's performance in "Foxcatcher."

Nancy Carell: I just watched that, and I almost immediately forgot that I was watching my husband up there. That was amazing to me.

Steve and Nancy Carell
Nancy and Steve Carell
CBS News

Steve Kroft: He says he's not really a comedian. He's not that funny in real life. That he's not a good conversationalist. That he's very socially awkward. Is that true?

Nancy Carell: What an attractive portrait you paint of yourself. Yeah, he's a real dud. No. No, of course not. No, he's very funny, he just doesn't try as hard, he doesn't feel the need to entertain people on a, you know, 24-hour basis.

With that said, Steve Carell laid back and did what he does about as well as anyone else: play the straight man.

Steve Kroft: Did you ever think it was going to turn out this way? That you'd be living here with all this money and all this fame, and...

Nancy Carell: I was counting on it.

Steve Kroft: Why do I feel like I'm in an improv sketch?

Steve Carell: Oh, it's what our kids deal with everyday.

Nancy Carell: No. I had every faith in your success. I knew he'd be successful. But I think we thought he'd be successful in the Don Knotts kind of way. Seriously, though. But, like, you know, Barney Fife was an, I mean, that's an incredible character on a TV show. And that was my dream for you.

Steve Carell: Thank you.

Nancy Carell: You're welcome.

  • Steve Kroft

    Few journalists have achieved the impact and recognition that Steve Kroft's 60 Minutes work has generated for over two decades. Kroft delivered his first report for 60 Minutes in 1989.