Michael Scott on The Office was a pivotal role for Steve Carell, making him a household name and heavily boosting his career. But the leading man admits that he’s not sure the show would even work today.
“The climate’s different,” he explains to Esquire for its November issue’s cover story. “I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior. I mean, he’s certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That’s the point, you know? But I just don’t know how that would fly now.
“There’s a very high awareness of offensive things today—which is good, for sure,” he adds. “But at the same time, when you take a character like that too literally, it doesn’t really work.”
In the coming months, Carell has three challenging films coming out — Beautiful Boy, Welcome to Marwen and Vice. In the first. he plays David Sheff, the father of a struggling meth addict (Timothee Chalamet). Portraying David forced Carell to examine his own father and their relationship.
“My dad, who is about to turn ninety-three, is a real rock,” he says. “A real stoic. He didn’t cry a lot, but I could tell when something was tearing him up inside. He internalized it for the sake of the family. And that to me was more heartbreaking than someone who would just, you know, be really outward with his emotions. It’s kind of how I interpreted the David character: He’s trying to keep it together.”
The 56-year-old actor also noted just how heartbreaking Chalamet looked after losing weight for the role, stating, “He just looked terrible with the added makeup, like really shockingly bad.”
In Vice, Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense as President George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) and Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) preside over the nation. The Hollywood veteran explained that he took on the role to show another side of an often-reviled politician during his heyday. Rumsfeld was notably in office during 9/11 and the onset of the Iraq War.
“I went into it thinking, ‘Here’s a man, a very smart man, who is clearly flawed, but he also believed what he was doing,’” he says. “People have an idea about Rumsfeld, but it’s a very narrow idea. I felt like it was my job to expand that and paint a broader picture of who he was, what he feared, what was upsetting to him. It’s a little cavalier to say that I understand what makes Donald Rumsfeld tick, or John du Pont. But I’ve made an attempt. You do the best you can with the material you have, with the sources you have, and with your imagination.”
However, there’s another politician that Carell hinted he has no interest in tackling — Donald Trump.
“You hope you can find the humanity in anybody that you play,” he says. “If I couldn’t, then I wouldn’t play that part. If you go into a part with complete disdain and find no nugget of humanity in a person—I just wouldn’t do it.”