Steve Carell plays it straight in marriage dramedy 'Hope Springs'

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International  |  Dec. 2, 2012 at 12:31 PM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- People who know Steve Carell mainly for his seven-season stint as the inept, self-absorbed, but lovable boss Michael Scott on the American television workplace comedy "The Office" might be pleasantly surprised to see how wonderfully he portrays a warm, sensitive and intelligent marriage counselor in the relationship dramedy "Hope Springs."

Told the world would be a better place if everyone had a therapist like his character Dr. Bernie Feld, Carell told UPI at a roundtable interview in New York recently: "I met with a number of therapists and I modeled after one man in particular, who had that sort of voice and demeanor.

"It wasn't a put-on. It wasn't a part he assumed to do therapy," the 50-year-old Massachusetts native emphasized. "He truly was this guy and it was interesting and one of the things I loved about him is he wore sandals with white socks and at one point I considered doing the character with sandals and white socks as sort of an homage, but it almost seemed like too much of a character choice and no one would believe he existed in reality. But at least the vocal patterns were based on this guy. He was incredibly earnest and kind, while at the same time reserved everything about himself and didn't really divulge anything about himself personally. "

In the movie, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones portray a couple trying to reconnect after 31 years of marriage by traveling from their home in Nebraska to Maine so they can meet with Feld.

So, were there any moments when Carell was in danger of laughing out loud while offering sex tips and other marital advice to his illustrious co-stars?

"No, there weren't," the former "Daily Show" contributor told reporters at the roundtable. "I think primarily because it was Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep and if you're given an opportunity like that, you just want to play your part and you don't screw around. They can screw around if they want to, but I just wanted to do what I set out to do. When I read it for the first time, I thought, 'How am I possibly going to be able to say these things to Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones?' But once I was actually doing it ... that was sort of the antithesis of what I was trying to achieve. I figured the last thing a therapist would do is to shy away from any of those topics and discussions and [he should] be very frank and very open and do it very earnestly."

A beloved scene-stealer famous for his work in the big-screen comedies "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Evan Almighty," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Get Smart" and "Crazy, Stupid Love," Carell said he was happy to play the straight man to Streep and Jones and "just to support their story."

"It's not about me. It's wasn't my story at all," he noted. "I thought there should be absolutely no commentary on what was happening, whether it be verbally or anything registering on my face because people pick up on cues like that and when you feel safe and you feel like you can say anything and you have that freedom that's when I think things -- I'm not a therapist so I don't know -- but I would imagine that's when things can open a little bit. When you're in a place, an environment like that, that is completely non-judgmental."

The father of two children, Carell said he has been happily married for 17 years to comic actress Nancy Walls.

He said accepting the role in "Hope Springs" was a no-brainer.

"I got this call. 'Meryl Streep is doing this movie, they want you to read the script.' 'Buy me a plane ticket. I don't need to read it,'" he recalled telling his representatives, who pitched the project to him. "I don't care who I am in this movie. I would do anything. And Tommy Lee Jones. The fact that I got to do these very lengthy scenes ... We would do these 8- or 10-minute scenes as one-act plays, almost. They would shoot the entire scene and then we'd talk about it a little bit and then we'd shoot it again. That was so much fun to watch them as actors and characters and sort of get into the rhythm of what was happening."

"Hope Springs" is set for release Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.

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