It was just a few days before the Christmas holiday break in ’09, but the cast of Dinner for Schmucks were still hard at work. We were on set watching Jay Roach and the actors in action, but Steve Carell and Paul Rudd were nowhere in sight. Apparently they weren’t scheduled to come in until much later in the evening so we patiently waited and waited and waited. However, when they heard press was there and had been hanging out for few hours hoping to interview them, they came to work much sooner than expected to talk to us, which was unbelievably cool of them. We haven’t talked to them together before so it was a treat to see their personal interaction in play and I can honestly say they were definitely worth the wait.
Q: This is an amazing cast from eclectic sources. What’s it like for you guys to work with them? Paul Rudd: I think it’s great. Chris O’Dowd and Lucy Punch. Steve Carell: Wait until you see her. She’s unbelievable. Rudd: I was in a play in London about 10 years ago and she was doing a play in a theatre next door to ours so I got to know her a little bit there, but I was always a fan of hers. With Jemaine [Clement] who I’ve loved from “Flight of the Concords,” then Stephanie Szostak, who is French. Carell: We’re the only Americans. Rudd: Don’t tell [Zach] Galifianakis. He’s Greek. So it’s been pretty great and especially being a fan of all these people – it’s been really exciting. I’ve been asking Chris O’Dowd all about Matthew Berry and all this British stuff. It’s really neat. How’s it been for you Steve? Carell: It’s been neat. Rudd: It’s been neat for Steve too.
Q: Steve, is this new look for your character? Carell: This is, yeah. This is for Barry. I’ll revert back to me very shortly. My wife can’t stand this and it freaks my kids out a little bit.
Q: You look pretty normal compared to the rest of the schmucks. Carell: I didn’t want to go too outrageous with the look. I wanted it to be slightly askew without being a cartoon – not that any of the characters are too cartoony. When Tim and I first meet – when Paul’s character and I first meet, I didn’t want just my physical appearance to be the thing that drew him in, but more our interaction and my behavior. So I wanted that to be the crux of the character as opposed to the physical look.
Q: Can you talk about the Tower of Dreamers and what that means? Carell: Based on these dioramas, the Tower of Dreamers is a combination of many years of work for Barry, for this character. It’s an ode to dreamers throughout history – people who dared to dream. He has recreated these moments in mouse dioramas.
Q: What does he do with the diorama once he’s done with it? Carell: I don’t think there’s an ultimate plan. I think it’s more of an extension of his personality. I don’t think he has any sort of master plan as to who’s going to see this, where he’s going to show it because it’s very internal. It’s mostly about him doing it and creating something he perceives to be beautiful as opposed to showing it to anybody.
Q: The other schmucks seem to flip out when they realize the entire reason they’ve been invited to this dinner is to be made fun of. How does your character react? Carell: With pride actually because it’s not so much that he’s so concerned about being made fun of, but he’s very concerned about Tim being honest with him because he comes to see Tim as a friend of his. His value system hinges on trying to help other people. Even if that means he’s humiliated, he always seems to be somebody who turns the other cheek and tries to find the good. He gets hit by this car and bounces right up. I think that’s sort of metaphorical for to how he goes through life. He keeps getting smacked down and keeps bouncing back up.
Q: We’re just to seeing you do more character driven based films and this movie is far more farce in tone than we’re used to seeing you doing. Is there a difference on how you’re approaching it? Carell: I think it comes from the same place. Stylistically it’s a bit different. Tonally I think it’s a bit different, but tried to still ground the characters because we agree and I think all the actors and certainly Jay [Roach] agrees that the more ground the characters are, the more you can get away with on the other side. The more you can stretch into farce and get away with it. If you believe that these are actual people, as broadly as they might be acting, if you believe them – if you believe that they believe that they exist it’s going to be funnier. There were moments the other day when all hell was breaking loose and we looked at each other. I think you said this looks like “Night at the Opera.” This is just mayhem and I think that juxtaposed with other scenes that we have that are quite I hope touching and grounded and character-based and not just going for laughs. I think that’s important and I approached “40-Year-Old Virgin” the same way. On the surface that concept sounds ridiculous. I remember going back for [my] high school reunion and I had just shot it. It hadn’t come out yet and people asked what I was doing and I said I’d just done this movie called “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and I could just hear eyes rolling back in their head because it sounds different than what he intended it to be. I think on the surface just the content of the subject matter it could lend itself to be extremely silly and broad and just ridiculous and just playing for laughs, but we tried not to do that and I think it’s the same with this. There are those broad moments but there’s also could I be more longwinded with that answer. Rudd: I think you were saying some great stuff. I agree with all of it except for the part about the reunion. I don’t believe it for a second. Carell: It’s true. It happened. Rudd: You’re lying. You didn’t go to high school. Carell: Check the transcript. It’s all there man. Rudd: Somebody pull up Carell’s records. You guys are good at Internet.
Q: We asked Ron and Bruce if their characters felt bad for what they were going and they just laughed. Rudd: Yeah, I don’t think they feel too bad. This company that we work for is a company called Fender Financial which is kind of like a vulture company. There’s a vulture in the movie, but this company goes out and buys companies, strips them down, sells all of the parts then turns a profit which is what
Carl Icahn did and that’s how he made all his money. It’s what he did with TWA. He buys these companies and then sell off all the parts. I might need to research that about Carl Icahn, I think I might be right. Carell: I see a lawsuit brewing. Rudd: Bring it on Icahn.
Q: Is this dinner a means for advancement in the company? Rudd: That’s the way that I’m looking at it. I have an opportunity to join the ranks – to go up to the higher floor. The idea is that there is this secret dinner that the main guy Bruce holds so I’ve been invited. My girlfriend thinks those are disgusting and I don’t disagree with her.
Q: Steve, you’ve been wanted to be part of this project for awhile but originally as Tim, Paul’s character correct? Carell: I think there was some talk originally of it, but I just loved the script straight off. This must have been a year-and-a-half ago at least – two years. The script has changed, but has gotten better I think. It really made me laugh out loud reading it. It was funny on the page which is always a good sign that you don’t look at something and think wow well this could potentially be funny, but how can we make it that way? Partly the challenge is for me to just not screw it up because it’s funny already and to just not screw up what’s already funny.
Q: What would you say the message of the film is if you had to nutshell it? Carell: I love nut shelling. Rudd: You do love nut shelling. Carell: I guess fools are in the eyes of the beholder in a way. I think clearly the people you perceive to be as fools are not necessarily that. Rudd: I think you’ve said it. Carell: It’s so hard because I don’t want to say something that sounds over sentimental about it because there are so many funny people in it. There’s so many funny scenes and just great situations. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a morality tale. Rudd: We’re also really aware of that too and we’ll start talking and all of a sudden we hate ourselves. Carell: That’s the thing – it does sound so pretentious to talk about it. If this movie gets one person to vote then I’d be happy. It’s really funny, but I think it does say something about friendships and misconceptions that people have about other people. I think it’s done with a light tough though and not too heavy-handed because I don’t think it needs to be. I think that comes through with the story itself.
Q: What is it that makes Jay Roach unique as a comedy director? What is it that he brings to the set? Rudd: I’ve always felt Jay’s been somewhat omnipresent, omniscient over the last few years. You always see him around and he’s so involved with movies that are made – comedies that are made. Everyone knows Jay. Everyone really respects his opinion because he’s super smart. He’s stealth smart and stealth funny in ways I think a lot of people aren’t. He’s so easygoing and his reputation is that he’s like the nicest man you’ll meet, and it’s true. He really is. He’s very clever and immediately, I think, I felt really comfortable in trusting. We would do several takes and he would play it back and there would just a moment. He’d say, “That right there,” and he would point out something, a moment in playback from the scene we just shot. “Yeah, I think that’s the right thing too” – I don’t know, I just felt really comfortable with him kind of steering the ship. And because he’s so kind of even keel, there’s a… Carell: There’s another ship. Rudd: I’m all nautical (laughs) He’s really the captain. I consider myself a seabee. Carell: He navigates the scene by looking at the stars. Rudd: Really, he can rough waters depending on (laughs)… whether or not we’re crossing the Atlantic and what time of the year it is. And let’s face it, it’s winter. (laughs) The tides are really- anyway, I’ll be in the mess hall. (Gets up and pretends to leave) Carell: That’s absolutely accurate though. I think we both, everybody, I think all the cast trust him implicitly and within that, you have this freedom to fail. You have freedom to try things and they could be way off base or they could be better than what you’ve been doing. But you get the chance to try and experiment. And you trust that if you’re trying something that doesn’t necessarily work, it won’t go in the movie. He’s not going to fall in love with something that’s horrendous and put it in. So you do have that freedom. You don’t censor yourself. Rudd: He’s concerned with story and character and he wants it to be funny and wants the jokes to be good but it’s not at the expense of keeping the story on point, and that’s good.
Q: Steve, it seems like once all the schmucks find out that they’re not there for the winner dinner, they all kind of bond together and team up against the execs. Do you bond with them or do you stay out of it? Carell: No, we bond, but we’re out of there pretty fast because we have some other things to deal with regarding Tim’s girlfriend. So we need to evacuate and get my tower of dreamers on his car quickly, but yeah, there’s a definite coming together of these people and understanding. My character thinks these are the greatest people he’s ever met because they’re kindred spirits. They’re people who sort of live on the fringes and dance their own music, and I love that. I love the fact that these people are so unique and so completely committed to whatever their vocation is.
Q: Did you get to sit next to the vulture? Carell: I do.
Q: And what kind of things did you do? Carell: I tried to avoid him pooping on me. Rudd: Which is all the time, by the way. Carell: Do you want to tell them about the vulture flatulence problem? Rudd: Yeah, the vulture farted right in the middle of our scene. Carell: It was disturbing, it was a disturbing sound, because for a second we didn’t really know what it was. It didn’t sound like it came from a human being. Clearly, it didn’t. I don’t even know how to describe it. It was a release of air that I’ve never heard in my life. (laughs) Rudd: When you think about what caused it, what does a vulture eat but dead stuff, and then farts. It’s just weird to hear a vulture fart, I guess. (laughs) Carell: If we had gotten one thing from this experience, it’s that. (laughs) Rudd: I guarantee, I would bet money we won’t hear that again in a scene. Carell: I don’t think so. Rudd: No matter what we shoot from here on out. Carell: He’s been very good though. He did a bunch of vulture stunts yesterday. He did everything they asked him to do. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how these trainers get these animals to do these things.
Q: Isn’t this easier for you Steve, since you had experience with this in “Evan Almighty”? Carell: Or less, depending on how you look at it. Yeah, I had a scene with a bunch of birds on me in that. I think birds are disconcerting to me because they have a very distinct odor. And this vulture’s no exception. There’s something like a bird pit. (laughs) You know, when a bird opens up its wings. Rudd: Yeah, there is. Carell: There’s something going on there, and it’s kind of disgusting.
Q: So Paul, what do you say to Steve’s character to get him to the party? Rudd: Do you wanna go to dinner? (laughs)
Q: That’s it? Rudd: Pretty much. Carell: I think the line is, “Hey, I’m having some dinner with friends tonight.” I say, “Wow, congratulations!” (laughs) cause it just sounds like such a great thing before I’ve even been invited. “Wow! Good for you!” Rudd: And I just, “I was wondering, would you like to go?”
Q: There’s a lot of people rolling out their best of the decade right now. I’ve seen “Anchorman” showing up a few times. It’s obvious that it has made a cultural impact. I know Will and Adam have talked about how they would love to go back if they had the right to it and if they were able to orchestrate everyone. Would both of you be interested? Carell: Yeah, we talk about it all the time. Rudd: Yeah, I think it would be really really fun to do. I think we’d have a blast making it. Carell: Yeah, in a second. Rudd: It’s kind of like whatever they… Carell: Yeah, whenever they’re ready. I know Koechner’s up for it too.
Q: Koechner’s the one I think who’s turned into the Tom Arnold of “True Lies” of “Anchorman,” where any time it comes up, he’s like “I’m there. The first day, I’m there.” Carell: Yeah, I think we all feel that way. I talked to Christina [Applegate] a month or so ago. I think everybody, Fred Willard would be up for it, I think everybody involved would be. It was such a fun thing. We laughed until we cried every day on that set.
Q: Are you amazed to see how it still seems to resonate with people, even after it’s almost a decade later. And it really seems to be fresh for people. Rudd: I remember hearing more about it after it’d been on cable and people had seen it more. I heard, “I didn’t really like it at first but I saw it a few times and started really liking it.” I don’t know. It’s not surprising to me. I always thought it was hilarious. I read it and I always thought it was one of the funniest scripts I’ve ever read. I think that Steve and Will and everybody were just so funny. I’m excluding myself. I was… Carell: You were the weak link, let’s face it. (laughs) Sex panther. Rudd: It’s really cool, it’s cool that people like it. It’s nice to be a part of something… Carell: I know we’d have fun doing it, but I’d want it to be really good. There’d be no reason to do it if was just to kind of retread it or – and I think, if those guys pulled the trigger on it, it would be good. I think they would have something ready and appropriate to go so, what that would be I have no idea. I can’t wait.