Steve Carrel relates his own family life to his character’s in his new Disney movie, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (PG)
From having his chest waxed in The 40 Year-Old Virgin to eating lipstick in Anchorman 2, there aren’t many things Steve Carell won’t do for a laugh.
But a scene in the comic actor’s latest film was even more unusual than most, as his character comes face-to-face with an escaped kangaroo at an Australia-themed children’s party.
“Kangaroos are freaky animals,” says Carell, who plays dad-of-four Ben Cooper in Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
“Very cute, but I never got a sense of what that kangaroo was going to do, or where that kangaroo’s mind was at. But all the animals worked out well. We didn’t lose any of the kids, so it was good.”
It’s just one of the chaotic moments in the Disney film, which follows the exploits of calamity-prone 11-year-old Alexander (played by newcomer Ed Oxenbould).
As the schoolboy wonders whether bad things only happen to him, his parents (Carell and Jennifer Garner) and siblings begin to experience their very own disastrous day.
From vomiting children and a botched job interview, to the driving test from hell (and the aforementioned kangaroo on the loose), everything that could go wrong, does – a scenario Carell, who is father to Elisabeth, 13, and John, 10, with actress wife Nancy, can understand.
“Jen [Garner] and I are both parents, and we’d keep a very close eye on whether these things were relevant to us as we were going through [the film],” he says.
“I didn’t want it to be one of those movies that’s just full of cliches, I wanted to present a family that is loving, but not in an overly sentimental way. A real family, a modern kind of family, and a family that I identify with.”
It helped that the pair’s young co-stars were ‘the sweetest kids that we could have asked for – not like weird, actor-robot kids’, Carell notes.
So what’s the most terrible, horrible, no good day the Carell clan have ever experienced?
“We’ve never had a day exactly like this one, but we’ve had bits and pieces over the years that would add up to a day like this,” the 52-year-old says.
“If you’re a parent, you’ve had a day where your son or daughter doesn’t have a diaper on and they decide to pee and you have to deal with that; diaper bags breaking open and diapers going everywhere; not being able to find things; stuff falling out of the fridge when you don’t have any time to clean it up.”
Carell and Nancy, who wed in 1995, met at the Chicago improvisation troupe The Second City (she was a student in a class he was teaching), and have appeared alongside each other in Carell’s breakthrough movie The 40 Year-Old Virgin and the US version of The Office (in which he plays the David Brent role). More recently, they co-created upcoming police procedural TV comedy Angie Tribeca, starring Rashida Jones.
Finding humour in all that life throws at you is important to Massachusetts-born Carell, who worked as a postman before finding fame.
“You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Bad stuff’s going to happen. It happens for everybody, you can’t avoid it,” he says.
“I do like the lesson [in the film] that you have to sort of go along with it and accept it. Alexander, at one point, says: ‘You have to have bad days to appreciate the good ones’. And I think there’s truth in that. It’s all relative and bad days sort of give context to the good.”
He’ll next be seen on screen in a much meatier role, playing eccentric US multi-millionaire and murderer John du Pont in Foxcatcher.
The film tells the true-life story of du Pont, whose friendship with wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum), ended in tragedy.