In theaters July 5, “The Way, Way Back” features Steve Carell in yet another quirky ensemble comedy, similar to his recently ended sitcom “The Office.” But in a common turn for big-screen funnymen, this and Carell’s next film, Bennett Miller’s Oscar hopeful “Foxcatcher,” show a darker side to the comedian.
There’s nothing funny about Carell’s character in “The Way, Way Back” — he plays an overbearing stepdad to young Liam James. Carell’s character not only bullies the boy but also cheats on his mother.
“No, I don’t have the warm gooey center in this guy,” Carell told reporters about his latest. “I think of myself as an actor and not necessarily a comedic performer or a dramatic performer. And I think you just approach everything separately and different and with the same sense of commitment.”
In “Foxcatcher,” set for release in late 2013, he’ll play convicted murderer millionaire John du Pont opposite Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, as Olympic wrestlers the Schultz brothers. Foxcatcher Farm is the name of du Pont’s estate in rural Delaware where David Schultz was shot dead in 1996. Du Pont was found guilty of the murder but avoided a life sentence through an insanity plea and died in prison in 2010.
“It’s just going to get darker and darker,” Carell joked with reporters. “You can easily just say a character is a villain or a bad guy or a killer, but I think as an actor you can’t approach it that way. You first think of the character as a human being and you try to estimate what makes up the components of why he is the way he is.”
Carell’s turn to the dark side mirrors Hollywood comedians before him who traded a smile for a grimace. Robin Williams won an Oscar for his dramatic portrayal of Dr. Maguire in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.” He made only one other comedy after that before launching on a trio of thrillers starting with 2002’s “Insomnia,” in which he played a murderer, followed by “One Hour Photo,” where he again played a murderer, and finally a ruthless manipulator of memories in 2004’s “The Final Cut.”
Likewise, Tom Hanks began his career in comedy, making 16 in row before turning to drama in 1993 with “Philadelphia,” for which he won his first Oscar.
The operative word in both cases is “Oscar.” Once Hanks took on dramatic roles, he received back-to-back statuettes and a total of five nominations over all. Jonah Hill made numerous comedies before getting nominated for his first dramatic role in Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” and will next be seen in Martin Scorsese’s high-finance drama “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
“When I first became an actor, I just wanted to be an actor, I wasn’t pre-disposed to comedy or drama,” Carell said. “Just by virtue of the things I was hired to do, I tended to do more things more comedic in nature. So I have never had a clear image of myself as comedic actor.”
But making the transition from comedy to drama can be hazardous. Audiences didn’t warm to Adam Sandler as a troubled loner in “Reign Over Me,” nor did they embrace Will Ferrell as a recovering alcoholic in 2010’s “Everything Must Go.”
“I am not worried whether people will buy it or not, because that’s out of my hands,” Carell said. “Legitimately making people laugh I think is one of the hardest things to do. But eliciting a response in drama is equally hard to do. But I can’t choose roles based on what I think people’s perceptions of me are.”