Steve Carell has hilariously appeared on The Office, a slew of hit movies, and now stars as the voice of supervillain Gru in Despicable Me. The dad of two chats about the things he swore he’d never do as a parent, crying during movies, and his kids’ very strange bedtime story obsession.
Have your kids seen the film yet?
Yeah, they loved it. They both were overjoyed. They knew I played Gru and my six-year-old son said, “It was great, but why didn’t you play a minion?” He thought they were so cool! I’m that close to being cool in my kids’ eyes: if only I’d been a minion.
How would you describe yourself as a dad? Are you the funny guy or the strict disciplinarian?
I try to be a hybrid. You walk a fine line there. You want your kids to have respect; you don’t want to coddle them. You don’t want to be their buddy – but you do. You want to have that connection, but you also want them to respect you when you need to draw the line because kids need a sense of structure. It makes them feel more secure. But we also laugh a lot; we’re pretty silly. The trickiest thing for me and my wife, Nancy, is presenting that united front. Kids are cagey. They’ll ask one parent, then go around to the other and try to work the same thing on the other side. So it’s having communication with your spouse and knowing what the parameters are.
As your kids get older, do you see your sense of humor in them?
Absolutely. My kids, at ages six and nine, both understand irony – but in a really sweet way. They’re not weird or jaded, like “Oh, I know that joke: ” They have a good sense of themselves and don’t take themselves too seriously, which I think is important.
Is there anything you do as a parent that you thought you’d never do?
Oh, all the time! I hear myself saying things like, “I’m going to pull this car over right now.” It’s such a benign threat! I hear that and I think, “Really? That’s become me?”
In the film, your character, Gru, rescues the kids from Vector. Do you ever get protective over your children?
Absolutely. When Gru storms Vector’s hideout for the first time, he’s not having any great success getting in. But the second time, when he knows the kids are in there and they’re in jeopardy – I’m actually welling up thinking about it; I really am – because as a parent, you would throw yourself under a bus for your kids and not even think about it. There wouldn’t be a split-second of self-doubt or hesitation. I totally identify with that.
Is doing an accent like you do in the movie easy or hard?
It’s fun. We’ve tried to strike a balance between a little bit sinister and fun and accessible. The character has an inner sweetness that we may not see initially. The accent isn’t an actual nationality; it’s sort of a broad net cast over Europe. But it was fun and it certainly wasn’t limiting. If anything, it was fun to wrap your mouth around certain words and play with them.
Bedtime stories are big in the film. What do you read to your kids, and do you pull out all stops with voices?
We read to our kids every night. My daughter now reads to me. Generally, my wife will put my son to bed and I’ll put my daughter to bed. Sometimes we’ll switch it up. We have stacks of books that we always cycle through. But after my son’s been read to and the lights go out, he demands – and this has been happening for quite a while now – a story about a hamster. Every time! Nancy has to tell him a hamster story; sometimes I have to tell the hamster story. But we’re running out of scenarios.
But that’s one of the greatest things about getting to work in town. I’ve done a couple of movies out of town and I hope I won’t have to again, because to be home while your kids are little – you don’t get that back. I always try to memorize those moments with them. The other day, my daughter was over at a friend’s house at a sleepover, and I walked by her door and she wasn’t there: it kind of shakes up your world. Like, wow, not too many years from now, that’s going to be the case. You need to soak it up while you can.
Do you ever feel worn out by parenthood, like you and Tina Fey were in the beginning of Date Night?
Oh, sure. Especially earlier on, when the kids were little and less self-sufficient. And especially that first year and a half of your child’s life when you’re not prepared and don’t know what to expect, and you’re catching an hour of sleep every now and then. But that’s what’s kind of built-in. You’re completely bonding with them. They’re putting you through the ringer for a reason. They just turned six and nine this last year, and I just want to freeze it. They’re at the perfect age. But I feel like that about every age. We keep a log of things they do and say and go through it years later. You can’t believe some of the stuff – that probably can’t be repeated – that they’ve said along the way.
Do they get along with each other?
They do, but they fight, too. It’s natural. But you can tell underneath it all, they’re going to take care of each other. Like, “nobody messes with my brother” kind of thing.
How did you bring your experience as a dad into the movie?
That’s what interested me in the script in the first place. It’s the quintessential story of becoming a parent. Someone has their life structured the way they want it to be – or they think they want it to be – and then they have kids and everything changes. And you can’t explain to someone who’s going to have kids how their life will change. You just can’t. I’ve tried, but given up at this point. Everybody responds to parenting differently, but the common thread is that it changes everything: how you feel about yourself, your work, your life and the world around you. And it’s so overwhelming. To watch a super villain go through that is really funny. When I first saw the movie, I got all welled up at the end. And the second time I saw it with my kids, I thought, “Nope, I’m not doing it this time; I’m not going to get teary-eyed.” But I did it again! Because that character is definitely going through what a parent goes through, and finding the power of that connection is overwhelming. There’s nothing else like it.