How did you create the voice of Gru and how did it help you bring back the character for the second movie?
Steve Carell: We just started playing around with different voices in the first session for the first movie. We didn’t really know what he would sound like. Actually, the look of the character changed quite a bit from the very first picture, the very first illustration that I saw. He was originally much more angular looking and sort of darker, more menacing than he ended up being. I wanted the voice to match that, to be vaguely menacing but kind of approachable in a strange way and funny. That’s definitely the voice that made everybody laugh. That’s the voice that made my kids laugh the most.
When I went home and said “What do you think of THIS guy?” they said “that’s it, Dad.” And no matter what I said they laughed. They were like “More, more!” That was a good sign that I was on to something. And the animators are so good at layering in all of this. I saw the movie for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know how you felt, but animation now is like you’re watching real living, breathing people. Although they’re from a parallel universe and may not look like human beings, you really get the sense that they’re alive. It’s kind of remarkable.
Have you encountered any kids who are happy or freaked out when they meet you in person and hear Gru’s voice?
Steve Carell: I did Ellen a couple of weeks ago as Gru. I figured I wanted to do it once. I want to go on a talk show and be interviewed as the character, not wink about it, not try to get me to break character, but just do an interview with this guy. One of Ellen’s staff’s daughter was there and when I went out, she said “See, mommy, he’s real! I told you this guy’s real.”
So she brought her back to the dressing room afterwards and I hadn’t taken off any of my makeup or costume and she was shy, but she wasn’t squared. I think she was five or six. I played the whole thing out for her. [In Gru’s voice] “What’s your name? Hello, Stacy. It’s nice to meet you.” And went through the whole thing and she thought she was talking to this guy. It was really sweet. Just in terms of the voice, it is the best party trick for my friends of my kids. They love it. My friends might be getting sick of it, but they love it.
You created the voice of Gru, but did any of your movements make it into the film? Is your family able to see any of you in Gru?
Steve Carell: They notice it. I don’t. That’s the weird part. You don’t see yourself in the mirror all day, but your kids and your wife do. As you’re recording, they have a camera as you’re taping it and as you’re doing all the voices. There’s a little camera on you at all times. The animators will watch that tape and use it for reference. Not that they’re modeling the character completely after you, but they do use expressions. So from time to time, I couldn’t tell you where, but my wife would nudge me and say “That’s you. That’s it. That’s exactly what you did.”
Your appearance on the final episode of The Office was such a surprise. When did you find out that you’d be in it and how did you keep it a secret for so long? Did you have to do a lot of lying to the press?
Steve Carell: I lied for months to the press, to almost everyone really. I felt terrible for the cast and for Greg Daniels, because they all lied, too. They all went on talk shows and they just lied continually. (laughs) We just figured it would be a fun surprise if people weren’t expecting it. I didn’t want it to be a big thing. I did it out of respect for the show and the actors and it was based out of that. How early? It was several months. I talked to Greg Daniels about it and my only hope with it was that I didn’t want it to be about Michael coming back. I didn’t want the story to be about him in any way. I wanted it to be more of a tip of the hat to the show.
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