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Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life.
© Touchstone Pictures

Steve Carell Talks About Dan in Real Life

From Rebecca Murray,
Your Guide to Hollywood Movies.
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Steve Carell (The Office) stars as family advice columnist Dan Burns, a widowed father who's dedicated to taking care of his kids, in the romantic comedy/drama Dan in Real Life. Dan is trying his best to keep everything in control, but his life is turned upside when he meets and falls for Marie (Juliette Binoche) only to quickly discover she's dating his brother (Dane Cook)...

Waiting for the Big Emotional Breakdown: Dan’s got so much going on in his life that the film kind of sets up the typical breakdown scene – but, surprisingly, it never happens. Asked if he was waiting for that, Carell replied, “Only in my personal life. Well, I don’t think the story lent itself to a big, emotional breakdown. In my mind he’s a guy who is just doing his best to get through, and get by, and raise three daughters by himself, not someone to wallow in self pity. [He’s] just someone who has put other people and other things ahead of himself, and kind of loses a part of himself in the process. That’s the element of the movie that I can identify with, and I think a lot of people can. I love my kids -- I have two little kids -- and I love them more than anything. I put them ahead of any of my own personal needs, and I think people tend to do that. But there’s a danger there, I think, of losing a part of yourself and not taking care of your own needs, which I think can then affect them, because you want to give your kids the best possible version of yourself. If you don’t feel complete and full yourself, then you can’t do that for them. I think that’s what this character was going [through].”

Stretching Those Acting Muscles: This role is very different from his last film, Evan Almighty, and his next movie, Get Smart, in terms of the emotional depth of his character. “It’s a different thing, it’s just a different sort of muscle I think,” explained Carell. “I don’t think it’s any more or less difficult, but they’re just different. Do I enjoy it more? No, I think I enjoy them equally.

Playing Michael Scott [in The Office] is a very different sort of character, and a fun character to play. But, again, the show has a different tone to it than, say, a movie like this. I think of it as the tone, I think of it as what the movie calls for, what this situation calls for, and I just wanted to make this guy as truthful as I could, as honest as I could.”

There’s only one scene in the film in which Carell comes close to breaking down, and that’s while he’s singing and playing the guitar. Carell joked about how he was able to capture that emotion. “I was just thinking about how bad my voice was, and it just made me cry." Getting serious, Carell credited his co-star with helping him get it right. "Well, I think you gain a lot by being with somebody like Juliette [Binoche] because she’s very engaging. She was off camera, but she was there. She was always there, as was the rest of the cast. Any time that the camera is not on you or is not on everybody else, everybody else stayed so you could get a sense for what was going on on the other side. She’s incredibly engaging and I think whatever I was feeling was coming through looking at her.”

Playing a Dad in Dan in Real Life: In the film Steve Carell’s the father to three girls. Playing dad wasn’t particularly difficult for Carell who hit it off with the actresses who play his kids onscreen. “Well, they’re really good actresses and it didn’t feel too distant to me. I have a six-year-old daughter, and being around a nine, a 15 and a 17-year-old girl just felt like my life accelerated by a few years, and the fear inherent in that. It’s scary. It’s scary to be around these pre-teen teenagers who are making that transition between childhood and adulthood and are full of all of these hormones and thoughts and angst. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like for me and my kids.”

Carell says he really is frightened when he thinks ahead about what’s to come. “I’m incredibly scared, because you don’t want to be overprotective,” revealed Carell. “You want to let them make their own mistakes. I don’t want to wrap them in a cocoon of security, because that’s not going to help them either. So you have to gauge how protective you are. At that point, you know, when they’re little kids you worry about them getting hurt physically. When they get older, you worry about them getting hurt emotionally. That’s going to be hard because they will get hurt emotionally and there’s nothing you can do about it. I think that’s what the character is going through. He doesn’t want them to get hurt because he’s hurting. He doesn’t want them to feel the way he has felt. He wants to protect them, but at a certain point you can’t and you have to let them make some bad moves.”

Sticking to the Script: Carell’s used to improvisation however he was happy to stick to the script in Dan in Real Life. “We play around with the script a lot on The Office and didn’t so much with this. No, I think it’s just a different discipline. It was much more like doing a play because Peter [Hedges] comes from a theatre background also, and when you do a play you don’t improvise the lines. You do them as scripted and you rehearse, and we rehearsed our scenes. We set them up. There were a lot of very big group scenes and that can be a disaster if you start improvising within a 15 person scene. So they were scripted to the point to make them look unscripted, you know what I mean? Which I think really speaks to the quality of the writing. They were written in a way that didn’t sound written.”

On Filming in Rhode Island: “It was great,” said Carell. “I was only like an hour and fifteen minutes away from my parents’ house so we did a lot of visiting. They came down and spent some time on the set. It was great. And fall in New England is a beautiful place. It was nice. There’s a quality to the air and a crispness that made me think a lot about my childhood. It was great; it was nice to be back.”

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