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Family Room

A Chat with Steve Carell

How long have you been married?
Twelve years. We have two children, 3 and 6.

How were you able to identify with your Dan in Real Life character, who has an awkward reentry into the dating world?
I was not a good dater. I literally don’t remember ever asking a girl out on a date. It always happened to be someone I’d been working with or had become friends with. We’d sort of "find" ourselves on a date, as in everyone goes out to dinner and now it’s just the two of us sitting at a table, and that turns into a date. I was always too shy and insecure. My wife (Nancy Walls) and I worked at Second City and became friends. We sort of backed into the whole idea, since we’re both really shy. I said, "Boy, you know, if I were ever to go out on a date with someone like you …" And she said, "I bet I’d date someone like you." We danced around it for weeks until I finally said, "Uh, ya wanna?" "OK." It was so stupid and sloppy, but I think romantic in its own right.

In the film, a girlfriend comes to meet this huge extended family. Have you experienced anything like that?
It’s very similar to my wife’s family, I have to say. She comes from a family of six brothers and sisters. The first time I met her entire family was at her brother-in-law’s 40th birthday party. There must have been 100 people there, and I was the new boyfriend stepping into the fray. I remember driving over to the house. I wanted to make sure I had decent breath, so I had a bottle of Listerine in the car. Just before I got to the house I took a swig, swished it around in my mouth, opened the car door and spit it out. I closed the door and realized it was my future father-in-law’s car right behind me. That was my introduction to him. It’s sort of become legend in the family: "Boy, what a class act you were; 100 yards from the house you’re spitting out the door." I’ve had my share of embarrassing moments. That was just the first.

Talk about the extended family in the film.
A lot of the families you see in movies are very dysfunctional, and the stories play off that aspect. Dan’s family is extremely functional and loving, with a huge heart. My wife’s family is that way. They all get together at least once a year at the beach house where they play football on the beach and the kids do a talent show. So I understood it and believed it. It didn’t seem unrealistic to me because I know firsthand that such families exist.

As the father of young children, how did it feel to play dad to teenagers?
I have taken a look into the future and it’s a scary place, especially the girl who played my 15-year-old. She’s a good kid, and really smart and charming, but I know my daughter is going to be h‑‑‑ on wheels when she’s 15. So I’m bracing myself. I don’t want to be an overprotective dad, which I think happens because you’re just concerned that your kids will get hurt, physically or emotionally. At some point you have to let them get hurt and make mistakes, and I think that’s going to be the hardest part.

Did you pick up any tips that you’ve filed away for future reference?
Oh, all the time. But it wasn’t just about worrying or preparing myself to handle an older kid who challenges me. There’s a flip side that I can’t wait for. These kids were smart and funny and charming and had so much life to them. They are making that transition between childhood and adulthood, and there’s a lot of turmoil and conflict and upheaval, but it’s exciting because their eyes are opening to all of these new things. I was reminded of what an exciting time it will be for my daughter and son.

You’ve experienced a great deal of success in a very short time. What has changed for you in recent years?
I have a lot more money than I used to. Honestly, that’s the most perceivable difference in my life. I will definitely be able to send my kids to college now. From day one my barometer for success was whether I could support a family, send my kids through school and provide for them. And to make a living doing that as an actor is completely satisfying. All of this is so far beyond any of my dreams or expectations.

Published November 2007