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The 40-Year-Old Virgin - Steve Carell interview



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. As a happily married father of two, it must have been a while since you've had to contemplaye the dating scene? But did you draw from any personal experience?
A.
It’s ancient history. Quite a bit of my experience helped with Andy’s dating experience. The whole scene in which I ask the questions in the bookstore, that was directly lifted from advice that my father gave me. On one of my first dates ever I was petrified of talking to this girl, and he suggested that I just ask questions and put all of the impetus on her to talk. It turned out to be great advice.
It kind of relieves the tension, so I incorporated it into the movie.
In terms of the movie, that was probably the one decent piece of advice you could use. Certainly not played out the way it is in the movie. But to just ask questions, if you’re on a date I think it works for both men and women – to just ask questions and to find interest in the other person. It kind of relieves the tension in that way.

Q. Can you talk about the waxing scene? Apparently you suffered for your art for real?
A.
That was 100% real. I completely subjected myself to an actual waxing on camera. It was done in one take, we set up five cameras, and clearly we only had one shot at it because my hair doesn’t grow that quickly. We just figured it would be a funnier to go, ultimately. And more excruciating overall.

Q. How did your colleagues’ react - they seem to be laughing pretty hard?
A.
The guys had very little sympathy, but the women in the crew were the ones who had the sympathy because they knew what I was getting into.
They were telling me to trim down my hair a little bit so it would be easier to pull. They told me to take some Advil. They had topical solutions to numb the pain, and I would have none of it.
I said I was fine, I was very macho. And it hurt so much more than I’d anticipated. I now have this new found respect for women all over the globe in terms of bikini waxing.
When it starts to grow back it gets even uglier and messier. It’s horrendous. And going home and showing my wife my chest that evening was no small task either. She was horrified by the look, which lasted for a couple of months.

Q. Was the pain the main reason why the whole chest was not done?
A.
We thought in terms of the whole movie that it might be funnier if the next time you see him he takes off his shirt and it’s just patches.
Then we could get some comedic mileage out of that, once the next woman sees this thing, and how she reacts, which really isn’t the way you’d expect her to react. She’s very turned on by the whole idea.

Q. Did you get some strange reactions from people away the from film, if they saw your chest?
A.
I got a strange reaction from my wife. And my daughter asked me why my chest was smiling at her. It was definitely something to live with. My wife made me wear a T-shirt around the house for the next couple of months, she couldn’t bear to look at it any more.

Q. Was it tough to continue responding while showing the pain and staying in character? You did it ad-lib, didn't you?
A.
That was completely unscripted because we did not know how I would react, how much pain would be involved, and really didn’t know what I was going to say.
The only idea we had was that I would curse, yell an obscenity and then apologise for it because my character is very polite. But in terms of what exactly I would say, we had no idea.
The funniest part to me was keeping the camera on the other people in the scene, because they’re obviously laughing. Which works in the context of the movie. There’s something about a male seeing another male go through excruciating pain that is just inherently funny. You can’t help but laugh at a friend going through pain, if it’s not life threatening.
There’s something hilarious about it. And add to that the fact that it’s self inflicted, I knew that they would be laughing, and that would probably be the funniest part of the scene.

Q. Without wanting to ask the obvious, do you remember losing your own virginity?
A.
Believe me, the US press asked the same question again and again. It was funny, because prior to doing any interviews I asked my wife about it, because I knew it would come up. She said ‘just don’t tell them’. I thought that was a novel idea, I should just go with that.
But my first experience was not unlike anyone else’s. It was horrible, and awkward and disappointing for both of us. I think 99% of the population can relate to that.
It was just what it was, and it was probably more getting it out of the way than anything else. At least I felt, growing up, when you’re a teenager, it’s a scene that seems to loom over your head.
That was sort of the inspiration for the movie itself, at age 40 that cloud that might have been looming since the teenage years has expanded into almost a life encompassing thing. I felt that was a good starting off point for the character in a movie that could be both funny and sort of raunchy, but sweet and heartfelt at the same time. And actually tell a story about a human being as opposed to a caricature.

Q. How was losing it on screen?
A.
That was very unlike my first time, because it wasn’t real for one thing. It’s always odd too! I’ d never kissed a woman on screen before, so the fact that I wrote a movie in which I kiss several women was interesting for me wife, asking me what my hidden agenda was!
Catherine Keener is such a great actress, and we became very, very good friends. It was just very nice and playful.

Q. And what made you break into song?
A.
I figured how else could the movie end at that point. Where else could it go? To me the movie ends with him losing his virginity, and at that point the credits could just start rolling. I figured while the credits rolled we should have the most perfect expression of joy and happiness, which is breaking into song.

Q. Do you prefer light to dark comedy?
A.
I don’t think I prefer one to the other, they’re just different. It’s fun to do both. Something like Anchorman is altogether different from this, or The Office, because that’s complete silliness and doesn’t pretend to even have a heart. It just is ridiculous. That’s a more silly vein.
Honestly, whatever will make people laugh is what I’m interested in doing.

Q. Do you have a fondness for playing news reporters?
A. [Laughs]
I tend to be hired to play them. It’s not a calculated choice. Before I did The Daily Show, which is a mock news show, I never had any notion of playing that kind if character. A friend of mine was on that show already, I’d worked with him in Second City in Chicago, and he recommended me and sort of threw my name into the hat.
So I just started doing reports for them. But that show is nothing you can ever train for because it’s sort of a hybrid. You’re kind of a correspondent, you’re sort of an actor but not really, and an improvisational background helps but it’s not mandatory. There are a lot of elements that add up to this job description.
And I think that kind of begat Bruce Almighty which begat Anchorman. I kind of went from one to the next. I almost didn’t get Anchorman because of Bruce Almighty, they were worried that I would be seen as the same guy.
But once it was clear that they were vastly different characters there was no overlap at all.
But I don’t know, it’s like my choice to do comedy wasn’t even my choice. I went in to theatre as an actor, but comedies just seemed to be the things I was hired to do more often than not.

Q. Was working with Woody Allen on Melinda and Melinda a dream come true?
A.
All of this stuff is beyond my wildest dreams. That came as a complete shock and surprise, to be in a Woody Allen movie. And even though I’m just a glimpse within a Woody Allen movie it was still a very exciting experience.

Q. Do you think The 40-Year-Old Virgin might start a trend for nouveau celibacy?
A.
I’ve heard a lot of different terms coming up now. Geek-chic is coming now. Do I think that is the next trend? Nouveau celibacy, I don’t know, these are all very interesting sounding terms. I don’t think the movie has any sort of agenda or is trying to ride the crest of any oncoming social phenomenon. I have no idea.
We certainly weren’t making any political statement about virginity, or whether it’s good or bad to be one. It was just a starting off point for this character and for the film. But in terms of making any sort of statement about virginity, we certainly weren’t trying to do that.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about your next project, Little Miss Sunshine?
A.
That’s a bit more of a dark comedy, and it’s the one that stars Alan Arkin. Every day I couldn’t believe that he was sitting behind me in this little van. I was pinching myself.

Q. Is it more family-based?
A.
It’s fairly adult, it’s certainly not a kid romp movie. My character is a suicidal Proust scholar.

Q. Will your four-year-old be allowed to watch it?
A.
Well she does enjoy Proust. It’s certainly not a kids’ movie but it’s not at all the tone of The 40-Year-Old-Virgin. It’s more in the sense of a Hal Ashby film. It’s a little bit more gentle, it’s very moody. The two directors, who are editing it right now, are big music video directors. This is their first feature.
So their visuals are very important in terms of how they’re framing the shots. I think it will be a very beautiful movie as well.

Q. Can we expect a raunchfest on the 40-Year-Old Virgin DVD?
A.
We might even call it The Raunchfest, and just leave off the title of the movie.
There will be elements that didn’t make the theatrical version that could perhaps be a little bit raunchier. But frankly most of what we shot is in the movie. It’s pretty raunchy already. I don’t know what you want, I don’t know how dirty you are as an individual.
We shot a million feet of film for the movie. And I didn’t know this but when you shoot that much the company that manufactures the film comes to the set with champagne. On the final day we went over a million feet, and as we did they call it out. Some representatives from, I think it was Kodak, came out with cases of champagne for the cast and the crew because we had made their year.
So there’s a lot of footage, and lot of out-takes. And I know that Judd was doing a video diary throughout the whole thing. So there’ll be a lot of extras.

Q. Did you ever get into trouble with your wife about some of the content and scenes?
A.
She had taken care of our one and our four year old, and I came in and sat down on the couch and kicked my shoes off and said ‘I am so tired!’. She shot me a look that I’ll never forget. ‘Oh really? You’ve just made out with Elizabeth Banks all day, when I’ve been caring for your children. Don’t even talk to me about it!.
She plays the health care counsellor in the movie, so she enjoyed that. It wasn’t really a point of contention between us. She was just giving me a little grief.

Q. How did you go about getting the male-female balance in the film? It does play to both, despite starting from a predominantly male outlook?
A.
Judd and I talked a lot about tone when we first started discussing the movie, and what we wanted to achieve with it. First we had to decide how bawdy it would be, and how much heart we wanted to be instilled in the movie as well.
And we both agreed that we wanted the characters to be believable and empathetic. People that you would care about. And implicit in that is a bigger heart to the movie. That’s something that we wanted. We wanted to achieve that without it being cloying or too precious. We wanted to earn that side of it.
Within that we wanted it to be extremely funny as well. So we were sort of walking a tightrope between how raunchy is it going to be and how much heart is it going to have, without each cancelling the other out.

Q. How did you go about pitching the taboo that is male virginity?
A.
It’s so funny because when we were pitching the movie and talking to people about it they just assumed that The 40-Year-Old Virgin meant a woman. It was a bit of a shift for them.
Talking to me they asked who was playing the virgin, and when I said that I was you saw the gears in their head move, trying to get onto the same page.
We weren’t looking at demographics, saying this part will appeal to women and this part will appeal to men. We just did what we thought would be funny, but also charming and sweet, while telling a nice story without being too saccharine.

Q. Is it true, then, that you needed to retain the character's dignity for Catherine’s character to fall for Andy?
A.
My character had to be normal enough and appealing enough that Catherine’s character would find him appealing. We definitely wanted to make the character of Andy a decent guy, not creepy or emotionally scarred but just a decent guy who’d missed out on some opportunities.

Q. Apparently, you visited a lot of virgin websites as part of the research? Is this true?
A.
We got a bit like that, but most of our research came through these case studies from Universal about middle aged virginity. We read up on those and the people that we read about were not unlike the character of Andy, generally speaking.
They were normal people who had missed out on some opportunities and decided at a certain point that it wasn’t worth trying any more. They were just going through life. So I think that kind of reassured us that we were on the right track with this guy. We didn’t want to paint him as a cliché, or a stereotype in any way.

Related stories: Read our review of the film

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Watch clips from the film - including some naughty stuff!!!

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