Although Jim Carrey was ostensibly the star of the summer box-office hit Bruce Almighty, the movie's most memorable performance came from Daily Show correspondent-turned-actor Steven Carell. In Bruce's funniest sequence (which was featured in almost all of the trailers), Carrey uses his God-given powers to make Carell's boorish anchorman speak in tongues during a live broadcast. Although Carell may deny it, that's the kind of moment that turns a first-time actor into a first-rate scene-stealer...
TV Guide Online: So what's it like to steal a movie away from Jim Carrey?
(Laughs) That's not true! That's not what happened. Totally not the case. It was pretty intimidating to be playing opposite someone like him, especially since this is really the first movie I've ever done. But he's a pretty amazing guy, very low-key, nice and easygoing.
TVGO: Did you keep cracking each other up during the "speaking in tongues" sequence?
No, I was way too nervous to even think of cracking up. I was so intimidated and so in awe of the whole process and of just being there.
TVGO: There's an alternate take of that scene on the Bruce DVD (in stores Nov. 25). Your hair catches on fire! Why didn't that make the final cut?
They put that on there? I haven't seen the disc yet. Apparently, when they previewed it for some test audiences, they were laughing a lot at first, but when my nose started to bleed and my hair went on fire, they pulled back. They thought Jim was being a bit too mean to my character. But that was a real effect, it wasn't a digital thing! They actually hooked a gas line up the back of my neck and there was a burner on the back of my head that they fed the gas through. Talk about being scared — I was just petrified. And you kind of have to give into it. You just assume that they know what they're doing and you're not going to have your head burned off.
TVGO: That's definitely something you never had to deal with on The Daily Show. Are you still working with them now that you've moved out to L.A.?
I try to get back to New York every couple of months and work in the studio for a week. I've also done a few field pieces from out here. I try to keep my foot in the door because it's such a great place to work. It's still home, in a sense. The thing I like most about the show is that it has nothing to do with the entertainment industry. It is so removed from Hollywood and when you do it, you feel as if you're in a bubble. It's not about getting discovered, it's not about ratings, it's not about money, it's just about trying to do the funniest, most topical show that you can.
TVGO: And now, of course, you've joined the enemy...
Yeah, now I've completely sold out! (Laughs) But it's nice to go back there and have a dose of reality. And literally reality, because you're dealing with topics that generally don't come up doing a sitcom or movie. In a sense, it's like going back to school and it kind of cleanses the palate for a while.
TVGO: You've just finished work on a Woody Allen film. What was that like?
When you work with Woody Allen, you can't help but stare at him and think, "That's Woody Allen talking to me right now." You've seen him hundreds of times on-screen, and there he is, giving you an acting note. It's all you can do to just listen to the words and not be mesmerized by the fact this icon is speaking to you. It's very interesting because he's treated like an icon, too. The respect he obviously has garnered over all these years is tangible. It was a tiny part, but everybody told me I had to do it. If nothing else, it would be a great experience to be able to say, "I was in a Woody Allen movie."
TVGO: That movie also reunited you with Will Ferrell, who you appear with in the upcoming film, Anchorman.
Yeah, that's going to be a crazy movie. It's about a bunch of idiots who are a news team in San Diego in the early '70s. Will is the head idiot and I am the weatherman idiot. Just in shooting it, I've never laughed harder in my life. I was in tears! I can't wait to see how it turns out. I think it's going to be a funny, funny movie.
TVGO: So after doing all these film roles, do you now think of yourself as a comedian who acts or as an actor who is also a comedian?
I'm an actor who will do anything that they pay me money to do. If someone wanted to hire me to do a drama, I would do it. Anything that doesn't involve nudity, I'd do it. Of course, I might do that too, depending on the cash outlay. I'm up for doing anything, although I do want to avoid doing crap. So far, I've been very lucky in what I've been cast in, and I would prefer to keep away from anything I'm embarrassed by. But then again, when you want to pay the mortgage, sometimes you have to bite the bullet.
TVGO: To bring us back to Bruce Almighty, if you had God's powers for a day, what would you do?
I'd give myself [profit] points on Bruce Almighty. Or a cut of the DVD sales.