Carell's new film, The Incredible Burt Wondertsone, is in theaters March 15. / Matt Hoyle for USA WEEKEND
Despite being bitten by a dog when he was working as a mail carrier in Massachusetts, Steve Carell has always loved man’s best friend. But it took him half a lifetime to get a dog of his own.
“When I was growing up, we had cats, and I could never talk my parents into getting a dog,” says Carell, 50, who finally got a golden retriever just before he married Nancy Hall in 1995. “I’m not anti-cat, but I like the goofiness inherent in dogs. They really make me laugh. Cats may be a bit more refined and demure — not adjectives I’d use to describe me.”
A master of goofiness himself, Carell seems to have a special rapport with animals. “Yes, I’m a Doctor Dolittle,” he jokes.
He says the secret is “treating everyone with respect,” no matter how many legs.
“Generally speaking, animals are very intuitive. They know if they’re being threatened or in a safe place. They can size human beings up very quickly.”
Carell has often worked opposite animals. In Evan Almighty, he had a full Noah’s ark. In Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, he faced bears. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, his furry friend was a dog. In Dinner for Schmucks, some co-stars were mice (stuffed).
In The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, opening March 15, he wrangles birds, rabbits and, most happily, a Yorkshire terrier.
“The rabbits kept to themselves,” Carell reports. “But the birds were tricky. They have a mind of their own.”
And they’re not the only ones. Evan Almighty featured a scene with Carell and a baboon. As he quickly discovered, “baboons are not actors. When you start acting erratically, that can be a dangerous thing. You can’t forget they’re wild animals.”
In Burt Wonderstone, Carell’s difficulties have nothing to do with the on-screen animals. His character — a top-billed Las Vegas hotel magician complete with red velour jumpsuit, teased hair and eyeliner — has lost his zest for magic.
When he’s usurped by a cutting-edge street magician (Jim Carrey), he finds himself performing at birthday parties. His best trick: turning a balloon dog into the real thing.
Because his own dog died a few years ago, Carell welcomed the canine company. “My goal was to keep that dog from being too afraid. I wanted to make him feel that he was in a comfortable, safe place, so I spent time hanging out with him.”
Today, the Carell home in a Los Angeles suburb is nearly pet-free. “The only one we have at present is a fish, but a dog is on the horizon,” the actor says. “My son Johnny is of an age where he is obsessed by getting a dog” — specifically, a dachshund. “I’d like him to have one. An 8-year-old boy and a dog achieve a special bond.”
For Carell, who also has a daughter, Annie, 11, family comes first. “I don’t think I lead any sort of exciting Hollywood life. If you followed me for a day, you’d be extremely bored. I’d be picking up my dry cleaning and going to a hardware store to get some filters for the air vent. I’d drive my kids to school and I’d pick them up, and that would be a full day for me.”
And perhaps soon added to the list of chores: walking and training a new family dog.