So the junket for The 40 Year-Old Virgin went down about two weeks ago here at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills (an uber swank hotel with a breakfast spread that could’ve saved Somalia) and myself along with a whole slew of reporters got the chance to sit and talk to both Steve Carell (The Daily Show, Anchorman) and Paul Rudd (Clueless, Wet Hot American Summer), two genuinely cool guys who are just as funny offscreen as they are on. It was odd to meet Carell in real life outside of the element of a comedy show or movie. The man comes across as very charming and intelligent, and the first thing he reminded me of was Timothy Dalton’s James Bond (sorry George Lazenby). Yeah, I know. Maybe it was just the cool suit he was sporting for the interview, I don’t know. But it was a weird first impression to say the least.
The 40 Year-Old Virgin opens everywhere this Friday, August 19th.
Q: So back in your day, what was your game with the ladies? Where would you go to meet people and what were your secrets?
Carell: The sodie pop stand. [Laughter] No, really I was a bad dater, and up until 8th grade, I went to an all boys school. So by the time I hit high school, I was a bit freaked out about women in general. And the whole "putting them on a pedestal" aspect of the movie… I definitely did that. I was very wary of women. Especially in high school. As soon as I went from being a "friend" and started looking at a woman as a potential love interest, I could not even talk. I was… I was pretty bad.
Carell: I bet you were a stud.
Rudd: I don’t… well… no, hardly. But I did buy in my senior year of high school, a jeep. Tried to give off the appearance that I was kinda cool. And I grew my hair long, like Michael Hutchins from INXS. [Laughter] So really, I just relied on external things to try and fool girls.
Carell: Oh! I did mix my own perfume for a girl that I liked. I went to my mother’s perfume on her counter and I mixed probably 8 or 10 perfumes together into a jar and I gave it to this next door neighbor. And we’re married. No, that’s not true at all!
Q: How autobiographical is this script?
Carell: I will not answer that question. [Laughter] Um, it’s not autobiographical at all. I in fact have two children… so uh, they’re a beard! No, it was a notion I had that I brought to Judd [Apatow] last year. Essentially, the pitch was the poker scene; That sequence of a guy desperately trying to keep up with these other guys who are telling these great sex stories, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s out of his element. And that was what I pitched to him.
Q: But how closely do you identify with that character?
Carell: I identify with him. I identify with him in the sense that he’s trying. He’s doing his best to get through life and keep a good aspect and disposition going. Keep his hopes up. But I think there’s an underlying sadness to the character… which in fact there is to me. [Laughter] I think there’s the parallel. But I don’t know. I think there are elements of who I am and who this guy is [points at the giant poster next to him], but the specific ones I really don’t know.
Q: What was your reaction when you saw your first billboard? How’s it been seeing your face everywhere?
Carell: Very surreal. I was driving around with my daughter, who’s 4, and she kept asking me, "Why are you on the sign? Why is your face there? You look stupid." [Laughter] And actually, we’d been out of town for a couple of weeks, so when we left, none of these billboards had been up. Then we came back and you’d see one every hundred yards. And I kept pointing them out to my wife. "12 o’clock! There’s one at 2 o’clock! Look! Look at this!" So, it’s pretty strange. It’s weird. And I love it.
Rudd: When I first saw it, I was just so thrilled that Universal’s marketing department absolutely got it right. Marketing departments usually never do. You usually see the poster and go "Uhhh! God, they all look the same now," but when I first saw the poster to this… [Paul laughs while looking at the same image on a shirt a reporter was wearing]… Right now, on your shirt! I just couldn’t stop laughing. It’s the funniest picture in the world.
Carell: It’s pretty stupid. I’m using that as my headshot from now on.
Q: Did you do any research for the character or did you talk to any actual 40 year-old virgins?
Carell: We were given several case studies by Universal which we looked at. [Laughter] No, seriously. And there are quite a few case studies documenting middle age virginity and who these people are and where they live and what are their likes and dislikes. What we found to be the case, more often than not, is that they’re just normal people who for one reason or another never did it. Very similar to the character who at some point just gave up on the whole notion because it was harder to… and every time I say something, all these really bad puns start floating into the room… but it was harder to keep attempting than to just give up. And so that’s kind of the research that we did. In terms of meeting any… not that I know of. [Laughter] And that’s a hard thing because it’s not something that you wear on your sleeve. Who knows how many virgins we’ve met in our life… we talk like if they’re aliens!
Rudd: The government is trying to hide them, but they do exist.
Carell: So, I don’t know. It wasn’t based on any, "Oh, I know this virgin guy who lives down the street and rides a bike. I’m gonna do a movie on him. I hope he doesn’t come because he’ll sue us." [Laughter] It wasn’t anything like that, but we did do some research. And what we found just reinforced what we had originally imagined: This is just a guy. This isn’t some incredibly damaged human being. This is just a guy, who for a number of reasons, kinda missed the boat.
Q: And advice you can give 40 year-olds in this situation?
Carell: Apart from see the movie? No, I’m certainly in no position to actually give sexual advice… to anyone. If anything, I’m in need of it.
Q: It’s curious that Universal would have case studies of 40 year-old virgins just sitting around the studio.
Rudd: [Laughter] Me too. I had no idea that they actually did that.
Carell: Oh, that was just internal. That was just based on employees of Universal.
Q: Could you talk about the mix of both improv and scripted material in the film? It looked like there was a healthy measure there of going off the book.
Carell: There was a lot of going off the book. That whole run that Paul does of "You know how I know you’re gay?" is just a perfect example. Do you wanna talk about that?
Rudd: [Seth Rogen and I] were sitting there waiting for everyone to set up and we were joking around and we just kinda started calling each other gay and why we knew we were gay. And the crew was getting really upset with us because they couldn’t believe we were doing this while shooting. But Judd really encourages that. At the same time, though, there was a script. As far as what’s improvised and what isn’t, I don’t even really remember. But the way we would shoot it was not unlike Anchorman where we would tend to go through a scene one time. Just kinda shoot it one time, as scripted. Then it was like, "Do something different." And that was literally the direction; "Okay, now do something different." So you’re keeping within the same context of the way it’s written, but changing it all up. And Judd would just never cut. We shot a million feet of film… and this is a true thing: When you shoot a million feet of film, the film company will buy champagne for the cast and crew. [Laughter] They do! On the last day.
Carell: On the last day of shooting, when we went over a million feet, they stopped. And then the film company, I think it was Kodak, wheeled in an enormous tray of champagne bottles.
Rudd: And good champage too! Like, not crap. [Laughter]
Carell: Well Jane Lynch, the woman who plays Paula the Manager… her audition was improvised. And Judd, as soon as her audition was over, sent the tape of the audition to be transcribed and that’s what ended up being in the script. She was so funny and the whole run of her coming on to me… we had an idea for it… but she took it to such a different place that it’s nothing that either of us could have scripted for her that eloquently.
Rudd: And actually, that happend with all of our characters. Steven and Judd, when they first had the script, the roles really hadn’t been cast. So they kinda wanted to cast it and then we would do rehersals and whatever would come out of the rehersals would find its way into the script, including major stuff like character arcs. All sorts of stuff. Very collaborative in a lot of ways. It was great.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the waxing scene? Did you in fact get your chest waxed?
Carell: That was 100% real. We set up 5 cameras because we knew it would be one take. There would be no way in going back and doing it again. So we set up a camera on the guys, one over me, one specifically on my chest, one on the waxer… and it was not scripted. We just had an idea for where it would go. We hired a woman who was an actress/waxer-er. [Laughter]
Rudd: A waxtress.
Carell: A waxtress, yes! So, that was all real. If you watch closely, there’s one close-up where you can see blood actually beading to the surface. So that was not CGI. When I pitched it to Judd, I said it really had to be real. It had to be legitimate waxing. I thought that to see [the co-stars] laughing at me in pain would probably be the funniest part of the scene. There’s this guy thing… this sadistic nature that men have to see other men in non-life-threatening pain. And especially self-inflicted. Like the whole ball to the nuts… a kick in the nuts. It’s just funny. You can’t help but laugh at it if you’re a guy because you know you’re not going to die. So to kinda capture that on camera I thought would be really amusing.
Rudd: And it really was! Very little acting required in that scene.
Carell: It hurt so much. It really did hurt. [Paul laughs] And the women in the crew said they were aware of what was going to happen… I didn’t. And they said, "Are you sure you don’t wanna trim your hair down a little bit? It will hurt less. Can I get you some Advil?" And I kept saying, "No no no, I’m fine. I’m fine!" And then halfway through, I was just sweating and I thought this was a bad idea.
Rudd: Didn’t you say that when you’re waxing there’s some sort of oil or something that they’re supposed to put?
Carell: Well, they’re supposed to put… for the nipple… a little oil and then the wax so that your nipple doesn’t actually come off. [Laughter] And they started it without doing that! And I was like, "Hey! Hey!" But it was really a fun day. It was a day I both dreaded and looked forward to equally.
Q: Did it grow back?
Carell: It did, actually! It took about 7 weeks. And my wife was very happy when it eventually did… because I looked like a freak.
Q: You’re doing Get Smart with producer Charles Roven, correct?
Carell: Actually, they’re still writing it. They have an outline and the next step is to actually script it.
Q: There’s one website on the net that’s saying you might be playing The Joker in the next Batman. Is that true and would you want to do it?
Carell: I… I just heard that for the first time this morning. [Laughter] I have no… Uh, yeah! I’d love to do that but I doubt that it’s true.
Q: Charles Roven (also a producer on Batman Begins) never mentioned it to you?
Carell: No, he’s never said anything to me about that. So I think that’s probably completely fabricated. But I like it… I love it… I love the rumor! [Laughter] It’s cool.
Q: Can you talk a little about the freedom of doing a movie that you knew from the beginning was going to be R-rated and that there wasn’t the slightest chance of having it cut down to PG-13?
Carell: Universal insisted just based on the subject matter that it was an R-rated movie. And the studio never blinked at that. In fact, they asked us to earn it. To actually be a "hard R" and not pull any punches. Just make the movie we wanted to make. But the objective was never "Ooh, let’s make this more of an R!" We just wrote what we thought was the funniest thing for both the characters and situations. We didn’t think about how to make this dirtier or less dirty. We just wrote it the way we saw it. So the freedom was nice in that sense. We never felt like we had to censor ourselves.
Q: With the R-rated comedy making a comeback, and considering people in the media talking about society going down hill and such…
Carell: Oh and it is!
…why do you think people are embracing the R-rated comedy now when it doesn’t seem like the politically correct thing to do?
Rudd: I think that all of that stuff is media fabrication. People either think movies are funny or they don’t. I don’t get this whole thing about the R-rated comedy making a comeback. Honestly, maybe studio thinking has changed where they’re willing to make them now whereas in the past they weren’t because they wanted to sell tickets to 12 year-olds and it would be harder to make money in selling an R-rated movie. But I don’t think it’s some sort of societal shift. If something’s funny it’s funny, whether it’s rated R or G… and I’ve seen some hilarious G-rated movies. I think they’re just trying to make a story out of something where there really isn’t a story. I mean Wedding Crashers is rated R and it’s really funny, and I think because it’s so successful, that probably helped to make this whole thing an actual story. But that being said, I do think there’s something about political incorrectness that generally people just embrace a little bit more because it’s has been so good in theory but kinda kills humor. And I think that over 10-15 years of political correctness has gotten some people ready to hear more politically incorrect jokes, like they used to be.
Carell: But the intent wasn’t to make a politically incorrect movie either. It was just to make a funny movie. And that was it. There’s no agenda other than that.
Q: This was the first time you’ve carried a movie. How much pressure was there now that you’re the star of the movie?
Carell: There was no pressure until you started talking. [Laughter] I just kept thinking that if this was the last movie I ever do, this has been great. So I try not to get ahead of myself at all in terms of what the next thing is. I hope I keep working. I’ve been really lucky just supporting myself with acting. And to help create and be a lead in a movie is way beyond any expectation I ever had. So I’m pretty happy with what has happend so far. And honestly, if this is it and it all comes crashing down tomorrow, I’ll still be pretty happy.
Q: You have other things coming up right?
Carell: No, not at all! [Laughter] Actually, I just finished the first episode of The Office for NBC.
Q: So it’s coming back?
Carell: Yeah, it’s coming back September 20th I think it is. So that’s the next thing that I’m doing.