With a resume of some of the funniest movie and television characters of the last 15 years, Steve Carell’s appearance at the Arlington Theatre last night was a treat for the fans.
The evening had sold out long before the Santa Barbara International Film Festival started.
While the award was to honor his serious work playing the creepy and sad John du Pont in “Foxcatcher,” which has earned him an Oscar nomination, people came to see the Carell they knew from “The Office” or “The Daily Show” or “Anchorman.”
Mr. Carell did not disappoint. He was relaxed and charming and flashed that winning smile through his sit-down interview with Peter Hammond of Deadline.com.
He seemed surprised at applause for his 20-year marriage to Nancy Carell, and compared it to how people are delighted to find that he’s “nice.”
“Like that’s some strange thing!” Mr. Carell said. “Shouldn’t people just be nice? Like that’s an anomaly.”
Mr. Hammond sped through the actor’s early years, but stopped a while for his college years at Denison University in Ohio.
Mr. Carell talked about being a goalie on the hockey team, saying it attracted him because it was the “last line of defense,” and how he worked late nights at a convenience store, in some way because he was sympathizing with his mother who worked the night shift as a nurse.
In those early years he didn’t think about being an actor.
“I didn’t think that being an actor was a legitimate career choice,” he said. “My parents put me through school and I felt that I owed them a legitimate career choice as a doctor or lawyer.”
The latter is what he set off to do, but his heart wasn’t in it, he said.
Acting he did for fun, and he was a disc jockey on the college radio station as “Sapphire Steve Carell,” also on the late night shift.
He later graduated and landed at the famed Chicago-based Second City troupe, where he met his wife. There he formed a friendship with Stephen Colbert and the two “looked out for each other.”
Mr. Carell remembered a skit the two performed on the Dana Carvey show that helped him get a job as “correspondent” on “The Daily Show” after Mr. Colbert recommended him.
His arrival marked the change at the show when it stopped making fun of eccentric people and turned the hosts themselves into the butt of jokes.
If one hadn’t seen “Foxcatcher,” the clip that opened the evening may have given a false impression. An improvised scene between Channing Tatum’s wrestler and Mr. Carell’s du Pont is one of the few times that the Carell humor can be seen through the hours of makeup that he wears in the role.
Otherwise, he said, the mood on the set was sombre, befitting the tragic story they were telling.
After he wrapped on that film, the actor went to work on “Anchorman 2,” back among actors that just want to make each other laugh.
The evening was full of breezy, fun anecdotes, like how he didn’t think his scenes from “Bruce Almighty” would be in the film; how he pitched “The 40 Year Old Virgin” to director Judd Apatow based on the poker buddies scene and how quickly that received the greenlight from executives; and how the “Afternoon Delight” scene from “Anchorman” came out of just singing harmonies with Paul Rudd during a break.
The evening did eventually circle back to his tremendous work on “Foxcatcher” and this whole amazing year that started last May in Cannes when the film premiered.
“I never want to go back there,” Mr. Carell said, “because it was too perfect.”
The Outstanding Performance of the Year award was presented later in the evening by Jennifer Garner, his costar in “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival concludes today with the Women’s Panel, the finalists in the 10-10-10 student film competition, and the closing night film premiere of Kevin Costner’s “McFarland, USA.”