Some actors can play interesting characters their whole life without having to wear a single wig or prosthetic makeup for variance. Steve Carell has somehow managed to play different comedic characters for a decade now without changing his appearance that dramatically. Other than wearing an arguable hairpiece in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” to hide a receding hairline (and a beard for “Little Miss Sunshine”), most of his characters have looked like we see Carell in real life.
It was perhaps overdue that Carell go under disguise so we don’t look up at the screen and recognize him immediately. He’s doing that now in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”, playing the title character. Without warning, Carell has transformed into a big haired, powerful, Las Vegas magician we didn’t think he’d ever play based on the track record of his previous work.
Up until now, Carell’s movie characters have continually been one of powerless victim who reacts to the world around him. That’s slightly different from his seven-year stint playing Michael Scott on NBC’s “The Office.” Regardless, those who watched his departed Scott character know that he was also an occasionally beleaguered victim with feigned power.
Let’s admit, though, that seeing Carell’s dark-clouded characters react to a perplexing world around him is what made his movie career become so successful and uproariously funny. Nobody will be able to remove images of his Andy Stitzer character from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, especially the poster image or the scene of his chest hair being waxed. The same goes for his depressed Frank Ginsburg character in “Sunshine”, “Dan in Real Life”, or the ever-tortured husband Phil Foster in “Date Night” with Tina Fey.
Plenty of other actors have thrived on such characters for years. But Carell likely realized an actor isn’t able to thrive on those characters for years without becoming predictable. It’s possible his recent “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” was the last hapless character he’ll be playing for a while, save reprising his Brick Tamland character for “Anchorman: The Legend Continues.” In fact, “Burt Wonderstone” may be a tipping off point to head into new directions.
The reason is that Carell will eventually star in his first movie labeled an entire drama. It’s called “Foxcatcher” where he plays John du Pont, the billionaire schizophrenic who shot and killed the famous Olympic wrestler, Dave Schultz. It’s filming at time of this article, giving hints that Carell will head into drama eventually where he can really disguise himself.
And that may explain the long wig in “Burt Wonderstone” to remind his fans he may not be recognizable in films any more. He may have been told before that when you’re a comedian, your fans want to have some sense of recognition to sell tickets. It’s always a risk with any actor to hide under makeup, because Carell’s comedic expressions need to be seen to sell his comedy movies.
Now Carell may have just transformed that notion to a whole new statement about his own transformation: “It all starts with a Criss Angel wig.”