Steve Carell On Playing The ‘Terrifying’ Donald Rumsfeld In ‘Vice’ And Why He Doesn’t Watch ‘The Office’

Senior Entertainment Writer
12.18.18 5 Comments

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In the last couple of months, Steve Carell has had three movies hit theaters. There was Beautiful Boy, the true-life story about drug addiction co-starring Timothée Chalamet. Then there’s the upcoming Robert Zemeckis film, Welcome to Marwen. But the most controversial will, no doubt, be his turn in Adam McKay’s Vice, playing, as Carell puts it, the both homespun-yet-terrifying Donald Rumsfeld.

Vice is both polarizing and very strange. At times it’s horrific, at times it’s absurd. Adam McKay’s take on Dick Cheney (played by Christian Bale) is a lot of things, but it’s certainly not conventional. This is, after all, a movie that features a fake ending and an entire scene done in Shakespearean dialogue.

Ahead, Carell takes us through what it’s like trying to get inside the head of the two-time Secretary of Defense (for both Presidents Ford and George W. Bush) and trying to find some semblance of humanity in him. Also, after co-starring with Amy Ryan in Beautiful Boy, Carell says it never once entered his mind people would make a connection to The Office. Then again, he doesn’t watch The Office and explains why.

When I told my editor I was talking to you today, he asked, “About which movie?” You’re very busy right now.

[Laughs] It’s weird. You know, over a year and a half, two years, you do three movies and then they all come out within a month. And then you don’t do anything for another four years.

Well, I’m assuming you’ll do something in the next four years.

We’ll see!

Your line as Donald Rumsfeld, “What a nervous Nellie!,” has stuck in my head ever since I saw this.

Yeah, I think, in a way, that encapsulates how I thought of Rumsfeld. There’s something so homespun about him, but at the same time terrifying.

It’s interesting watching you play him, because you’re not doing an impression, but you do have a point of view on this guy.

Well, it’s interesting. In watching all the video of him at various public functions, you get a sense that he’s this kindly uncle sitting on the front porch. He’s very ingratiating. There’s something very warm and comforting about him. But, at the same time, you hear stories about Nixon and Haldeman and Kissinger saying, “You have to watch out for that guy.” And for those people to be saying that about Rumsfeld, it speaks volumes.

You have a long history with Adam McKay, but did you have reservations about doing this political of a movie? The Big Short is political, but it’s not quite the same thing.

No, not really. You know, it’s such a cliché, but everyone’s entitled to their opinion on who someone is, or a point of history. I was more interested in the idea of working with Adam again. I think he’s a very bold filmmaker and he makes big choices. I just like his style. I think he’s very absurdist and funny and dark and intelligent. I was in immediately. I thought it would be fun to do and it would be fun to play a character like Rumsfeld. I haven’t really played anybody like that before. He’s a curious guy.

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