Stuart, Kevin, and Bob (a.k.a., the Minions) have given us some of the funniest, zaniest moments in animated history – ever since we first met them in Despicable Me. But they’re more than just three oddball yellow pill-shaped characters with sporadic tendencies toward evil; they’re minions – Gru’s eyes and ears, always willing to do his bidding and complete any menial task that comes their way. But what happens when your boss and mentor isn’t an evil supervillain like Gru or Dr. Minions: The Rise of Gru – How Steve Carell Became a Supervillain
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Reading through Gru’s character development
Getting an actor to play a supervillain requires both convincing him that playing a supervillain is just as noble as any other role and convincing him that he can embody that role. Steve Carell, who played Gru in Despicable Me , knew about his character’s anti-hero status early on and was excited by it. Director Pierre Coffin, who designed all of the characters in Despicable Me , has always had trouble seeing villains as bad guys. He says that there are good elements to all characters, including bad ones; with Gru being no exception.
Imitating Gru’s accent
There’s no way around it – when you watch Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, you’re going to be imitating Steve Carell’s thick, Eastern European accent. It might sound silly, but it’s inevitable and there’s even a name for it (Carellnaccent) and plenty of examples out there on YouTube if you need some help with your own Gru impersonation.
Before doing any big auditions or taking over that one villainous role at your local theater, work on perfecting an authentic-sounding accent. You never know when you’ll need to audition for someone like Gru or Dr. Evil – but only one role will net you millions of dollars…or something close to that, anyway!
Animating Gru’s body language
In Despicable Me, animation director Pierre Coffin uses body language to show who Gru is and what he’s feeling. This helps us understand and empathize with him so that when he does something bad, we get it; we know why he’s doing it. (For more on Steve Carell’s performance and his relationship with Pierre Coffin, check out our video here.) But how do you animate a character whose expressions are only half-visible? That was one question animator Kyle Balda faced when translating Steve Carell’s live-action performance into 3D CG form. What helped Balda stay on target was an initial animatic—his own original animation of key sequences, even before the final animation was produced.
Preparing for villain auditions
After landing his breakout role in 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Steve Carell was forced to do some soul searching. A major movie star, he suddenly found himself out of work after The Office ended its first season. Having never considered comedy as an actual career option, he says he found himself at a loss and unsure what to do next. He started going on auditions for villain roles but came up empty handed. After all, there are only so many supervillains in Hollywood and even fewer who wear bad wigs with no sense of style or charisma.
Auditioning for Gru
While many actors can say they’ve been tested with an unexpected or crazy script, few would have taken it as well as Steve Carell. Aptly titled The Crazy One, director Pierre Coffin handed him just such a test for Despicable Me. I was very hesitant when I first got offered Minions because I thought that it was going to be another kids movie and I didn’t think there would be much depth to it, says Carell. But then Pierre [Coffin] sent me three scripts he had written and they were really different than anything else that he had done before, which made me understand how deep and dark his world view could be.
Filming with Sandra Bullock
Shooting Minions was great fun for Steve, but it was also challenging. It wasn’t just about being funny for him—the script demanded that he develop into a genuinely sadistic villain, almost unrecognizable from his usual roles. He had to overcome his nice-guy instincts and build up an authentic sense of menace while shooting scenes with Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm. Here, he discusses how he gave life to Gru (and how he suffered during those 5am shoots).
Recording dialogue in front of green screen (part 1)
Filming scenes with green screen backgrounds is one of those things that’s much easier said than done. If you’re working with an experienced crew, they should be able to make it relatively painless, but if you’re making your own movie, that can mean hours and hours of tedious work—all while looking like a total goofball in front of your friends and family. There are lots of ways to deal with green screen filming blues, including hiring actors with experience on these sorts of shoots and investing in green screen lighting. For bigger budgets, all-digital backdrops are also an option.
Was Steve Carell the voice of Gru?
Gru’s voice was originally going to be supplied by Michael Keaton, but eventually it was decided that his performance didn’t work with what director Pierre Coffin had in mind. He needed someone who could play gruff and dangerous, yet have an underlying sense of silliness. Looking for actors who could give such a performance, Coffin’s wife suggested her husband listen to recordings from The Office. After listening to numerous characters, Coffin decided that Carell would be perfect as Gru’s voice. When he brought up their decision to Illumination Entertainment co-founder Chris Meledandri they almost didn’t believe him until he played Carell’s audition tape. Everyone involved agreed immediately that it was right and quickly got started on production with only two years before release date.
What is Gru’s accent?
One thing that can be said about Despicable Me is that it has an over-the-top, high-energy tone. So when it came time to casting his lead villain, Pierre Coffin knew he wanted someone who could deliver Gru’s unbridled energy. Coffin didn’t have to look too far from home for that type of performer. He felt Steve Carell fit in well with his Minions and was an ideal choice for Gru’s appearance as well.
How did Steve Carell come up with Gru’s voice?
You know, you’re trying to capture in one moment something that might not get revisited. So you really want to work it through until it feels as real as possible. (Interview with Collider) It was grueling… We did lots and lots and lots of takes on each bit. You just never knew when they were going to give up on you. They’d always be like, ‘That was great! Let’s try one more.’ And if they say one more, then I think you do another 10 or 15. (Interview with Collider) I feel like that’s probably who he would have been if he had just tried harder at being evil. (Interview with CHUD)