LOS ANGELES — Steve Carell has no minions.
"I don't even have an assistant," says the star of Despicable Me. "So I certainly don't have any minions."
The longtime star of NBC's The Office admits that having minions be helpful in his day-to-day life, but he sees no need for them.
"I just feel I can get my own dry cleaning," he said. "I'm good with taking my own car to get it washed."
Which gives you a bit of an idea how down-to-earth and unassuming the 47-year-old actor and father of two is.
In the 3-D animated Despicable Me, opening in theaters Friday, Carell is the voice of Gru, a super-villain set on stealing the moon. Helping him are his minions. Super-villains, like the ones in Bond films, always have minions. In this case, they are adorable little thumblike yellow guys with goggles.
Gru's evil ways are softened when three little orphan girls come into his life. In creating the voice, Carell wanted to be menacing but not too menacing.
"I wanted it to be funny and accessible, but at the same time I wanted it to be slightly sinister," he says. "Because otherwise the turn Gru takes wouldn't have the same impact."
The animated film, indeed, does have a surprising emotional edge to it.
"I think that is one of the things I identified with in the script. Here's a guy who has his life set up the way he's accustomed to, and then he's introduced to these three little girls who essentially turned his life upside down," Carell says. "That's what happens when one has kids. ... You understand that once it happens."
Of course, the big news about Carell is that he's leaving the role of Michael Scott on The Office after next season, and while he has publicly stated that he "thinks it's time," what he means to some degree is that he wants to have more time to watch his own kids — a daughter, 9, and a son, 6 — grow up.
"I just wanted to step back from it a little bit and spend a little bit more time with my kids, who are still young, and enjoy them while I can," says Carell about the decision. "They're growing up really fast, though I hate to use that cliché. (But) that's the real heart of my reasoning."
Carell says he's been lucky to have had time with his children while making The Office but feels "so scheduled" right now.
"I guess I'm sort of feeling greedy about wanting to be with them — to be able to drop them off and pick them up from school as opposed to maybe just dropping them off."
He's not worried about the fate of The Office, though.
"I have no doubt that the show will continue and continue to be strong. It's a great ensemble and great writers. And ultimately I think it's probably not a bad thing for the show, either, to switch off the dynamic and infuse it with a different energy."
The actor says he was surprised that anybody thought it was a big deal he was leaving, and when he goes, he doesn't want it to be a big deal.
"What I love most about the show is when it examines the minutiae of life ... like there was one episode where Stanley (Leslie David Baker) and I waited in line for pretzels for the entire show," he says. "I love those sort of moments, and so I would be inclined to make it a more subtle and simple departure as opposed to any bigger very special episode."
Back in the early 1990s, Carell was at Chicago's Second City with Stephen Colbert, and he says working there helped develop his comedy style.
"I think you take all those things that you learned and then apply them later on. On The Office, it's very freewheeling as well, and they definitely invite improvisation."
National success for Carell was a long time coming, though, and was something he didn't expect.
He met his future wife, Nancy Walls, at Second City, and he left the troupe to move to New York to be with her when she won a spot on Saturday Night Live in 1995. (They were married that year, but his own audition for the show failed.) He then joined pal Colbert in writing for the short-lived Dana Carvey Show, and then took various writing jobs while doing small parts on TV shows.
Eventually, the three Second City alums would be reunited when they were hired as writer/correspondents on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 1999. It's there that Carell's career began to take off.
But it was two supporting roles in hit comedy films — Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty (2003) and Will Ferrell's Anchorman (2004) — that helped get him noticed by wider audiences. Then in 2005, he hit it big when he starred in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, which he co-wrote, and the first season of The Office.
"I was. I am. I continue to be" surprised by his success, Carell says. "It's odd. I felt that I became a success in 1988, when I stopped waiting tables, and I was actually employed as an actor. I haven't had to take another job since then besides acting. ... All of this is dreamlike."