In Foxcatcher, Steve Carell steps into the darkest role of his career as Olympic wrestling coach John DuPont. The film is getting stellar reviews, and Carell’s transformative performance is specifically picking up a lot of awards season buzz. One thing’s for sure: We’ve never seen Steve Carell like this before.
But I’m here to argue that Carell’s success in this role really shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, Carell gave a quietly magnificent performance of Michael Scott on The Office for years.
Unlike some comedies (How I Met Your Mother, Louie, Scrubs, etc.) The Office rarely strayed from its comedic roots. It was almost always funny, and yet I’m not at all surprised to see Steve Carell finding success in dramatic acting. Although there were relatively few dramatic moments in The Office, there were plenty of scenes that proved that Steve Carell isn’t just a funny guy. He is actually a very, very good actor.
Here are a few of those scenes that I was able to find YouTube videos for:
The Final Dundies
The most obvious examples all come from Carell’s final episode of The Office. Michael Scott was the heart and soul of the show. He was the boss. He was the catalyst for nearly everything that happened to every character. When Carell announced that he was leaving the show, many thought that the show should end too. (There’s a legitimate argument to be made for this. When it comes down to it, I too would probably side with those who claimed The Office simply wasn’t The Office without Carell.)
Still, Michael’s final episode was a perfect blend of emotions, nostalgia, tears, and pure appreciation. Here we get one of the best looks at Carell’s more serious side through his reaction to a song his coworkers sang to him. Carell holds back tears and there isn’t a moment that it doesn’t feel raw and emotional and 100% real.
Goodbye to Jim
Without a moment to recover from the tears caused by his song, we’re given an equally impressive scene. Here, Scott bounces from comedy to drama in the blink of an eye. He even manages the task of portraying Michael’s pain through forced comedy. And again we see that nobody holds back tears like Steve Carell holds back tears. All in all, this is a skillful bit of acting. Warning: this scene gets really sad. Sometimes goodbyes ARE a bitch.
In this scene, from the show’s finale, Carell says more with one look than he could’ve said with a page full of dialogue. Carell was notorious for doing this throughout The Office. Often the jokes relied entirely on him selling one facial expression, and he consistently nailed it. (That’s what she said?) Acting physically is a harder feat than most people probably realize, and it’s the mark of a pretty polished actor.
Why You are the Way You Are
This scene isn’t emotional or heartfelt, but I think it gives us at least a tiny glimpse of the darkness that Carell’s going to have to muster up for his role in Foxcatcher. The phrasing, the grim delivery… Even in a darkly funny moment, it’s clear that Carell can handle this kind of material.
There are so many scenes like these that prove that Carell’s newfound critical acclaim isn’t coming out of nowhere, but the bottom line is that while it’s fun to revisit some of the more serious scenes from the show, you don’t actually need to look at The Office’s dramatic moments to realize that Steve Carell is a tremendously talented actor
You can gain that knowledge from any scene in The Office. Anyone who can portray a character like Michael Scott, a character who is somehow all at once lovable yet painfully ignorant and oblivious to the point of awkwardness, childlike in outlook and in personal relationships yet inexplicably wiser than all of his friends and coworkers, and monumentally memorable in every way is clearly, clearly a skilled actor. I’m just glad that Carell is finally getting the critical acclaim that he’s deserved for years. And damn it, I can’t wait to see Foxcatcher.