Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell swapped stories, quips, compliments and occasionally got serious during a Q&A held Friday in Newark, N.J., held as part of a fundraiser for the state’s upcoming Montclair Film Festival.
Colbert, a Montclair resident, has long been a booster of the event, which is going into its fourth year in April. More than 2,800 people turned on Friday for the benefit at New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall.
The depth of the friendship between Colbert and Carell was clear from the start. The two came together at a heady time for both of their careers, with Colbert poised to take over CBS’ “The Late Show” from David Letterman next year, while Carell is generating Oscar buzz for his starring role in the Sony Pictures Classics drama “Foxcatcher.”
“People might be surprised by your performance in ‘Foxcather,’ but I’m not,” Colbert told Carell. “Because I’ve always known that you are an actor. People might perceive you as a comedian. What do you think are the differences between being a comedian and being an actor?”
“Pretentiousness,” Carell quipped, before adding, “I think a comedian is someone who can do stand up. Who can singularly make a group of people laugh. I never thought that that was a strong point of mine. I enjoy working with an ensemble.”
When it came to “Foxcatcher,” Carell admitted that he “didn’t campaign” for the part of John du Pont, the deranged heir to a chemical fortune who all-consuming interest in wrestling leads to a murder on his estate.
“It didn’t seem like it was a part that I’d be on anyone’s shortlist for,” Carell explained. “It didn’t seem like something I’d be right for. But I read the script. I met with the director (Bennett Miller) and he clearly felt that I was emotionally disturbed.”
After the room filled with laugher, Carell stopped joking and said, “Bennett and I talked about it very seriously.”
Colbert and Carell have been working together for close to three decades. The duo worked in Chicago at the Second City comedy troupe in the 1980s; in Los Angeles in 1996 on the short-lived “The Dana Carvey Show,” and into the early 2000s on “Daily Show.”
“Was there any temptation to make (du Pont) funny?” Colbert asked Carell.
“No, I never thought about it,” Carell said. “I think some of the scenes resonate with people comedically, which was a complete surprise. When you are (shooting ) you are not thinking it is funny, it’s just where this guy is. But the story itself is so absurd. Du Pont is extremely wealthy and he is a fan of wrestling, so he decides to create a wrestling training facility on his estate. He wants to invite all the American Olympic wrestlers there to train and install himself as head coach knowing nothing about wrestling.”
After the crowd got a kick out of Carell’s synopsis, the thesp elaborated.
“When you hear (the logline) it could (interpreted as) a comedy, but it’s really a Greek tragedy,” he said.
The evening eventually turned into a heartfelt love fest between the two stars.
“I feel like Stephen and I are kindred spirits in a lot of ways,” Carell confessed to the audience during the Q&A portion of the evening. “You don’t want to get sentimental about it, Stephen, but I do.”
“I sure do want to get sentimental,” Colbert retorted. “Now you do movies man. You left me on TV all alone.”
“Yeah. Your life sucks!” Carell retorted.
As for that impending move from Comedy Central to CBS, Colbert, when asked by an audience member how much of the “Colbert Report” host persona is in him (personally), the comedian said, “I don’t know and I can’t wait to find out.”
“I’m not that political of a person,” Colbert continued. “I like the behavior of people. I’m not that into politics and I get less and less into it everyday.”
The night came to an end with Colbert and Carell’s unique rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which of course earned them a standing ovation.