Film: Steve Carell on Minions: None of us thought there would be more than one film

As Minions: The Rise Of Gru prepares to hit cinemas, Danielle de Wolfe sits down with star Steve Carell to talk vinyl, seventies nostalgia and Gru...

(Far left) Kevin (voiced by Pierre Coffin) and Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) in Minions: The Rise of Gru.
(Far left) Kevin (voiced by Pierre Coffin) and Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) in Minions: The Rise of Gru.

STEVE Carell never expected Despicable Me to be a success.

In fact, the Bafta, Emmy and Academy Award-nominated Foxcatcher actor – who voices reformed supervillain Gru as part of the hit animated franchise – freely admits that in the 12 years since his character’s inception, he’s never once felt the need to ponder his backstory.

“It’s something I never gave a second thought to until this film,” confesses the 59-year-old US actor with a raise of his eyebrows.

Sitting beneath the glare of television lighting, our chat comes ahead of the release of the latest Despicable Me instalment – Minions: The Rise of Gru.

Smiling reticently, a pair of dark, plastic framed spectacles resting on the bridge of his nose, Carell’s considered demeanour, combined with his softly spoken tone, have an undeniably calming effect on those in the room.

“When we started I don’t think any of us thought there would be more than one [film]. I don’t think any of us were thinking of an origin story or character development on that level, it was just a fun character,” says Carell with a shrug.

His native soft Massachusetts twang is a far cry from Gru’s eastern European drawl – an accent Carell once described as “a mix of Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi”. It’s become one the franchise’s most instantly recognisable trademarks, blending squeaky inflections with a sense of comedic buoyancy. This time around, though, change is afoot.

Set in the midst of the swinging seventies, Minions: The Rise Of Gru turns back the clock to unravel the childhood of an 11-and-three-quarter-year-old Felonious Gru. With a character whose well-documented issues as an adult stem from an unfulfilled desire to gain his mother Marlena’s (voiced by Julie Andrews) approval, this second Minions-based film positions itself as something of an origin-myth prequel.

Stepping into the notably smaller shoes of a prepubescent Gru this time around, the accompanying voice is one Carell describes as “a little bit different” – primarily due to its higher pitch. Exuding a boisterous sense of optimism, this younger vision of Gru bristles with naivety. Untainted by the disappointments, trials and tribulations of adult life, the overriding sense of optimism – even in the face of danger, is one that permeates the film.

“Little kids are so full of life. And they’re very earnest – at least, that’s the way I saw little Gru,” says Carell, best known for playing Michael Scott in the US version of The Office.

“He wants to be a part of something. The world is very fresh in his eyes. But as Gru gets older, he’s still a really sweet guy, but he builds up this crusty exterior and pushes the whole idea away from him being nice or sweet or gentle or loving.”

The jewel in Illumination Entertainment’s crown, Minions: The Rise of Gru is the fifth release in the Despicable Me franchise – having already announced that Despicable Me 4 is set for release in July 2024. And is it any wonder? While Despicable Me climbed to the top of the UK box office charts in 2010, taking £3.6m in ticket sales during its opening week, subsequent films have dwarfed that figure.

While Despicable Me 2 went on to become the highest-grossing film of 2013 in the UK, raking in £42.67 million at the box office, it was Minions that smashed animated box office records, going on to become the fifth highest-grossing animated film of all-time behind The Lion King, two Frozen films and The Incredibles 2.

“I love the minions!” enthuses Carell mid-interview, as if hit by a wave of childlike exuberance. “I think they are these miniature personifications of joy, kindness and silliness.”

It’s the precise sense of energy the franchise is built upon. Having grown exponentially into a cultural phenomenon, the marketability of the adorable yellow, dungaree-clad army is undeniable. With Minions found everywhere from the towers of Tokyo to the terraces of Timbuktu, Minions: The Rise Of Gru is set to continue the trend, serving up laughter for parents and children alike.

Returning to an era dominated by bell-bottom trousers and the rise of disco, the latest instalment celebrates the very best of the 1970s. With Gru’s supervillain aspirations already making themselves known, the youngster replies to a recruitment advert for supervillain collective the Vicious 6 – whom Gru worships and adores. A fierce force of evil, this group of supervillains are as intimidating as they come.

“It’s something I’ve always liked about the Despicable Me series,” says Carell. “There’s a little bit of an edge to it, which I think kids appreciate – but they don’t go overboard with. There’s a little bit more for kids to chew on, which I like.”

A supervillain vacancy appeared following Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P Henson)’s betrayal – the ruthless disco queen chose to banish their veteran member Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) in order to gain possession of a magical amulet. As you might expect, herein lies the centre point of the film, as Gru attempts to catch the villains’ attention and prove he’s anything but an average boy.

Operating from the basement of a San Francisco record store named Criminal Records, Gru’s adventure takes in the sights and the sounds of the decade. It’s an era Carell looks back on with fondness, a smile appearing on his face as he reminisces.

“There’s some very funny jokes that are based on living in the 70s – which of course I did! I was a kid during that exact period of time,” recalls the actor.

“I used a rotary phone – and the fact that it takes so long to dial a number on a rotary phone, it’s just a great [moment] in the movie. I had a turntable with vinyl. And record stores were a really specific thing – the styles were a very specific thing back then. So I think parents are going to enjoy that element of the story, because it’s really nostalgic.”

Minions:The Rise Of Gru is in cinemas from Friday July 1.