Steve Carell’s Best Dramatic Performances, From ‘The Big Short’ to ‘Foxcatcher’

Actors like Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jim Carrey, and Dustin Hoffman are beloved because they have done an equal amount of dramatic and comedic work. It takes true acting talent to continue reinventing yourself in order to surprise an audience. Both genres require a lot of skill, but not every great actor can do both. Jack Black couldn’t have played Lincoln, but Daniel Day-Lewis certainly couldn’t have done School of Rock. Steve Carrell is best known for his role as Michael Scott on the American version of The Office. Although Carrell dipped his toes into comedy films like the Anchorman franchise and The 40 Year-Old Virgin, he quickly proved that he was interested in exploring more dramatic material. Carrell’s venture into serious projects isn’t just a gimmick to surprise audiences. In the past two decades, Carrell has graduated from “the best boss ever” to one of the most versatile actors working today.

Carell will next be seen in the Hulu psychological thriller series The Patient, but make sure to check out his other essential dramatic work.

Frank Ginsburg in Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine was the “little movie that could.” The Sundance darling became a sensation with audiences and went all the way to award season, landing a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars back when there were only five nominees. Although the “Sundance dramedy” subgenre has become a cliché, Little Miss Sunshine does a great job at fleshing out each member of the Ginsburg/Hoover family. The trip to take their daughter, Olive (Abigail Breslin), to compete in a beauty pageant allows each family member to work through their anxieties. Although there are many humorous misadventures, Carrell treats Frank’s attempt at suicide and depression with the necessary gravity.

Trent Ramsey in The Way, Way Back (2013)
Deceptive, domineering, and ignorant are all words that could describe Michael Scott, but Carrell proved these traits weren’t so funny in the Sundance coming-of-age dramedy The Way, Way Back. The summer story follows the teenage loner Duncan (Liam James), who is forced to spend an entire vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her wealthy boyfriend, Trent (Carrell). Trent takes every opportunity he can get to insult Duncan and make him feel worthless. It’s impressive that one of the most likable guys in Hollywood can become so utterly detestable onscreen.

John du Pont in Foxcatcher (2014)
Carrell truly transformed in the riveting 2014 sports drama Foxcatcher to play the role of John du Pont. Based on the shocking true story, Foxcatcher follows the Olympic wrestling coach’s obsession with the Gold Medal-winning brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) which ultimately led du Pont to murder one of the brothers. It’s not just the heavy prosthetics that make Carrell so terrifying; he does a great job at creating an aura of creepiness. Carrell’s eerie work earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Mark Baum in The Big Short (2015)
Carrell got to flex his comedic chops in The Big Short, but his hysterical anger is completely justified. Carrell explores the psychology of the financial skeptic Mark Baum, who raised awareness of the fraudulent nature of the U.S. housing market. Carrell shows the tragedy that drives Baum to call attention to corruption; when reflecting on his brother’s death by suicide, he admits that he could only offer him money. Interestingly, The Big Short was also the first dramatic venture for Carrell’s Anchorman director, Adam McKay.

Phil Stern in Cafe Society (2016)
Cafe Society is set in 1930s Hollywood and New York and follows the young Jewish man Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) as he lands a job with his wealthy uncle Phil (Carell), whose skills as a talent agent have impressed Hollywood. Conflict arises when both Bobby and Phil fall in love with the secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Cafe Society is a comedy of errors. Although we’re rooting for Bobby, Carrell doesn’t turn Phil into a total jerk.

Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes (2017)
Battle of the Sexes tells a story about media sensationalism and gender roles that is very important today. The famous tennis match where Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) bested the former champ Bobby Riggs (Carrell) was a groundbreaking moment for women in sports. While Riggs often shouts sexist remarks in his televised appearances, Carrell shows that he doesn’t really believe what he is saying. Riggs is a showman desperate to make a buck and he doesn’t wholly expect everyone to take him at his word.

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