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Steve Carell Has Some Magic Up His Sleeve

Steve Carell, left, and Olivia Wilde star in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." (Ben Glass/Warner Bros./MCT)

Steve Carell, left, and Olivia Wilde star in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." (Ben Glass/Warner Bros./MCT)

Los Angeles — The eyebrows are dyed. The well-coiffed wig is in place. Even the chest hair has been shaved. It’s early March on the Warner Bros. lot, and Steve Carell is hard at work, channeling Burt Wonderstone, a famous Las Vegas magician whose livelihood is being threatened by the new, more outrageous illusionist played by Jim Carrey. The 49-day shoot is close to wrapping up, filming a small scene during the production’s final days between a desperate Wonderstone and his reluctant assistant Jane, played by Olivia Wilde (Cowboys and Aliens).

Wonderstone is looking for a little sympathy from Jane, but the self-absorbed performer can’t ask for a favor without insulting her, explaining to the aspiring magician that she can’t possibly become an on-stage performer because she’s a girl.

“I said no offense, so legally, you have no right to be offended,” says Wonderstone with a deep, theatrical baritone. He compounds the situation when he leans in awkwardly with an open mouth and closed eyes for a wet, sloppy kiss. The crew cracks up, but Carell isn’t satisfied.

He walks over to the monitor to see the playback. “Do you like ‘legally’?” Carell asks director Don Scardino. “Can I try one more?”

Comedy is no joke to Steve Carell. The actor, 50, has been refining the art form for more than two decades, most recently playing Michael Scott on The Office for six seasons. His last few films have been in dramedies such as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Crazy, Stupid, Love. But the actor is returning to broad film comedy with the upcoming release The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, set for release Friday, in a role akin to the parts that defined his early film career in movies such as Bruce Almighty and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

“My main goal is for it to be funny, sort of unrelentingly funny,” said Carell, during a break between set-ups. “I just wanted to do something that was fun, funny and really silly. That was really appealing to me.”

To achieve that, Carell, who is producing the film through his Carousel Productions, dons deep V-cut sequined velour jumpsuits, suspends himself inside a glass box with his partner, Anton Marvelton, played by Steve Buscemi, and learns some legitimate magic. Carell also re-teams with some of his previous collaborators, including Carrey and his own idol Alan Arkin, who plays Wonderstone’s mentor.

“It’s a very diverse cast, not one you would imagine together,” said Carell. “I think it’s worked beautifully. And we’ve gotten everybody we wanted.”

The production also landed magic legend David Copperfield, who served as the film’s technical advisor and engineered the movie’s climactic magic trick. The filmmakers were reluctant to give details on Copperfield’s stunt, beyond revealing that it involves a noose and some body switching.

According to director Don Scardino (30 Rock, Saturday Night Live), it was imperative that the movie feature one stunt that didn’t depend on camera tricks. “Obviously, in a movie about magic, you can do anything with camera tricks,” he said. “I wanted one big stage illusion where you go, ‘Oh, wow, how’d they do that?’ ”

The director said Copperfield was generous from the start, allowing the producers to pick his brain about the life of a Las Vegas magician. He also provided the movie with step-by-step video instructions of how the trick works and came to the set on the day of shooting it. “It was terrific. It looks phenomenal on the screen, and him being involved says the movie is legitimate about magic.”