He’s the voice of super villain and jelly manufacturer Gru in Despicable Me as well as the Mayor of WhoVille in Horton Hears a Who! He was The 40-Year-Old Virgin, played Maxwell Smart in Get Smart and was the good-hearted but not-too-bright Brick Tamland in the Anchorman movies. In TV, you’ll recognize him from the NBC sitcom The Office from 2005 to 2011, and his six-year spot on The Daily Show. In other words, Steve Carell has kept audiences entertained and laughing for a good long time.

When leaving The Office, he told The New York Times that he, “Loved it, best job ever. But at certain points, you just want to jump out into the abyss and see where you land. It doesn’t always work out, but making that leap is an exciting and liberating thing to do.” Did he foresee he’d soon receive and Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for a deeply dark dramatic role?

Although Carell had some experience playing dramatic roles as seen in Little Miss Sunshine earlier in his career, his recent transformational portrayal as real-life murderer John E. du Pont in Foxcatcher reveals an extremely different side of Carell’s acting abilities. Indeed, he becomes virtually unrecognizable donning an unattractive prosthetic nose, and speaking in a strange, regimented manner while pulling off the multimillionaire heir to the Du Pont chemical company.

Steve Carell has been described as one the nicest people in Hollywood, so who would ever expect him to play such an intense role in a haunting film being noted for its dreadfulness? Foxcatcher director Bennett Miller loved the idea not only because he’s been so impressed with Carell’s spot-on acting abilities over the years, but because “There’s just a general feeling about his characters which, you know, felt exactly like the kind of person that you would not expect to do what John du Pont did,”–especially because “that’s how people felt about John du Pont.”

Unbeknownst to Carell, his agent was the one who submitted him to Miller. The possibility of the role took Steve by surprise, and as he researched the real Du Pont, he found himself “horrified by him.” Never had Steve played a real person before, and here he was being challenged to capture the essence of a criminal. As frightened as he was, and as hard as it was to relate to the man’s inner rage, Steve committed to the character, studying documentary footage of the real Du Pont to master his speech patterns and gestures. Getting into character required three hours of makeup per day as well as an hour to get out of it at night. Carell kept an “emotional distance” between him and his co-star, Channing Tatum, to prevent any hint of a warm relationship from showing up onscreen. He says he found playing Du Pont to be his most difficult role to play up till now.

Although Carell didn’t lobby for the role, he admits that his portrayal of the dangerous character will serve to help him be considered for future dramatic roles. “You can tell people you’re capable of doing something, but that doesn’t mean anything. If you go out and take some chances, then you might be offered other things that are even greater chances.”

Not bad for a guy who says he got his start in a triple-cheese burger commercial!