The first Despicable Me found Gru undergoing real change, ending the story in a very different place from where he began. The sequel continues his evolution, as Gru once again learns lessons that don't simply serve a message to audiences, but actually manifest in new actions for the character.
"I love it," Carell said of the series' willingness to have its hero endure sometimes-difficult changes. "And I love the fact that this itself is an evolution. I think it's a natural extension of the first movie which I thought was smart. The characters changed and grew – no pun intended – but at the same time, the sense of the movie feels familiar. The tone of it is the same as the first one, but the family is different. That dynamic is different, and he's no longer officially a villain. And not to put too fine a point on it, not to over analyze the movie, but there are certain things that kind of struck me about the story. One, that Gru is looking, he's searching for what he's going to do. And he thinks he's going to start a jam and jelly business, and that doesn't seem to be working out. And he can't go back to being a villain, but ultimately something that will fulfill him which I think is a very relatable thing for parents because when you do have kids, I found, it becomes all about the kids. And it's very easy to lose your sense of self within that. And you do kind of have to keep your career and that side of it intact because I think ultimately, that makes you a better parent as well."
Lucy Wilde is a new character for the sequel, an Anti-Villain League agent who establishes contact with Gru and acts as something of a partner to him. "Well, after doing and seeing the first one and loving the movie, when they asked me to be a part of the second one, I don't think I even knew that much about the character. I just said yes," Wiig recalled. "But I knew that they wanted to make her very enthusiastic, I think, is an understatement. She has a lot of energy because she has to be able to bring Gru back, but at the same time, have that personality that he would be attracted to. And I have never really played anyone like that before, so it was really fun, yeah."
Wiig actually contributed a voice to the first film as an entirely different supporting character, Miss Hattie. Wiig explained, "The characters also are polar opposites in attitudes and how they look. Miss Hattie was basically a ball with hair, and Lucy is extremely tall and stork like. Yeah, when they asked me to do the second one, I was so excited. I knew they were making a second one, and I figured, 'Oh, well, my character probably won't be in it because she was with the adoption agency, and he has the kids now.' But then they asked me to do this other one, so it worked out. And I was very lucky."
Both Carell and Wiig are proven comedic commodities in film and on television as alums of The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, respectively. Acting in an animated feature is very different from live-action performance, however. "I show up, and I provide a voice. And so much of this character is the animation, really most of it," said Carell. "They're geniuses at it. And you go see the final product, and you want to claim credit for all of it. But I only have to do a small percentage of what goes into the movie. And it's just fun. There's an enormous freedom to fail, and you can do anything. And the voice is really simple and easy, but I keep saying, with the accent, I set the bar really low for myself because it's not really an accent. It's kind of – there's no doing it wrong. Let's put it that way because it's a conglomeration of every middle European country in the world plus a little Latin America, maybe some French. I mean, it's all over the map. So I made it very, very simple for myself in that way and very, very easy. It's just fun. It's just light. And there are things, I don't know if they're necessarily lessons to be learned within it, but I think there's a sense of goodness to – I don't want to overstate it either – but the movie's just very kind. And that's what I liked about both of these. It's very simple in a way and it has a very good heart. And it is so much fun to do a kind of villainous, but comedic character within that."
"It kind of depends. On this one, we didn't really veer too much from my own voice," Wiig said of finding just the right tone for Lucy. "We just kind of amped it up a bit. It kind of depends on the project, and this one, they wanted her to be a little more down to earth and real sounding. But yeah, it kind of depends on the project."
"It's like, now that I'm not on SNL, I guess the chance to find those crazy characters won't come around as much," she continued. "That was like a weekly thing of being able to really be fearless and find all those different voices and people. Actually, doing an animated movie's kind of the next best thing because you could be big and broad and use different voices where you can't really do that so much in like a live-action movie. But I hope I can continue to find more. I hope so because I really enjoy it."
As for Carell and the distinctive voice of Gru, he said, "We just started playing around with different voices that first session of the first movie. Didn't really know what he would sound like. Actually the look of the character changed quite a bit from the very first picture, the very first illustration that I saw. He originally was much more angular looking and sort of darker, more menacing looking than he ended up being. So I wanted the voice to match that, to be vaguely menacing, but also kind of approachable in a strange way and funny. And that's definitely the voice that made everybody laugh. That's the voice that made my kids laugh the most. When I went home and I said, 'What do you think of this guy?' They were like, 'That's it, Dad.' And no matter what I said, they laughed at almost everything. 'Who wants pancakes? I'm going to make pancakes now.' And they just were like, 'More, more, more.' So that was a good sign it was on to something. And the animators too, they're so good at layering in all these – I saw the movie for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I mean I don't know how you felt, but animation now, it's like you're watching real, living, breathing people. Even though they're from a parallel universe, they might not look exactly like human beings, you really get the sense that they're alive. And it's kind of remarkable, I think."
This year's Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues provides ample opportunity to castmembers Wiig and Carell to improvise, and Despicable Me 2 didn't waste their skills with on-the-fly comedy, either, as Wiig said, "You would read the script as written, and the script was great. And then you would try it a bunch of different ways, and they would need you to try a bunch of different ways for editing purposes. And a lot of times they would just say, 'okay. Now, go crazy or have your take on it.' So it was a mix, but it was mostly by the script."
Though neither actor slid into spandex motion-capture suits for this sequel, their mannerisms and expressions during vocal recording sessions informed their characters. "As you're recording, they have a camera. As you're taping it, as you're doing all the voices, there's a little camera that's on you at all times," Carell explained. "And the animators will watch that tape and use it for reference. And not that they're modeling the character completely after you, but they do use expressions. And so from time to time, I couldn't tell you where, but my wife will nudge me and say, 'That's you. That's it. That's exactly what you do.'"
"When I saw the movie, she's very physical and kind of all over the place," said Wiig. "I certainly didn't do all of her moves, but sometimes when you're recording the lines, you kind of have to do the moves to get into it. So it's a little bit of physicality there, and plus, they're recording you to get little facial expressions or body movements to kind of capture and translate into your animated self. There wasn't a lot of room to move."
The intricacies of recording his performance aside, Carell said that Despicable Me 2 works not because of its comedy beats, but because of the thematic message at its core, saying, "I think it celebrates family more than anything. I think it celebrates a sense of love and commitment to one another, but I don't think it has any sort of political stance on anything. I think at its heart, it's just a very sweet, kind movie with sort of these dark trappings because that's one of the things that attracted me to the first one. It's a movie that doesn't condescend to children. It plays to the top of their intelligence. And I know when I was a kid growing up, I wanted to be challenged. I wanted things that might be a little bit scary. Edgy might be too strong a word, but I wanted things to challenge me, even as a kid. So that's one of the things that attracted me about it, but I think underlying all of that, it's just a real sense of family and warmth. The first one just made me feel good when I saw it, and that's why I wanted to do this one too because I think it does the same thing. And it's funny."
Despicable Me 2 opens nationwide in 2D and 3D on July 3rd.