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Casting Comic Talent
When bringing together the cast for Illumination's first animated feature, the directors and producers of Despicable Me were adamant about selecting actors who could not only bring out the humor of their voices, but also channel their comic physicality to inspire the many animators who worked on the project. Cohen explains: "The way we approached the casting is that we wanted to find the absolute best improvisational comedians out there. They brought a level of spontaneity and naturalistic performances to the film.”

To choose the comedy's primary super-villain, a character who is at his wit's end trying to become the best in his profession, the team members had to look no further than a former collaborator. Performer Steve Carell is known to millions of fans through his roles on television's The Office and popular films including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Get Smart and Date Night, but it was his voice that most interested the filmmakers. He first worked with Meledandri on Horton Hears a Who!, in which he vocalized the role of the Mayor of Who-ville.

"Steve has great pathos in his voice, but his voice also carries his comedy effectively,” says Meledandri. "Working with him is unique because he comes to the process as an actor, an improviser and a writer. It's rare that Steve will not give you a version of the scene that everybody agrees has just taken that comic or dramatic sequence and made it significantly better. The process of working with him is one of discovery. You never quite know where he's going, and yet he always takes you to a place that's a more elevated level than where you started.”

When the team sat down with Carell to discuss his ideas about a vocal approach to Gru, Carell made the observation that great villains in movies have very memorable voices, and he didn't want the audience to pinpoint the accent. Explains Meledandri: "Carell started to play with different vocals that involved accents, and he came up with one that lands somewhere between Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi. As soon as he started playing with that voice, it began to inform our visual conception of the character.”

It wasn't only the opportunity to play a villain that attracted Carell to the project. "The story is really sweet,” he offers. "That's what drew me to it. As crazy as Gru sounds and as diabolical and mean and awful as he is, there is humanity to him. It comes out in little bits, all the way through. It says a lot about how people can change, and how aspects of a person can come to the surface, given a different circumstance. People aren't either good or evil…there's always some good to evil and there's always some evil within good. When you see someone who on the surface just seems despicable, and then they're not, that's interesting and fun to explore.”

Carell also appreciated how Gru was in competition with Vector to win the title of World's Best Villain. "It's very frustrating for Gru to be the second-best villain in the world, because he's a perfectionist,” the actor adds. "He's somebody who takes pride in his work, and he wants to be the best at being bad. But there's someone out there who is upstaging him…and he doesn't like it a bit.”

To play Gru's archnemesis, Vector, the team chose comedy actor/writer Jason Segel. A formidable opponent to Gru, Vector is described by Carell as "younger and with a lot of technology at his disposal. He really gets under Gru's skin. When you're competing for stealing the moon, you can't really be friends.”

A newcomer to the world of animation, Segel was excited for his first time out. He also had a chance to tap into his geeky side when he came up with the voice for Vector. "I'd never done anything like this,” says Segel. "The closest I'd come to it was puppetry, but<

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