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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A lot of people, including Steve Carell himself, were surprised when the genial star of "The Office" landed the coveted role of Maxwell Smart in the new film version of the classic 1960s TV show "Get Smart."
Audiences may be even more surprised to see just how many serious action scenes Carell and co-star Anne Hathaway (Agent 99) handle in this hard-edged reworking of the Cold War-era spy spoof that opens across the United States on Friday.
But all the fighting, kicking, punching and gunplay in the movie were nothing compared to the verbal sparring that took place -- always friendly, of course -- when the two stars sat down together to talk to Reuters about making "Get Smart:"
Q: Above all, this film is obviously a very penetrating analysis of cold war politics.
Steve Carell (deadpan serious): "It is, very. It's also an action comedy."
Anne Hathaway: "I'd describe it as "comtion.""
Carell: "When we first discussed it, we wanted it to be a legitimate spy movie that's also funny. I wanted it to hold up, with characters that could potentially exist and situations that had stakes to them ... we are not people you'd normally see in an action movie, and I think that's part of the comedy."
Q: Do you feel like you're the Tracy & Hepburn of action movies now?
Carell: "We are. I don't think that's overstating it."
Hathaway: "He's right! (To Carell) You DO remind me of Katherine Hepburn, and I'm just like Spencer Tracy."
Q: You're obviously both very competitive, both on screen and off. Have you ever come to blows?
Hathaway: (cuts in) "I think I'm more comfortable with it. I know what my strengths are, and you just can't compete with Steve's ass."
Carell: "That quote will look great in print."
Q: More seriously, how was making out in the love scenes?
Hathaway: "The day we made out, I had a sinus infection and conjunctivitis. So it was basically as sexy as mucus."
Carell: "I was unaware of her infections. When we shot that scene, the light was going and we could only do it once. Luckily the heat of the moment - and the conjunctivitis ..."
Hathaway: "Put us in the mood."
Carell: "But it was more of a fever than a heat."
Q: You both do stunts and action scenes. Who's fitter?
Carell: "Anne, by a long shot."
Hathaway: "I don't know about that. We'd run into each other in the gym, and you worked out much longer than I did."
Carell: "I remember watching the playback of one big fight scene and the whole time I thought it was her stunt double, but it was her. So she carries it off quite well."
Hathaway: "Thank you. Can you tell me that story every night before I go to bed?"
Q: Anne, what most surprised you about Steve?
Hathaway: "His searing virility..."
Carell: "Here we go..."
Hathaway: "Every single day, it was like male hormones filling the trailer and making me blush. He's also the most ego-less person I've ever met. You're absolutely grateful for everything you have, and I loved being around someone who, like me, is always expecting the other shoe to drop, so enjoys every single moment."
Carell: "That we definitely share. We're both grateful for any of the success we've had and take none of it for granted."