''I'm the idiot,'' says ''Daily Show'' vet Steve Carell of his on-screen persona. ''I've cornered the market.... Apparently, it comes naturally and it's not too much of a stretch for me.'' As ''Sleepover'''s kid-hatin' security guard and ''Anchorman'''s mentally challenged weatherman, Carell found he didn't have to dig deep. ''I have never done any research at all,'' he says. ''I think it really shows with my subtle and textured performances.''
Ever the master of deadpan self-deprecation, Carell, 41, is hardly a fool. With the New York-based ''Daily Show'' mostly behind him, the actor -- who now lives in L.A. with his wife, fellow ''Daily Show'' alum Nancy Walls, and their two young kids -- totally kills as ''Anchorman'''s candle-eating, falsetto-singing ''idiot savant without the savant,'' much as he stood out as a gibberish-spewing newsman in ''Bruce Almighty.'' His segue out of cable continues with a likely lead part as a ruthless real estate entrepreneur in the animal comedy ''Furry Vengeance''; another appearance alongside Will Ferrell, in Woody Allen's ''Melinda and Melinda''; and, of course, the starring role in NBC's warily anticipated remake of the BBC modern classic ''The Office,'' due sometime next year.
''It's a very high standard to try to come up to,'' Carell admits. ''The original 'Office' has an enormous loyal fan following, so you can't help but be a little timid about going into something like that.'' Still, the network has ordered six episodes, meaning Carell takes on the daunting task of re-creating Ricky Gervais' painfully clueless nitwit of a supervisor when shooting resumes in September. Carell is aware of the challenge, likening his dilemma to that of another fellow who replaced a lead on a favorite show, ''Bewitched.'' ''I'm like Dick Sargent! How do you make people forget Dick York?'' Wait, which one was Dick York?