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On Tuesday night, Steve Carell was appropriately stoic at the New York premiere of his new film, “Foxcatcher.”

For most of his career, audiences have thought of Carell as a comedic actor with a special touch for slapstick. The new film is a radical departure. He plays John du Pont, the eccentric heir to the famous gunpowder fortune, who kills one of the wrestlers he’d been sponsoring since the 1988 Olympic Games.

In a film filled with great performances, including Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as the wrestlers Mark and David Schultz, it’s Carell’s dramatic turn that has taken critics by surprise, ever since the film’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival. But the actor says the detour into drama wasn’t part of some grand plan.

“It wasn’t something that I had been campaigning for. It kind of fell in my lap, honestly,” he said before a Cinema Society–sponsored screening at the Museum of Modern Art that drew Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti, Zac Posen, Nicole Miller, Cynthia Rowley and Sheryl Crow. Meanwhile, with Ruffalo unable to attend, it fell to Tatum to play cheerleader on the red carpet for his missing costar.

“I know that he’s cute and cuddly Mark Ruffalo in every other movie, but not in this one, and I can guarantee you not in real life,” he said.

At an after party at the Top of the Standard, Tatum was nowhere to be found and Carell made a quiet exit sometime around midnight. It was up to director Bennett Miller, who came with Ashley Olsen, to hold down the fort.

“This was an unusual situation,” the filmmaker said of taking on the project. “Somebody approached me eight years ago in a store with an envelope that contained news clippings of this story. I read the first one and knew I was going to do it.”

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