Ed Helms' career is looking a lot like Steve Carell's these days. It's not just that each got their break on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," evince a geeky likability, practice a similar brand of deadpan humor and currently star on the same hit television show "The Office (though that's part of it).
It's that both are seeing their dance cards fill up remarkably quickly -- and with not dissimilar projects.
Helms will anchor his first major feature when he shoots "Central Intelligence," a Walter Mitty comedy about an accountant (Helms) who inadvertently gets involved in an espionage plot. Sources now say the movie is to shoot this summer, with Universal, which is making the movie, currently looking for a director.
("Central Intelligence," incidentally, bears a similar premise to Carell's "Get Smart:" Dorky guy bumbles his way through unlikely high-stakes world, though Helms' trademark persona is dorkier, while Carell's is more deluded. And there's another Helms-Carell connection: the man who made Michael Scott famous is producing the untitled Civil War project in which several re-enactors get transported back to the land of Ulysses S. Grant; Helms plays one of the re-enactors and also helped write the script. That one, at least, is just in development, as is another project, the bromantic makeover movie "A Whole New Hugh" from the Judd Apatow incubator. So Helms will at least have time to breathe before he gets mixed up in those.)
There is, however, "The Hangover 2," which will shoot next fall during another "Office" hiatus, and in which Helms reprises his uptight, henpecked Stu Price character. All this comes after Helms finished shooting the Alexander Payne traveling-salesman dramedy "Cedar Rapids" last fall. And there's another, smallish movie on the way. That's a pretty hectic work pace for a guy with a network show.
Indeed, it's scheduling that's the big bugaboo for Helms, since, like Carell, the actor can only shoot during his hiatuses from "The Office." The schedule for the NBC hit was reportedly juggled so Carell could shoot "Dinner for Schmucks" at the end of 2009, which also enabled Helms to shoot "Cedar Rapids." But there's only so much juggling one can do without joining the circus.
Helms' name has also surfaced in connection with the Ron Howard infidelity comedy "Your Cheating Heart," which would have offered the bonus of seeing Helms play opposite Vince Vaughn. But it now looks like, for timing and other reasons, Helms won't appear in that one. And reports of his appearance in "Daddy's Home," a project in which he plays the uptight new husband to Will Ferrell's wild man ex-husband probably won't come to fruition; at this point, at least, it doesn't look like Helms is going to star in that one.
Helms' appeal as the embodiment of the straight-laced and the uptight in all of us has clearly resonated in Hollywood. We can only hope it will on the big screen too -- we'll be seeing a lot of him there in the coming months.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Ed Helms and a chicken in "The Hangover." Credit: Frank Masi / Warner Brothers