I had never interviewed Jim Carrey before, but I was expecting a wild and crazy guy who would be funny in person, but whose transcript would be a mess (Robin Williams, I am looking at you). Instead we got a sedate and centered Jim Carrey, the kind of guy who talked about how peaceful his life is, and how God has a plan for him.
We were talking to him about Fun With Dick And Jane, a remake of a 1977 Jane Fonda/George Segal film about suburban bank robbers, updated to take place in the year 2000. Tea Leoni has the Jane Fonda role, and the two must turn to robbery when corporate shenanigans leave them without jobs or money. Fun With Dick and Jane opens Wednesday.
Q: This is a very recent film to be getting the remake treatment.
Carrey: It is odd to remake a movie when the original was made in 1977. It is pretty early! But I think it is more relevant now then it was then, because of Enron and all the corporate scams that have gone on and the people who have been affected that that. I thought it was just a perfect idea and a fun idea. The bottom line is that it has a really cool backdrop and it has a conscience, but the movie is about fun. It’s a movie about two people breaking their chains and throwing caution to the wind and throwing the rules out the window. Which we can’t do in our lives. Well, I can but you guys can’t.
Q: What was it about Dean Parisot that made you want to bring him on to direct?
Carrey: I wanted to do something with Dean. Galaxy Quest, for what it was, was really, really good. It had a great cast, a terrific cast, and it was a really funny movie. A really solid comedy. From that I thought the guy had some talent.
Q: There was talk about rewrites and reshoots on this movie. Can you talk about that?
Carrey: There weren’t just talks of them. There were actual rewrites and reshoots.
Some people make a big deal about that stuff, but to me that’s just part of the process. When you put a play up you take it out of town, you rewrite and fix it up until it’s ready to come to Broadway. For me it’s the end product that’s important. We thought of a bunch of things when we saw the screenings that would make it funny – make it funnier. A lot of really good new ideas, and there were some things we wanted to take in new directions. We wanted to perfect it. I thought we got a really funny movie, and I think that’s the bottom line. Make it as funny as possible.
Q: You do robberies in different costumes in this film. What was your favorite costume, and why?
Carrey: Oh my gosh. The Cher thing was fun – just trying to hide the lump was an experience. No, I’m kidding.
Actually my daughter came to visit me on the set when I was doing the Cher thing, and she was like, ‘Dad, this is going to cause damage. You are the ugliest woman I have ever seen in my life.’ I gained a lot of respect for women and their high heels. It’s a torture chamber, man. It’s unbelievable.
Q: Did you practice around the house?
Carrey: I was strutting. It just didn’t look good.
Q: Can you talk about working with Tea?
Carrey: She’s incredibly. She’s a complete gamer – she’ll go anywhere and do anything; she’s not afraid to look silly. She’s incredibly talented as an actor. She’s really connected. I think the relationship comes off as real; you really like this couple, and the love comes off as real. There are moments in it, even though it’s completely silly, where it stops and you go, ‘Wait a second, this is real. There’s real love here.’ That was important to me, to have somebody who could give it authenticity. As well as be insane.
Q: You’ve known Judd Apatow for about twenty years now, but sometimes when people work together on a film that doesn’t do so well you don’t see them working together again. You guys did Cable Guy –
Carrey: I love Cable Guy! I love that movie, but whatever.
Q: What made you bring Judd on?
Carrey: I need Judd. I love Judd. We practically started out together. He was one of the first guys who saw me do the crazy stuff – for years I was an impressionist, and I stopped doing that for a couple of years and I came back as a stand-up, and he was the one running around telling people, ‘This guy, if he doesn’t clear the room with something horrible he says, is one to watch.’ He was my champion. Before In Living Color we started writing sketches, and we’ve been writing since. Practically everything I do I try to get Judd on or I do.
Q: When you talk about the pain of the heels, do you find that as you’re getting older the physical comedy is getting a little more difficult? That you need more time to recuperate?
Carrey: I’m a Capricorn/Aquarius cusp, man! I’m better in the second half!
I keep myself in shape, I feel good. I can do some crazy stuff. Nothing’s too brittle yet. My bones aren’t porous at this point yet. I don’t think.
Q: Did you hurt yourself on this one at all?
Carrey: I always hurt myself on a movie, low grade injuries. It comes with the territory. On Me, Myself and Irene I did the entire movie on a severely sprained ankle and just bruised from head to foot. I was always banging myself up. It’s like the X-Games, man.
Q: Underneath the comedy there’s this sadness and desperation –
Carrey: You’ve found out.
Q: – in this character. What is the most desperate thing you’ve done in your own life?
Carrey: That’s tough. I’ve had moments in my life where everything looked so bleak it was insane. We lived in a van for a while as a family when I was growing up. I thought some pretty desperate thoughts, but I never followed through on them. I was thinking about fixing some brakes out there. Absolutely. I was pretty angry. But I never really went through with it.
The most desperate, crazy things I do is when I’m in a situation where I’m in a room and everybody knows there’s something going on but nobody wants to say anything because it wouldn’t be proper. Those are the time I become desperate – I have to show the elephant.
Q: How does finding a balance in the material help you? For every full-throttle comedy these days you seem to have an Eternal Sunshine or a Majestic, or the upcoming 23. Does that balance help you?
Carrey: No human being is just one thing. I think we’re past the time in history where you have to come out and say, ‘I’m happy all the time! I’m a joker! I’m a crazy man!’ I think people understand that I can turn that switch on but that I’m also a sensitive, normal human being with feelings and I know how to express those too. I feel so lucky that I’ve had the opportunities to do those things. Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine were like gifts from God for me, and sometimes I sit back and somebody talks about Eternal Sunshine and I go, ‘Did I get to be in that thing? Wow, that’s amazing.’ I honestly feel so blessed. In the last life I pulled somebody’s hamster out of a burning building. I feel lucky.
Q: Jamie Foxx was talking about how he turns on BET and sees In Living Color and remembers what a great training ground it was. Have you every caught it, do you ever look back at it?
Carrey: Oh yeah. When I was doing it, there were people like, ‘What is this going to get me, what is this going to do for me?’, and there are people like that on every show, on Saturday Night Live, people are in fear of what’s happening after this. But I was always in the place of like, ‘This is it! We made it!”
Right to the last show of that show I felt like I wanted to do something different and I was excited about it. I felt it was a step along the way, but I wasn’t afraid where it was going to take me, I was having a good time. There are always moments on shows like that where you hate somebody, but that’s just the reality of being cooped up with people.
Q: Was there a lot of improv in this film? I’m thinking of the scene where you have Jeff Garlin tied up and you have the voice changer on.
Carrey: Oh yeah. That must have went on – you should get some footage of that because there must be at least an hour and a half of footage of me just torturing him. I had so much fun. I had a blast with those little stupid voice boxes. They just showed up. The prop guy had them and they became the joke. I think we really showed how fun a home invasion can be.
Q: What’s the worst job you ever had?
Carrey: I had some bad ones. This isn’t the worst job, but I worked construction in the dead of winter when I was about 16. At that point we had hit the poverty line, so while I was going to school I was a security guard and a janitor at a steel rim manufacturer in Scarborough, in Ontario. Basically there were just a lot of factions in the factory that were different ethnic groups who all hated each other and would defecate in the sink for me because they knew I had to clean up. That was pretty hard to take. And I hate to take it, it was bad.
I had to explain a lot of holes in the wall. ‘I was sweeping the floor with the sweeper and it just went crazy! And slammed into the wall and happened to make the form of a fist! It was incredible how that happened.’
Q: If you ever got a tattoo, what would it be?
Carrey: Tortoise and the hare.
Carrey: I’m the tortoise. That’s my plan, to be the tortoise.
Q: Who’s the hare?
Carrey: Many, many hares have come and gone.
Q: Meaning that you’re in it for the long haul?
Carrey: In it for the long haul, doing good work. One day you’ll look up and I’ll be 80 years old and doing a movie. I’ll still be here, and that’s the point.
Q: You know, sometimes the tattoo question gets asked at these things, but you seemed like you really had an answer in mind.
Carrey: It has entered my mind of what the symbol would be. I live at a very manic level when I’m working, but at home it’s a very peaceful world I live in. I live a very healthy life, and I’m really about – I have my spirituality, I have my interests, I have my motorcycles. I have a lot of things in my life that are fun, but I have a lot of balance, and I have a lot of peace.
It’s important to me that it is about the long haul. It’s a strange thing – sometimes I think that God is somehow fashioning it so that I do stay interested and do stay hungry. That’s why I might not get certain things. I played at the Comedy Store for twelve years, getting standing ovations, and I couldn’t find my picture anyplace. Everybody had their picture up and I couldn’t find picture anywhere, ever, and yet I was the one people were coming back to see. The tendency is to go, ‘Why are they doing this to me.’ At a certain point I went back to the Comedy Store, just a little while back, and when you walk into the main room there’s a giant neon picture of my face. It’s after the fact that I got the recognition, and that’s OK with me. I like to stay hungry and stay interested and keep having to prove myself.
Q: Woody Allen has said that he won’t go back to stand up again because it’s more work than doing a movie. Would you ever go back?
Carrey: I can’t really say where the urge would take me. I wouldn’t be against it, but I don’t have a burning desire. I have a lot of things that pop up in my head that would be great, where I go, ‘Oh man if I was doing stand up right now that would be so cool.’ But I get to vent my creativity in many ways – I’ll go on Letterman and Leno and Conan and have fun doing that kind of stuff. So I kind of get to express that side of me a little bit that way.
It’s just like anything – you’re painting with oil or pastels or watercolors. It’s different media, different ways of doing it. I’m doing the same thing but now I’m writing movies and being in them.
Q: What got you excited about Ripley’s Believe it or Not?
Carrey: Tim Burton. I’ve always wanted to work with Tim Burton. He’s a genius. I’m so excited about that. We met when I was in Paris. When you meet somebody you really admire, you’re so nervous and you think, ‘Gosh I wonder if he’ll like me, and I wonder if he’s somebody I’ll like,’ and we met and it was just immediately a great time. He’s just a great guy. I don’t think anybody can do the freaks better than he could! I’m going to be surrounded by a bunch of misfits in the movie and I think it’ll be wonderful. I’m really looking forward to it.
Q: When does that begin?
Carrey: That’ll be in the fall sometime, if it all goes right.
Q: What about 23?
Carrey: I’m actually a dog catcher in 23. I’m an animal control officer. But the movie drew me – the movie is really about obsession. I’ve had an obsession with the number 23 for years. I see it everywhere, license plates add up to it. My best friend in Canada turned me onto it, he’s had it for years. He’s been writing down 23 things forever. The earth’s axis is 23, the human body has 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent – you can go on and on with how this 23 number pops up. There are actual societies out there that follow 23. The Hiroshima bomb dropped at 8:15 and that adds up to 23. It just goes on infinitum.
I see it everywhere. I even changed the name of my company to JC23 a couple of years ago, because to me it culminated to the 23rd Psalm, which is about living without fear. I was explaining this to somebody and they said, ‘I just read a script called the number 23.’ I said I had to read this script, and I couldn’t put it down, it was so interesting. It’s so compelling. I gave it to a friend of mine to read – he read it in about an hour and a half and I came back in and he was on page 23, circling every 23rd word, trying to see if there was a code. This is what I want to do to an audience. I want to turn them into people who see 23 everywhere!
Q: So do you believe in numerology?
Carrey: Not especially. I believe there’s a little something to everything. There’s a little something to astrology, there’s a little something to numerology. Whatever it means to you, you know? To me, 23 is a good thing. The Pope died at 2:37 Eastern Standard Time. Those kinds of things pop up every day of my life. Seven is the number of completion in the Bible. It was the last day of Easter, 23 which is the shadow of the Valley of Death, and 7 is the number of completion. Those things go on in my head, and I have to put them someplace.
Q: Do you look for possible Oscar roles? Especially after Eternal Sunshine got unfairly ignored last year.
Carrey: I’m not looking for anything like that. I’m looking to do good work. That’s what I concentrate on, honestly. All that stuff is wonderful, and if it happens to you, great. But I really am about the work. I love telling stories. I love loosing myself in a character. If somebody told me you had to lose 50 pounds and be emaciated, I’m like, great! Let’s do it, man. I want to transform. I’m always in that place of divine dissatisfaction with this art form. There are moments where I get glimpses and go, ‘That was cool!’ but for the most part I am in a place of like, ‘Dammit, what am I going to do that’s going to make an audience blow up? That’s going to affect things and change the paradigm of life itself!’ That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Q: I love Eternal Sunshine, but why do you think it didn’t connect with audiences at the box office?
Carrey: I think it did connect with audiences. The facility of the awards season can help a movie make more money. This movie did what it was supposed to do in that time frame. I think it was a bad time to open that movie if you wanted it to have that buzz. It was early in the year, and human beings are just so bombarded with things that by the time it comes about, it’s like ‘Did that come out last year?’
But I think it did make an impact with people. I run into people all the time who say, ‘That movie is really special and it lasts.’ It really touches people. How do you measure success? You have to measure success by the impact it has on people.
Q: It had a huge impact on me. I guess the thing is that I loved it so much I wanted more people to see it.
Carrey: They weren’t very crafty in regards to the releasing of it. It could have gone farther in the right season. But it is what it is.
Q: Do you want to work with Gondry again?
Carrey: I just had dinner with him last night. We’re talking about stuff. We had some ideas, we’ll see. It has to be right for everybody.
Q: What about another Lemony Snicket?
Carrey: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a new regime over there and nobody wants to pick up the old stuff. It was alright, but there were a few things with that movie I wanted to do that I didn’t get to do.