You’ve got to hand it to Jim Carrey, he may not love to chat to the press, but when he does, he does so with sense of humour intact, focussed on the business at hand and emerging smart and on task.
And one thing is clear: Carrey loves to hide behind a character, as is evidenced through his multi-layered interpretation of the villainous Count Olaf, bad guy extraordinaire in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which Carrey gets to wear assorted costumes, play with accents and scare children.
In trying to analyze the character, seen in two different guises, including an Irish pirate, Carrey observes: “The thing about this he’s always Olaf underneath it all. I love the idea that he thinks the children are so stupid that they would never recognize him in a million years. That’s kind of the gist of this piece of material – it’s that no one believes the kids. So Olaf is trying to work off that, but they immediately nail him every time out. And I think that’s a really cool thing that comes from the books – the feeling that the kids kind of are on their own.”
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the series of novels, is the story of the Bauedelaires, three young orphans, Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and baby Sunny, looking for a new home, following the mysterious deaths of their parents in a house fire. They are taken in by a series of odd relatives, including the cunning and dastardly Count Olaf (Carrey), who hopes to snatch their inheritance from them.
For Carrey, the joy of a character such as this, lay in the fact thnere is very little of the actor prevalent here, it’s pure character acting. “It’s like a child-like fascination. How different could I look? What characters can come out of this at the end of it all, because you really don’t know when you start in. When I’m shaving my head, I don’t know what I have under there. I have no idea what the shape of my skull is or whatever, but you take the chance and take the shot in doing it. So what I find is that if you go full bore into it with faith, it always ends up surprising you and you just go – wow. It’s really kind of a feeling of giving birth to something. You sit back and look at this guy and go – wow, that guy never existed at all, now he’s there in all his glory. It’s great,” enthuses Carrey, comparing this to his other role of the year in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film in which he may be up for Oscar consideration, and in a way competing with Lemony. “They’re different animals, but Eternal Sunshine to me is a different kind of animal, but basically, in the case of Eternal Sunshine, the script is the star. The idea so touched a nerve in me, that idea of being made invisible, that most of us at some point have felt that feeling of someone kind of erasing them – like what they had together didn’t mean anything, and that’s probably just the most brutal thing to feel in an unrequited love.”
In trying to find his Olaf in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Carrey said he drew inspiration for the character from an unexpected source. “The weird thing is that Olaf turned out looking a lot like my dad which is really frightening to me,” Carrey responds, laughingly. I usually try to put a little bit of ‘dadism’in my roles so it’s kind of a wink to my family when they see the movies. They saw the advance pictures of this film and went – dude, okay, now you’re starting to scare us, because it really is like my dad.”
But the actor hastens to add that being the inventive sort, he also thought of a slightly less human inspiration for that role. “He was kind of a predatory bird, like the kind that waits for you to leave the nest and then steals the eggs. Of course I have much experience with actors and acting classes and how that can turn into Jesus and the disciples in moments,” he says, laughingly. “A lot of acting teachers kind of want that kind of relationship, the guru type of thing, so Olaf is a bad leader. He’s completely selfish. If he’s being nice to you it’s because you have something he wants. He’s just a fun character to play, not to mention – it’s the most dangerous kind of character in the world. It’s an actor losing his hair.”
Carrey is clearly more than comfortable being the class clown on screen, though his clown has become more developed since bursting onto our screens in the likes of Ace Ventura and The Mssk. He says there is nothing new in all this, having always thrived on entertaining what he describes as his kooky family. “What’s interesting is that for years I was the entertainment. It was almost a slavery situation, where I get a knock in the middle of the night and my parents would say, ‘get your tap shoes on, because there’s company’ kind of thing. So I was always doing shows and was always the centre, and I got that from my father. When I was a little kid I remember watching him just captivate the room and be so animated. I thought: wow, so that’s how you get over the world, hence I was trying to be like him.”
Once reluctant to talk about his childhood, Carrey has opened up to the press over the years, especially when it comes to remembering his father, whom he still idolizes. “My father was an amazing character. As I said. I used to sit back when we had family get togethers and things like that and just watch him tell stories and riff. He was worse than I am, with all these crazy old jokes turned into new things. He was an amazing guy – so funny, so creative and also my champion. When I did something creative, he didn’t go, what are you doing that for? It was like – oh, look what Jim’s doing, it’s something interesting and different. And he encouraged it, so he’s huge in my heart.”
Carrey, who is currently shooting the remake of Fun with Dick and Jane, may have recently conceded that recently took anti-depressants, but these days, the movie star is on top of the world. Asked to recount his own series of unfortunate events, Carrey merely smiles wistfully. “I am such a lucky human being,” he says, half smilingly. “I have had a couple here and there that I have tried to blow up into something bigger, but for the most part it has just been a pretty amazing ride.” And he says that he has “many ways to make myself centered and happy. To me, it is a matter of staying in a place and realizing what everything is really worth. I know we try to mythologize every thing in Hollywood, so everything is blown out of proportion, but as far as I am concerned, I make movies that make people feel good for like two hours. That is my thing I do in life and I am ok with that, which is enough I guess.”