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December 2004
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: An Interview with Jim Carrey

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: An Interview with Jim Carrey

By Todd Gilchrist

Jim Carrey's been known as a lot of things- a clown, a monster, a serious actor- but rarely in the same role. Until now, that is; in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events", Carrey plays the villainous Count Olaf, about whom many things (both printable and unprintable) can be said. Carrey, coming off of the high of the best performance of his career in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", sat down with Blackfilm.com and a room full of journalists to discuss his latest project.

How did you create the character of Count Olaf, what elements were in there, did you think of any ham actors in particular?

Jim Carrey: Not in particular. I had a little bit of - vocally I was trying to get a little bit of an Orson Wellsion kind of thing going on with a sprinkle of Count Chocula kind of thing. As far as the character goes, I was trying to fashion him after kind of like a bird of prey, the type of bird that waits on the beach until the nest is unguarded, and then steals the eggs. He's that guy. Physically, I wanted to be like the books, like the illustrations from the books that kids are used to, he turned out looking like my dad actually, which is really freaky. My family is constantly like, Man, dude, we're seeing pictures, what are you doing? What are you doing, man?'

How fun or difficult was it to change your appearance so drastically?

JC: Yeah, well, you know the make up in a movie like this is such a great odyssey because, first of all they're shaving my head off and you don't know what you're going to get. I did it for Man on the Moon, and it just is never comfortable to do for no good reason. And I had big, long and curly fingernails that I had to walk around with and stuff like that, and I looked really freaky. And it's okay, because I have a license to do that. It's kind of cool.

Do you think kids prefer darker stories?

JC: What stories? Darker stories? I think that they love there to be a dark element to the story, absolutely. I remember when I was a kid just loving creepy movies that scared me and at the same time were funny. I remember with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with that frigging Childcatcher, who was trying to entice kids out with candy and capture them, and kidnap them. There were crazy characters in these movie that were really scary. Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist, that's not a funny movie, but I love those characters. So it was kind of a fine line we were going down here between making them laugh and making them like this character and, at the same time, he's kind of like the funny uncle who gets a little drunk at Christmastime and then turns in the middle of the night. So I wanted the danger to be real. There's some talk about, is the slap too much? I was like really? People are getting sawed in half in Lord of the Rings, what the hell's going on? What are you talking about, too dark?

Count Olaf is an impersonation, and you have a role transforming Olaf - what is it about tranformation that attracts you?

JC: I love transforming - it's like Christmas morning to me. You get into the make-up trailer and you start playing around with things, and throwing pieces together, at one point we had a Don King wig on backwards, strapped to the back of my head, and I look like a frigging hood ornament from a Chevy, it was weird. But we experimented, we came up with 30 different characters that didn't get into the movie. The whole process is exciting. It's such a fun thing to masquerade, period. It's just a fun thing anyway. So there's that, and there's many different reasons to do it.

You are the number one movie star to the children of the world, do you think kids will be scared in this movie?

JC: I don't know, I hate to speculate on how people are going to react to a piece of work, but I think they can give me up for a second, I think that they get that I'm playing a part, you know what I mean, that it's for the movie, and that I'm not a dastardly guy who murders children. (laughs)

Your earlier roles were much more bombastic and projected outwards, and your more recent ones are much more subtle, do you see this role as a synthesis of those two things at the same time?

JC: I think the two mes are definitely meeting in the middle in some respects. I don't know, I just feel incredibly lucky to be able to go all over the place. I seem to have tripped into a time in my career whatever that people rarely get to do, the diversity of roles that I'm doing, so I feel incredibly lucky. That being said, it also is happening because I want it, and because I know that I have that side of myself to express, and it's all part of it. Yeah, hopefully it all comes together in a giant big chocolate sundae with a cherry on it. It will be a well-rounded meal soon.

Can Count Olaf kick Lord Voldemort's ass?

JC: (he laughs) Count Olaf would have someone else do it maybe. He has friends, with hooked-hands and nowhere to go. No, he has crazy, weird, disciple followers, he'd probably send out there in a Manson-type way. No. It's a good question. We'll have to put it to claymation to see who wins.

I'm from South Africa, would you like to make a movie in South Africa?

JC: Sure, why not? Are there good places to make movies in South Africa? I was not aware of that, I didn't know. That would be a lovely place to go, wouldn't it?

Can humor save the world?

JC: No, but they can make it a little bit more palatable I think. I don't kid myself into thinking I'm changing the world with this stuff, but I know that people can enjoy themselves for a couple of hours - I do get into that headspace sometimes, I don't really want to like just kind of walk through the world but not do anything with this gift, whatever it is, and so for me when I really sit down and think about it, sometimes I'm a Band-Aid, and sometimes I'm a little bit of the cure, but it's not going to change the world I don't think.

The kids in the movie are smarter than the grownups.

JC: Really? Just like real life.

Have you learned anything from your daughter?

JC: My daughter is so hip, and also so perceptive that you really can't get away with anything but being yourself around her. She's really kind of modest and kid's see, they don't have any of the fear or Oh my gosh, am I going to run into this person later on, I might have to be nice to them,' kind of thing, or they might have some power over me, they might hurt me,' all those things that go through adults' minds, you know that someone might think I'm a bad person, it's like kids, unless they've been completely robbed of their childhoods, are general pretty sharp and instinctual. Jane is so quick, I just go, Whoa, you just cut right through it, didn't you?' That's what's great about these books. It gives kids the credit they deserve.

When you did Me, Myself and Irene you said, I had to do a comedy because I'm getting all these good reviews and that worries me. Did you feel that tension after Eternal Sunshine? Do you feel that tension with reviews?

JC: I don't. I don't think about that, honestly, reviews, awards, all of those things are beautiful when they go your way, it's fantastic, it's a great thing, but for me it's all about the work, it's about moment to moment on the set, there's no place I'd rather be than acting with other people and telling a story. I just love it, and it's refuge. So that's really what I'm motivated by in every respect. When you get a good review it feels great, obviously. But it's really about cooking a meal.

You character does everything just because of the money - I know there's an old story that you signed a check for $20,000 million dollars, can you tell that story?

JC: It was a $10 million check I made out to myself years ago, before I was working. I used to go up to Mulholland Drive and sit on the side of the highway, and look out at the city and do positive affirmations, this was early on when I was doing all the different comedy clubs, doing three comedy clubs a night and then I would drive up there, and I had a baby and we were living in a single apartment downtown, with the bed on the floor and the whole deal, and it just made me feel better to visualize those things. It wasn't about the money, it was about where I'd be if I was making that kind of money. So it was the only way I could quantify it somehow, whatever. So I wrote that check and I stuck it in my pocket and it stayed there for four years, it was check made out to Jim Carrey for acting services rendered,' for $10 million. I passed it on to someone in the family.


JC: My father.

Did he cash it?

JC: No, he saw it happen, which was cool.

On 60 Mintues you talked about being on Prozac, quitting drugs and alcohol, what's the worst thing about being a celebrity?

JC: The worst thing about being a celeb is, and I talked about this on Oprah, the idea of sometimes, and it's probably true of many walks of life, that you can't be yourself all the time, sometimes you have to toe-the-line and do what you have to do. I like this movie, but there are plenty of times when people have to go out and do this kind of thing when they don't even like the movie. So you just hate yourself afterwards. You're like, I just hate myself, I'm such a liar. Expectation is a hard thing, (referring back to his movies) I'm not saying any of mine, but expectation is a hard thing to deal with, people's expectations sometimes. But life is good.

When you get a script did they have you in mind or do you just Jim Carrarize the role in your mind when you read it?

JC: Carrarize it. Sanitize and Carrarize it. This one came from - was discovered by my manager's son - the material, so Sam, who is 11 years old, was reading the books and said, Jim has to play Count Olaf. It's him.' So that's how that came about. Of course, as soon as I jumped onboard I said, Okay, guys, I need the greatest creative minds in this room to Carrarize this thing.' (laughs) No. Obviously, I put my stamp on it, you only have yourself to draw on. So to me it was like tapping into the little megalomaniac inside me and just amp-ing it up. There was a lot of improvisation, there is a ton of stuff that's not in the movie that is really funny, but that doesn't further the story. I face that a lot actually. I have to kill babies. They call it killing babies in Hollywood, where the baby's got to die. I didn't really, actually kill a baby, let's get that straight, it's a figurative baby, a funny joke baby.

You worked with the hair and make up artist Bill Corso. How much of your ideas went into that?

JC: And Anne Morgan as well, she did the hair. We were in the trailer basically throwing pieces together, and I'm doing voices and talking to myself in the mirror a lot, there was a lot of that going on. The Stefano character was a this kind of swashbuckling Antonio Bandares kind of character, and at the last moment Brad came and said, I'm not comfortable with that character, I don't know why, it seems too flamboyant, too much like Olaf.' So I said, What do we do?' They had this other wig they had made and they put it on my head and I said, This is a great character, it's just not the same guy.' He said, Who is he?' And I went (in Stefano's voice) Well, he's a gentleman you might have seen on the Discovery Channel talking about quasars or possibly a government grant for his research on gecko mating rituals.' It just came out of nowhere. It just was like - I just went Discovery Channel.

Which movie has forced you to go to the deepest emotional place?

JC: Ace. I've got to say Ace. No, I guess definitely Eternal Sunshine was- - not only the depth of emotion and the feeling of loss that the character was going through, but just the idea of being less accessible as a person on film. To hold back completely and let the audience come to you was just a different kind of thing for me. And generally, I play fairly colorful characters who come out of the screen and this one was inviting you to come in. So it was different.

The look of the movie was so distinctive.

JC: I still haven't seen the look of the movie, you know. I've seen rough untimed edits and things like that. I can't wait to see it because I've seen a tiny bit of it and it was kind of beautiful.

Did you feel neglected by Brad for the lighting?

JC: Oh, no, Chivo was doing his thing. He was magnificent at what he does. And he knew it was going to look pretty extraordinary. I mean, when we saw playback and stuff like that, I just thought, "Wow, I can't wait to see what this looks like in all its glory." So I still have that to look forward to. I'm going to go see it at the premiere on Monday or Sunday, sometime. But I can't wait to see what it looks like and Brad's great. Brad is great on so many levels. He's a really brilliant filmmaker but at the same time, he's really amazing with people. Really super with people and it made me feel comfortable. One of those directors, when you go into a part and think, "Oh Gosh, what's the entry into that thing going to be like? What's this going to be like starting?" For some reason, by the time you went to camera, he always had given you enough time and space and places to create.

What makes you laugh?

JC: I laugh at mistakes. I laugh when people screw up basically. That's my big thing because I can kind of see a joke coming a while away. So sitcoms to me, I'd sit there and go der, der, der,' and one plus two is' and all that stuff a lot of times. The things that really get me laughing are ridiculous things, when people make mistakes, when people fall off their horse. You know what's really funny to me? Ego is funny to me. That's part of the reason why I did this movie. I'm born on the same day as Muhammed Ali. I get his sense of humor. I get that "I am the greatest" that kind of thing. He was so jerking people completely. He was completely on another level.

You still claim dual citizenship?

JC: Well, I have to be because Canadians will be very hurt if I didn't say that I love that side. Obviously, I don't want to negate where I come from. It's a beautiful place and beautiful people.

When did you decide you wanted to be a US citizens and do you feel different now?

JC: Wow, I feel so powerful. The world stage. You know, the germ of it basically has been for years, I've been here. And elections come by and things like that and things that I should be involved in because I actually do contribute, that made me want to be a part of it. I have a daughter who is a California girl, so I want to share that with her. And I love this country. I think it's a great country. I think at the very least, the ideal of this country is intact and beautiful. The execution leaves a little bit to be desired right now, but I think it's a beautiful idea, America. And it's a beautiful place with people who know what they like and are confident and give you confidence when you set out on a journey and you say, "This is what I want to be" and they go, "Okay." And there's something about the way Americans mythologize themselves and have confidence in themselves that I really love.

If there are two Jim Carreys, which one are we going to see from now on?

JC: I will never ever reveal my secret. Everybody seems to be really fascinated about who I really am, or maybe they're just saying that. But I get that a lot. "Who are you?" It's like Clint Eastwood in that movie where he rolls into town, "Who are you!" Burns the place down and leaves. "I'm just a really quiet guy with an attitude." I don't know how to define myself and hopefully I will never find out. I just want to play every part as they come and do it in a really original way.

Will you do sequels?

JC: I don't have a deal, but it's one that I wouldn't mind doing again because there are so many characters. I mean, we created 30 extra characters that never made it in the movie, so it's just so much fun. It's so much fun being a bad actor playing a character. "I am an Italian man."

Ace Ventura film festival on TNT.

Would you watch it and have we seen the last of that kind of character?

JC: I can't say. It's going to be all on individual inspirations. I honestly want to destroy show business is what I want. I do. I want to be different than it and if show business could just manifest itself and I could just kick my foot through it and then start all over again, it'd be great. I want to do something different. I want my work to be different. Whether there are Ace Ventura film festivals or not, I can't watch them. But every once in a while, I'll catch something on cable. The Mask was on not too long ago when I woke up, when I stuck on the TV and it was on there and I watched it for a few minutes and I thought, "Yeah, this is pretty cute. It's fun." What I'm looking forward to is someday looking back and going, "Here's the box set and you figure it out, man." That's what I would want.

Can we have a special price on that?

JC: Put your names in now. But you know what? From Truman Show to Ace Ventura to Eternal Sunshine to this, it's just more than anybody could ever ask for as far as diversity.

Did you have any bad actors in mind when performing, and could this rival the Harry Potter movies?

JC: I don't think it's anything like Harry Potter at all. It's a completely different animal. But bad actors in mind? Nobody specifically. I'd love to say yeah, sure, Scott Baio. No, I'm kidding of course. I just was like- - this is a family film, I'm sorry.

Do you enjoy making fun of actors?

JC: Oh, I love making fun of actors. I love making fun of the process that puts us in the place of total self-consciousness. I just loved, there was some talk at the beginning of the movie, executives were like, "Well, maybe we should make his hair a little fuller, a little more younger, ad a ad a, like that" and I said, "No, no. This guy's got to be past it and very insecure about his hairline." I was like, "Push it back, man. Push it back."

What comedians inspired you, something about the Peter Sellers movie?

JC: I definitely was affected by Peter Sellers. I love Peter Sellers movies growing up. I was like crazy Pink Panthers, everything. Shot in the Dark is one of my favorite movies of all time. Network on one end and Shot in the Dark on the other. And Peter Sellers, I hear he wasn't a happy guy. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I saw the Ebert and Roeper he looks amazing in this film. Geoffrey Rush looks great. He did a great job with taking him on, but apparently he was like incredibly unhappy and really nasty to be around and didn't have a personality, couldn't find his own personality. I have my own personality. I don't have to be on all the time, so I hope that separates me a little bit from that fate.

What would you say to children going to see the film?

JC: If you've got nothing better to do. Not my cup of tea, but there's no accounting for taste.

Are you a happy guy?

JC: I'm everything. I'm everything. Are you a happy person? Yeah? All the time? All the time happy? All the time happy? So, in other words, on medication. You know, it's everything and everything you guys experience, only I have a table in front of me.

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