INTERVIEW: Jim Carrey On Being ‘Dick’

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Jim Carrey is coming back to theaters. It has been quite some time since the gangly comedian has made an attempt at making us laugh (nah, I don’t count Lemony Snicket), but with his recent flick, the remake of the 1977 classic Fun with Dick and Jane, he attempts to bust your gut.

Written by Judd Apatow, the writer and director behind this year’s smash hit The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Fun with Dick and Jane puts Carrey and his co-star Téa Leoni in some really precarious situations as this Enron inspired comedy hopes to offer up some holiday laughs.

While in New York I had a chance to talk with Jim about the movie, some of his upcoming projects and a look back at his wild career thus far.

Question: Can you talk about remaking this. Is it because it was temporarily relevant?

Jim: Yeah, it is odd to remake a movie when the original was made in 1977. It’s pretty early, but I think it is more relevant now than it was then because of Enron and all the corporate scams that have gone on. All the people that have been affected by that. I thought it was a perfect idea, and a fun idea. Bottom line it has a really cool backdrop and it has a conscience, but it’s a movie about fun. That’s it, the movie’s about two people breaking their chains and throwing caution to the wind – throwing the rules out the window, which we can’t do in our lives.

Question: There was a lot of talk of rewrites and reshoots can you talk about that?

Jim: There weren’t just talks of them, there were actual rewrites and reshoots. A lot of people make a big deal about that kind of 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, you fix it up until it’s ready to come to Broadway. For me, it’s the end product that’s important and we thought of a bunch of things when we saw the screenings. We started thinking of a bunch of things that would make it funnier and just a lot of really good, new ideas and there were some things that we wanted to take in different directions. We just wanted to perfect it and I think we got a really funny movie and that’s the bottom line. Make it as funny as possible.

Question: Can you talk about working with Téa?

Jim: She’s incredible and she’s a complete gamer. She’ll go anywhere and do anything. She’s not afraid to look silly and she’s incredibly talented as an actor. She’s really connected and I think the relationship comes off real, you really like this couple, the love is real. There are moments in it, even though it is completely silly, where it stops and you go, “Wait a second. This is real, this is like real love here.” That was important to me to have someone who could give it authenticity as well as be insane.

Question: Does the pain of physical comedy ever get to you and you just think, “This is enough for today.”

Jim: I’m a Capricorn-Aquarius-cusp man! I’m better in the second half – better in the second half. I keep myself in shape, I feel good. I can do some crazy stuff. Nothing’s too brittle yet.

Question: Did you hurt yourself on Dick and Jane?

Jim: I always hurt myself during a movie, and low-grade injuries all the time. That just comes with the territory. On Me, Myself and Irene I did the entire movie on a severely sprained ankle and I was just bruised from head to foot. I’m always banging myself up. It’s like the X-Games.

Question: How does finding a balance with the material help you? For every comedy like Dick and Jane you do an Eternal Sunshine.

Jim: No human being is just one thing. I think we are past the time in history where you have to come out and say, “I’m just 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 I’m also a sensitive, normal human being with feelings and I know how to express those too. I feel lucky that I have had so many opportunities to do those things – Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine – were like gifts from God. 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 my last life I pulled somebody’s hamster out of a burning building or something. I really feel lucky.

Question: Judd Apatow.

Jim: I need Judd. I love Judd, we practically started out together. He was one of the first guys that saw me doing some of the crazy different stuff, for years I was an impressionist. Then I stopped doing that for a couple of years and I came back as a stand-up [comedian] trying to discover myself and he was the one running around telling people, “This guy, if he doesn’t clear the room because of some horrible thing he says, he’s really wonderful to watch.” He was kind of my champion.

We started writing before “In Living Color.” We started writing sketches and we’ve been writing ever since. Practically everything I do I try to get Judd on or I do, Dick and Jane he was the main writer.

Question: Do you ever catch “In Living Color” or any of your earlier work and look back and say, “That really taught me something”?

Jim: Yeah, every once in a while I will see something like that and when I was doing it there were people on the show that were like, “Oh, what’s this going to get me? What’s this going to do?” That happens on every show like that, “Saturday Night Live” all those places, people are in a fear of like, “What’s happening after this?” and I was always in the place of like, “This is it! We made it!” Right to the last show on that show I felt like I wanted to do something different and I was excited about it. I felt like it was a step along the way but I wasn’t afraid of where it was going to take me or anything like that. I was having a good time. There are always moments on shows like that were you hate somebody but that’s just the reality of being cooped up with people.

Question: Would you ever do stand-up again?

Jim: I can’t really say where the urge will take me. I wouldn’t be against it, but I don’t have a burning desire to do it. Many things pop into my head that would be great and I am like, “Oh man, if I was doing stand-up right now that would be so cool.” I get to vent my creativity in many ways, go on Letterman and Leno and Conan and have doing that kind of stuff on there. So I get to express that side of me a little bit that way. It’s just like anything, you’re either painting with oils or pastels or watercolors, it’s different media, different ways of doing it. I am just doing the same thing, only now I write all the movies and I perform the movies and it’s the same thing to me.

Question: What got you excited about Ripley’s Believe It or Not?

Jim: Working with Tim Burton. I’ve always wanted to work with Tim Burton. He’s genius and I am so excited about that. We met when I was in Paris and when you meet somebody you admire you’re always a little nervous and “gosh, I wonder if he’ll like me and if he’ll be somebody I like,” and we met and it was immediately a great bond, and he’s a great guy. I don’t think anybody could do freaks better than he could. I am going to be surrounded by a bunch of misfits in the movie and I just think it’s going to be wonderful and I am really looking forward to it. That’ll be in the fall sometime I think, if all the stuff goes right.

Question: Talk about The Number 23?

Jim: I’m actually a dog catcher in 23, an animal control officer, but the movie is really about obsession and I’ve had an obsession with the number 23 for years. I see it everywhere, license plates add up to it, my friend, one of my best friends in Canada, he turned me on to it. He’s had it for years, he’s been writing down 23 things forever. Like the Earth’s axis is 23, the human body has 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent and you can go on and on and on and this 23 number pops up. There are actually kind of societies out there that follow 23. The Hiroshima bomb landed at 8:15 and it adds up to 23, it goes in in finitum. It’s a very odd thing but it’s everywhere, I even changed the name of my company to JC 23 a couple of years ago because for me it culminated to the twenty-third Psalm, which is about living without fear. I was explaining this to somebody and they said, “I just ready a script called The Number 23,” and I said, “Well I have to see this script.” I read it and I couldn’t put it down, it’s so interesting and 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 and he was on page 23 circling every twenty-third word trying to see if there was a code and this is what I want to do to an audience. I want to turn them into these people who see 23 everywhere. It’s a really interesting story.

Question: How are you going about picking your roles now, balancing the whacky with the dramatic and is an Oscar something you are looking for after Eternal Sunshine was unfortunately ignored?

Jim: I’m not looking for anything like that, I’m looking to do good work. That’s what I concentrate on honestly. All of that stuff is wonderful, if it happens for you it’s great, but I’m really about the work. I love telling stories and I love losing myself in a character and if somebody told me you have to lose 50 pounds and be emaciated or whatever I’d be like, “Great! Let’s do it man! I want to transform!” I’m always in that place of divine dissatisfaction with this art form. Honestly, sometimes there are moments, glimpses when I go like, “Oh, that was cool, that was something,” but for the most part I’m in a place of like, “Dammit, what am I going to do that’s going to just make an audience blow up?” Something that’s going to affect things and change the paradigm of life itself. [chuckling] That’s not too much to ask is it?

Fun with Dick and Jane opens in theaters everywhere this Wednesday, December 21. Click here for pics, clips and more from the film.