Jim Carrey’s new film is a celebration of his zany persona, but all his films are a reflection on his state of mind, he tells The National
Come rain or shine: meeting Jim Carrey
Alrighty then! It was part of the enormous appeal of Jim Carrey that the Ace Ventura star was all-in or nothing. In the mid-90s, when comedies were still box-office gold, he was the biggest movie star on the planet. He had audiences in stitches with zany, over-the-top performances in films such as Mask, Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura. He got paid US$20 million (Dh73.5m) to star in The Cable Guy, which in 1996 was the biggest payday in movie history.
But during New York fashion week, on the red carpet of the Harpers Bazaar ICONS party he gave a bizarre interview to E! presenter Catt Sadler that was just a little bit too zany for his own good. The internet had a viral hit on its hands, as the world watched the 57-year-old make bewildering statements such as “I don’t believe that you exist but there is a lovely fragrance in the air”... “There is no me. There’s just things happening,” and “I believe we’re a field of energy dancing for itself and I don’t care.”
None of this surprised me as I’d met with Carrey a few days before at the Venice Film Festival, where he was making similarly profound pronouncements about his state of mind.
But is it any coincidence that Carrey, who has been out of the limelight for some years, chose to make such comments at a time he was promoting a documentary celebrating his ability to take things too far?
Even the title of the documentary is self-aggrandising. Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton.
The film rewinds the clock to 1999. Czech-born Miloš Forman, the Oscar-winning director of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, has cast the comic to play the American comedian Andy Kaufman in a biopic, titled Man on the Moon. By extension this meant that Carrey also has to play Kaufman’s alter ego, Tony Clifton, a lounge singer with dire lyrics that the Taxi star would pretend to be in the same way that actor and comedian Sasha Baron Cohen pretended to be Borat or Ali G.
Centred on behind-the-scenes footage that has been in Carrey’s possession for almost two decades, Jim and Andy shows how the Canadian-born star had a field day being Kaufman. Carrey never broke character during production, making the rest of the cast and crew had to refer to him as either Andy or Tony depending on who he was embodying, much to their bemusement. Danny DeVito is constantly seen rolling his eyes, and Forman has a love-hate relationship with his leading man’s methods, occasionally asking, “Can I speak to Jim?”
Betwixt this archive material, the director, Chris Smith, has interviewed Carrey about his time on Man on the Moon and his early stellar career. The first thing viewers notice is how bedraggled Carrey looks, sporting a big grey bushy beard, like the one seen in Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, the 2016 film where he plays a vagabond in a rare outing for Carrey as a screen actor in recent years.
Carrey talks about his feeling that the films he’s made are all a reflection on his state of mind at the time of making them – yes, even Dumb and Dumber. It’s the beautiful irony of Carrey’s career that the three films that will live longest in the cinematic canon have him in dramatic roles, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
When I meet Carrey in a garden on the Lido, the beard is gone and once again his thin, gaunt face is on show. He looks great for 57, even if he is dressed like a teenager with a black leather bomber jacket over black jeans with a red rose printed on his black T-shirt. Mostly he seems happy to be back in the limelight with people hanging on his every word.
During the interview there is a littering of pronouncements of the type spouted by self-help gurus: “Accomplishment can never satisfy you,” he tells me. “There can be satisfaction in certain aspects of it, but you know, if you’re looking for it to define you …”.
Carrey has been affected by depression. It’s a misinformed cliche to say that all jokers are unhappy when not delivering gags but it’s a stereotype that he proves true. Talking about depression, he says; “I had it for many years, but there is no experience of that going on [now]. When the rain comes it rains but it doesn’t stay long enough to immerse me and drown me anymore.”
The star is twice divorced and was briefly engaged to Bridget Jones star Renée Zellweger who he met on the set of Me, Myself & Irene. Recently his personal affairs have taken an even more tragic turn, as the mother of his ex-girlfriend, Irish make-up artist Cathriona White, is suing Carrey over how he treated her daughter, who died of a prescription drugs overdose. The case is still in the courts but gossip pages have been having field day printing the less than flattering accusations being made against the actor.
Carrey says there has been a big recent shift in his perspective of life that has come about after having what he calls an “awakening experience”. He has reportedly found Christianity and likens his life experience to Jesus going into the “wilderness and facing temptation”.
This is all said in a matter-of-fact way. The pronouncements make it seem like he wants the world to know that he’s working through his issues. Perhaps that’s why he is conducting his first interviews in years, promoting a film in which he talks about his emotional state of being on camera, and reminds us of the seemingly overnight rags-to-riches rise from poor and suffering comic to international superstar.
When reflecting on his career, he goes to his recent turn in The Bad Batch, and picks up on an argument his character makes in the film: “All these people, they’re all me, you as well, and you and you and you, you’re all me.” At which point I quip, “Then you have some serious problems,” which brings out that famous grin, followed by a fist bump.
When we discuss his work the jargon is only slightly less cryptic. But there is more focus, and it seems that he has much more of a handle on his place as a movie star. He is overjoyed by the Jim and Andy documentary: “I’m grateful and excited because this shift in perspective has made it possible to really love the moment I’m in ... and sometimes it’s with you and sometimes it’s with the director Chris Smith when he’s interviewing me, and he calls me up and says ‘You know what, I think we got something really special here, it’s not just about Andy and you, it’s about identity’ and whatever.”
Of the films that he’s starred in, it’s The Truman Show that has stuck with him the most, he says: “It’s something that keeps on re-entering the mind as a concept”. That movie seems to say a lot about how I feel meeting Carrey – the likeable Truman was a man stuck in a world with rules that he did not know existed, then one day that world collapses and he’s free.
We never get to find out what happens to Truman years down the line – well, not unless we think Carrey, himself, is now providing those dark answers.