Interview : Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey was full of energy when he met the press in a Los Angeles hotel recently. In good spirits, he seems to have forgotten the critical drubbing he received with the release of "The Majestic". There are clearly no hard feelings for this ex-Canadian star. Back in top comedic form in "Bruce Almighty", here playing an ordinary guy suddenly endowed with the powers of God [played by a scene-stealing Morgan Freeman], Carrey knows exactly what he would do if he really had the power.

“First of all I’d send anybody who didn’t like The Majestic to the fiery pit of hell and then I’d start a new Utopian society. People made out of Nerf material so that I could cave the critics’ heads in and then they would pop right back out. No-one would be hurt and I’d get my rocks off; that is, of course, if there was anybody left to start a new society.” Nah, no hard feelings there. But perhaps for Jim Carrey who, both on screen and off, can be ferociously hilarious on the one hand and seriously contemplative on the other, is vehement that he didn’t go into Bruce Almighty merely to prove his Majestic critics wrong. “I think it’s important never to look a gift horse in the mouth and never to overlook your talents, so I really don’t consider that. Tom [Shadyac, long-time friend and director] comes and says ‘We have this concept that’s really cool’ and I say ‘Wow that sounds like a blast’ and we get to sit in a room and hash it out like we did with Ace and Liar, Liar. It just sounds like a great creative challenge to me” and for Carrey “it doesn’t matter whether it’s dramatic or comedic.” Of course it’s not easy playing the Man Upstairs, but if Carrey is concerned about it being sacrilegious, “I think I’m going to be welcome anywhere and will share the host with many,” he quips. But Carrey does attempt to be serious when elaborating on the thorny subject of humanising God, Hollywood style. “I know at least for myself, we’ve always tried to humanize Him, in some way but He’s probably just a shaft of light in a doorway, or something like that. To me I think I wanted God in this thing to be the guy who’s absolutely dignified, has this austere quality and kind of no-nonsense-ness to Him, but at the same time has a sense of humour, because after all, God made our sense of humour. That’s what we don’t get a lot of, is God kind of messing with your head.”

If God indeed gave Carrey a sense of humour, he needed it, after the family moved from their native Toronto to the industrial city of Scarborough. It was a low point in Carrey’s life, during which he and his family all took security and janitorial jobs in the Titan Wheels factory, Jim working 8-hour shifts after school let put. When they finally deserted the factory, the family lived out of a Volkswagen camper van until they could return to Toronto. Carrey has always been reluctant to discuss that part of his life, but starring as he in a comedy that in part satirizes the power of faith, it is fitting that Carrey reflect on a past riddled with tragedy. It is from which his own profound faith is derived. Perhaps part of the attraction of a film such as Bruce Almighty, is that afforded him to be that wild and crazy guy audiences love, yet at the same time, wear his heart on his sleeve in some genuinely emotional moments. The actor is comfortable showing a more vulnerable side, he says. “The wonderful thing about this movie in particular, is it has a very serious notion underneath it. It is comedic in a way and it allows me to go incredibly crazy, but at the same time there are real solid ideas and the question that all of us get to a certain point, where we’re screaming at God in our own way and saying ‘Why? Why? Why are you doing this to me?’ It’s always us and we always get to a point, hopefully, where we say ‘Oh, Ok, that’s what I had to learn’, but it sometimes it’s a long time coming so it was a nice chance to say that.” Carrey admits his character’s values are kind of like his own. “We’re spiritual in a sense and I’ve always been big about faith. Everything in my life has happened for a good reason. Generally when I’m on the beam, man, it’s like the blessings just come one after another, like rain. It’s unbelievable. When I’m in the right place,” he says smilingly. Carrey says he is more spiritual, than religious, and doesn’t abide to a specific religious faith. “I’ve gone multi-denominational. I’ve studied a lot of different things and basically I don’t know what God is but I know that He’s at least an energy that rules all that walks the earth and I really think there are laws. There are laws and maybe they’re within us. I don’t know what it is, but I call that God too.” So Carrey has a specific philosophy of life that he adheres to. “My interpretation of the secret to life is, don’t do anything or try not to do anything that makes you feel like you deserve to lose in life and be grateful for what you have and a lot of that is in this movie. Be grateful and protect what you’ve got that’s beautiful too. If you’ve got a talent, protect the spark.”

Carrey has been doing just since his struggling career began in the early eighties. These days, as the song says, he’s got the power, and he intends utilising to star in films as broadly mainstream as Bruce Almighty or Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which he describes as “wonderful, wonderful material. I felt so lucky to be part of that and Michel Gondry is brilliant. All the special effects were done in camera so it’s a really, really cool project.” Then there is Children of the Dustbowl, which the actor hopes to realise soon. “I think it’s a beautiful story and I love stories about teachers. For some reason I can’t get enough of those kind of stories. If I turn a movie on about a teacher, I love it. I love that idea of an adult influence on kids and also the idea that those children, the Okies at that time were considered un-teachable and this man who considered his life kind of over, Leo Hart, and had decided, under his wife’s instructions to rest, couldn’t find it in his himself to do that. He saw a purpose. He saw the reason why you teach. You know? Laying right in front of him. He couldn’t help himself. So he made these kids build their own school and it was a really special thing. Really gave them a sense of pride. I think if people built their own school they wouldn’t graffiti it, you know what I mean?” Teachers have always influenced Carrey, from second grade and beyond. He says that if the acting ever dries up, that maybe he will become an art teacher. But based on his current slate of projects, the classroom will have to wait.

- PAUL FISCHER

BRUCE ALMIGHTY OPENS ON MAY 23.