After making a splash in dramatic roles, Jim Carrey — man of a thousand goofy faces — dives back into outrageous comedy
Credit: 20th Century Fox

”Give it to me, baby…Uh-huh! Uh-huh!…Give it to me, baby!”

Speeding like a crazed banshee down Santa Monica Boulevard, Jim Carrey is howling along to every song on the radio. Right now it’s the Offspring’s ”Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).” But no matter what’s thrown at him, he handles the entire Top 40 word for word, as if he had nothing better to do than sit around all day in his underwear watching MTV.

”Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, cinco, seis…. And all the girls say I’m pretty fly for a white guy!”

Zigzagging his black Mercedes convertible from lane to lane, Carrey is all over the place. And it’s not just in the way he drives, or the way he squirms, twists, and shimmies while performing his lead-foot karaoke. He’s literally all over the place: Every block another billboard, bus stop, or phone booth has his bigger-than-life puss plastered on it, hyping his new movie Me, Myself & Irene.

”Look at me. God, I’m everywhere!” Carrey actually seems slightly weirded out and embarrassed by his omnipresence. At a red light, the 38-year-old actor slides his tiny, blue-tinted shades down the bridge of his nose to get a nice, long look at one of the billboards that has him sneering as ”Hank” — the aggressively nasty, alpha-monkey alter ego of his good-natured, weak-willed highway patrolman in Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s split-personality comedy. Pointing to his 50-foot-high doppelganger, the actor deadpans, ”That’s the real me…Hank.”

Switching his mood as quickly as the traffic light turns green, Carrey downshifts into one of many unexpected moments of introspection. ”It’s amazing, a lot of my characters in the last couple of years have dealt with duality,” he says. ”My movies are like therapy sessions — they never fail to be in the pocket of where I am and what I need. With Irene, I was going through a lot of ‘Is it okay to be who I am?’ I can smile my way through life if I want to, but I don’t want to. And will I be accepted if I show the dark side a little?”

To some degree, Carrey’s concerns about mainstream acceptance haven’t been just his concerns. Ever since he chose to star in the back-to-back dramatic departures The Truman Show and Man on the Moon, some of Carrey’s fans have been scratching their heads, wondering why he’d abandoned the lowbrow comedies that vaulted him to fame to become ”Jim Carrey: Serious Actor.”

Of course, most of this has been blown wildly out of proportion — as if it were an unholy betrayal for the guy to stretch. But those same people who place so much significance on Carrey’s career choices may see Me, Myself & Irene as some sort of ”We told you so” surrender: He couldn’t cut it with the Academy, so now he’s talking out of his butt again. When that possible perception is brought up, Carrey explodes with laughter. ”That’s a good angle, let’s go with that one: ‘But this time he has a trumpet!”’ He adds, ”The hardest part about [not getting an Oscar nomination] was people’s assumptions that you were destroyed in some way. I mean, I saw tabloid stories that said Renee had to talk me into coming out of the house afterwards because I was so bummed out, or that she hired clown strippers to cheer me up.”

Carrey’s the first to admit there’s a side of him that was disappointed that Man on the Moon didn’t connect with more people. But another, more Zen-master side says that rather than worry about how others view his career ebbs and flows, it ultimately doesn’t mean squat because Jim Carrey’s at peace with Jim Carrey — not to mention happily in love with his Irene costar Renee Zellweger. More than anything, though, Carrey wants you to know that if this isn’t exactly what you’d like to hear right now, then you need to go peddle your pathology somewhere else, pal. Because you’re the one in pain.

By now, the first stage of Jim Carrey’s worldwide will to power has been well chronicled: Canadian stand-up toils in two-drink-minimum obscurity until finally scoring a smattering of small movie roles (Peggy Sue Got Married, Earth Girls Are Easy); struggling actor lands a gig on TV’s In Living Color and steals skits with his unhinged physical gymnastics and verbal kung fu; TV star parlays his human-tornado shtick into the box office sleeper smash Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and deftly follows it up with a string of give-the-people-what-they-want blockbusters: The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.

But when The Cable Guy, a darker, more acid-tinged comedy, hit theaters in 1996, Carrey (who was now pulling in a record $20 million per picture) seemed to take a critical spanking somewhat disproportionate to the quality of the film on screen. “I was a marked man at that point,” says Carrey. “I’d had a lot of success and then the $20 million tag went on that and it was just…I was set up for that one. It was my turn. But I was ready for that: ‘It’s my turn, cool, whatever.’ I’ve never had the sense that I’m owed anything.”

[pagebreak]Clad in beat-up jeans, a gray Rhode Island State Police T-shirt, and brand-spankin’-new Nike running shoes, Carrey sits in his Pit Bull Productions office. Just down the street from his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, Carrey’s laid-back business lair gives off the vibe of a casual Friday in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory — minus the Oompa-Loompas. Kiddie toys and Mask action figures are perched on his desk next to two of his eight golden popcorn MTV Movie Awards. Ostensibly, we’re here to discuss Me, Myself & Irene. But like the guy you see in his movies, Carrey can be as slippery as quicksilver when it comes to conversational segues. When asked why it sounded like a good idea to go from the offbeat poignancy of an Andy Kaufman biopic to the vulgar slapstick of a Farrelly farce, Carrey says simply, “This was back to not caring….” Breaking into a huge grin, he adds, “Although at this point people expect me to put my hand up my own a– and turn myself inside out in these movies. Or play double Dutch with my colon.”

Carrey cops to reports that he went a tad loco while making Man on the Moon. In fact, he was so wrapped up in his character that he wouldn’t even respond to his own name. “People were never instructed to call me ‘Andy,’ but they’d never get an answer if they called for ‘Jim,'” he says. “I was so deep into it that it was scary for a lot of people around me.” Carrey says it took an entire month after the film wrapped just to exorcise the Andyisms from his system. “By all accounts, including his own, he’d gone a little nuts,” says Irene cowriter-director Peter Farrelly. “So when we hooked up with Jim on Me, Myself & Irene, the first thing we said was, ‘Jim, you should approach this job as a vacation because you’re not going to live very long if you keep becoming these characters. Just have fun on this one.'”

Another perk in doing the $50 million comedy was the chance to flip the bird to all the armchair career pundits. “I thought, ‘This is perfect! I don’t ever want the hounds to be able to keep the scent,'” Carrey says. In short, he bristles at the notion of being pigeonholed as just the “slapstick guy.” And those close to him, like Joel Schumacher, who directed Carrey in Batman Forever, don’t understand why people won’t let him break out of the gross-out ghetto: “Are you trying to say that if a movie doesn’t make $300 million at the box office, that somehow Jim Carrey is a failure in that movie?” Schumacher hopes not. He just signed Carrey for a low-budget thriller called Phone Booth — the actor’s first film since wrapping Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. “Look, Jim could very easily just do a wacky comedy every year, collect a $20 million-plus paycheck, and go play golf,” says Schumacher. “But more power to him for trying different things.”

Different things. Before Irene came along, Carrey had been talking about reuniting with the Farrellys (who directed him in 1994’s Dumb and Dumber, which grossed $127 million) for a movie that could only be described as “different” — a comedy called Stuck on You about a pair of feuding Siamese twins played by Carrey and Woody Allen. But when the brothers couldn’t agree on terms with Allen, they resurrected an unsold 10-year-old spec script. Co-written with the Farrellys’ childhood friend Mike Cerrone, Me, Myself & Irene tells of a Rhode Island cop whose two battling Jekyll-and-Hyde personalities (Charlie’s a sweetheart whose philandering wife left him with three oversize African-American teen sons; Hank’s a debauched roughneck) fall for the same woman (Zellweger) while escorting her to New York to answer a warrant for her arrest.

The Farrellys overhauled the script from page 1, hoping that Carrey might be interested, but in no way counted on him. “He was a long shot,” says Peter Farrelly. But then Carrey called and said he wanted in. “We changed our schedule around just to accommodate him,” says Farrelly. “When you get Jim Carrey you just know you have a much better movie. Most actors show up on the set and they have their cell phone and they’re on it all the time. But I’ve never even seen him on a cell phone. He’d call me at one in the morning and say, ‘Hey, listen, I have an idea for this line’ — and it wouldn’t even be his line.”

While Irene was supposed to be a mental vacation for Carrey after Man on the Moon, he insisted on doing all of his own stunts. “I was bruised up pretty bad because I have this thing in my head where I say to myself, ‘Buster Keaton would have done it.'” He jokes, “Then again, Buster Keaton had arthritis his whole life!” Though he badly sprained his ankle shooting the scene in which Zellweger kicks him over a fence and down a ravine, Carrey says he got most skittish when the Farrellys wanted a tarantula to crawl on his chest while he was driving. “They had spiders from all over the world, and the spider guys love to bring their worst just to mess with you,” says Carrey, jumping up on his chair and lowering his voice to simulate the movie’s arachnid wrangler. “‘This is a South American jumping fang-sucking monster. It will eat the bone, but leave the marrow.’ Meanwhile this tarantula’s running all over you like a John Stockton fast break. But that’s what I signed on for because that’s the movie I needed at the time.”

Still, even the most committed masochist wouldn’t have attempted what Carrey did next. Hopscotching from Irene to The Grinch, Carrey describes his transformation into Dr. Seuss’ Christmas villain as something akin to the Bataan Death March. It wasn’t just his claustrophobic Grinch suit or the hours of makeup; Carrey says the character’s custom contact lenses were so excruciating, director Ron Howard had to bring in a specialist who teaches Navy SEALs to withstand torture to help the actor through the process. “It was like having knives in your eyes every day,” says Carrey. “It was The Mask times a thousand! I felt like God was teaching me patience.”

[pagebreak]There’s a perception in show business that all comedians are really clowns crying on the inside. And Carrey insists it’s true. There’s something almost disarming in how up-front he is about his past bouts with depression, self-loathing, therapy, and even his self-medication through marijuana. “It’s not the way it was 20 years ago,” he says of today’s weed. “Now it’s hydroponic, supersonic chronic that you can learn to handle — but goodbye, personal development.” Elaborating on some of his bleaker moments, Carrey says, “You have to go through your periods where you cry and sob and scream. I’ve gone on little personal vacations where I’ll go away all by myself and sit and curse at the TV for the whole weekend. I’ll go, ‘Yeah right, f—er! S—! A–hole!’ And just get it out.” Doing The Truman Show, Carrey says, was as purging as one of those obscenity-spewing lost weekends. “Like Truman, I’m the guy who it’s not good enough to just say ‘Good morning’ to somebody. I made that line up: ‘Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.’ I feel like I have to cover the whole day because I want you to like me. I want you to think I’m a great guy.”

He still does — it just doesn’t gnaw at him as much as it used to. This past year, Carrey’s been spending a lot of time with his 12-year-old daughter, Jane (from his first marriage, to actress Melissa Womer), and yes, he’s been as smitten as a schoolkid since he and Zellweger began dating several months ago. All in all, he says, he’s a pretty centered cat. “I feel like it’s become much more important for me to have a life and have real human relationships and do my own laundry from time to time and do the menial things I lost touch with when I first became a so-called star,” Carrey says. “And Renee’s taught me a lot of that too. She’s a very connected person. She thinks having a good time is renting a U-Haul and taking furniture to Texas. She’s real in that way and I absolutely love it.”

As much as we’d like to think that movie sets are like hormone-addled high school mixers, where on-screen costars partner up to pitch woo off screen, that’s not how it was with Carrey and Zellweger. Although Carrey says he definitely felt something “chemical” during shooting, they didn’t become a couple until after finishing the film. “It was a very unexpected, wonderful thing,” says Zellweger, 31, who’s currently in London shooting Bridget Jones’s Diary. “It was just a really natural thing to want to be around each other. And we didn’t see each other for a few months after we finished the picture — or really speak even — and I just noticed his absence significantly. It just felt like ‘Wow, I really miss him.'”

Back in his mack daddy convertible, Carrey is all apologies for rambling on about his mental well-being. Granted, it’s mostly during commercial breaks when he’s not swept up in song, but still, it’s as if it suddenly dawns on him how hokey this blissed-out, up-with-people talk might look in print. “It’s just that right now my life is great,” he says, glancing nervously at his interviewer’s tape recorder. “But don’t print that because then people won’t come to the movie just to spite me! ‘I’ll show him how great it is, I’ll go see Gladiator again!'”

Then, quickly whipsawing back into confessional mode, Carrey looks as if a Barbara Walters moment is in the offing. He starts talking about how the awards and accolades he doesn’t get allow him the freedom to do whatever he wants professionally — whether it’s acting in serious films, playing double Dutch with his colon, whatever. And how anyone who doesn’t agree with his choices can kiss his talking butt. “You listen to John Lennon in some of his later interviews,” he says, “and the interviewer’s like, ‘But look at you, you’re a fool! Your hair is long and this and that.’ And he was like, ‘I grew up, man. I’m not a lovable moptop anymore. I have intense f—ing feelings that I have to express and you’ll appreciate it later maybe — when everybody else tells you to. But this is it!'”

There’s a long pause, which, from this Chatty Cathy, feels like an eternity. Then a Police song comes on the radio and Carrey starts singing along — quietly at first, like he’s taking the lyrics to heart and filing them away for use in some dark moment in the future. Then his voice grows louder and louder. Stepping on the gas and racing up into the Hollywood Hills, the king of pain-turned-king of comedy reaches for the volume and turns it up as high as it will go.

“We…are spirits…in the material world…”

Me, Myself & Irene
  • Movie
  • 116 minutes