It was easy to pin down Jim Carrey in his early days, when he was the token white male cast member on In Living Color. He was in it for the laughs. He was doing crazy physical gags, using his rubber face and over-the-top bellowing to elicit well-earned laughs. But when he switched to movies, his scope widened. He was manic in Dumb & Dumber, down-to-earth in The Truman Show, light in I Love You Phillip Morris, dark in The Cable Guy.
In the new comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, starring opposite Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, he’s a little bit of each. His Criss Angel-type magician character Steve Gray is talented, arrogant, nasty and funny. There are even more shades to Carrey when he sits down for an interview, which he did last week in Las Vegas, where the film is set. He’s intelligent, thoughtful, humble... and kind of a nutzoid.
“There’s everything you can possibly think of in Vegas,” he said from a room in the Paris Hotel. “You look out there on the strip, and the energy that’s happening is blinding. I used to open here for Rodney Dangerfield years ago at Caesar’s. To see your name up there on that big sign is such a thrill for somebody when they’re starting out. But then I had a shift, and I went away from the impressions, and I started dressing weird and I had spiky hair and I started imitating cockroaches, and things like that. And I totally lost the audience. Rodney used to stand backstage, and howl with laughter at my failure. I’d get offstage and he’d say (he puts on a Dangerfield imitation), ‘Man, they’re lookin’ at you like you’re from another f---in’ planet!’ Then the maître d’ came over and said, ‘I hope you don’t expect to get asked back looking like that!’ And then Redd Foxx came by, and we got high.”
Carrey has admitted that there have been plenty of highs and lows in his career.
“It’s a roller coaster, for sure,” he said. “There are moments of your life where you go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how insanely lucky I am.’ But then you can turn around in the next moment, and feel so completely caught up in your own wanting and desiring and needing, and feel like somehow you’re missing something.”
Some would say that Carrey’s greatest talent is his ability to wing it, to take an idea and just fly. In this case he pointed out that the film had a great script, and that it’s a good thing to start with a great script.
“But I always like to bring whatever I can to something,” he said. “I’m always thinking. And when we threw that long wig on the character, it kinda did a 180. It required a little bit more of ‘Who is this guy?’ He immediately struck me as someone who had a Christ complex. And the combination of what was written, and being in the moment, is always the best way. You’ve gotta start out with something solid, and then you play! That’s what keeps it alive for us.”
The film also marks what might be the first time Carrey has taken his shirt off in a film, and he’s ripped!
“It was good to finally do that,” he admitted. “I figured that was Matthew McConaughey’s thing, and I was just gonna leave him to it. But being in that kind of shape is really not a natural place to live. It looks great, it gets a lot of attention, but you have to eat, like, antimatter to stay in that kind of shape. It’s not a happy place to be.
“But I’m back now,” he added, grabbing his belly. “I’ve got Mr. Cuddly back, and I’m happy.”