Jim Carrey: Smart & Smarter

Jim Carrey's high-wire act continues. The anarchic silliness of the past gets its new due in The Cable Guy, but there are Robin Williams-like changes ahead for the screen's most relentless and successful mugger.

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Jim Carrey strides into the landmark building in downtown L.A., looking like a young, freshly-scrubbed Jimmy Stewart on uppers. The first thing I do is check him out for signs of encroaching madness and incipient asshole-itis. After all, since he and I last met and kicked around such topics as his occasional dips into Prozac, he has run riot through an unprecedented string of blockbusters-- The Mask, Dumb & Dumber, Ace Ventura deux and Batman Forever--and he has bumped up his take for the soon-to-be-released The Cable Guy and soon-to-be-filmed Liar, Liar to $20 million each. He's even been a presenter on the Oscars. Head-rearranging stuff, indeed. And it's not as if storm warnings haven't been broadcast. When Carrey and the original director of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls didn't exactly spark, the star was widely believed to have been instrumental in getting the director cashiered. Consider, too, that Carrey went through a snarly divorce from his first wife, Melissa, who reportedly refused his $500,000 settlement to hold out for something more along the lines of $5 million to $10 million. Then there are the rumors that Carrey's relationship with the funny, beauteous Lauren Holly, begun in the wake of his ruined marriage, is now also on the rocks.

Adrenaline rushes and bouts of depression or not, Carrey arrives today sans entourage and absolutely free of the on-screen manic behavior that makes some people scream with laughter, but suggests to others the ravages of advanced Tourette's syndrome. Sure, he strikes me as a guy with armies of imps and demons on constant maneuvers in his fractured psyche, but he's not flamenco dancing on the edge of the abyss. He appears, instead, to have his demons double-harnessed and pulling all-night shifts.

We park ourselves at a game table on which sits an ornate antique pistol, presumably not loaded. Something John Wilkes Booth might have used on Lincoln or the very thing Renny Harlin might have been tempted to turn on himself during Cutthroat Island. Carrey studies the piece, whips himself into ersatz 'Nam-damage and rasps, "Wanna play Russian roulette, Deer Hunter-style?"

How, I ask, is his head doing these days? I've noted that the new dyed-black shade of his hair and brows has converted his normally pleasant, slightly wiggy Mayberry good looks into something distinctively more working-class, brooding and, somehow, Canadian. "I can't get used to my head right now," he confides. "I dyed my hair black just before I started shooting The Cable Guy and immediately got completely in the doldrums. I couldn't lift myself out of it, because every time I looked in the mirror, I didn't like myself. It definitely put me in a weird place."

All this was necessary for The Cable Guy? "'The movie is a combination of hilarious and really unsettling. The role itself is very, very funny, but it's deeply disturbing. Putting myself in this guy's character all the time is a tough thing to do. I get so depressed that some days I can't even...well, let's say it's very bizarre."

Wait a second. Isn't The Cable Guy just a comedy in which Carrey's aggressively lonely cable installer bedevils sweet, non-assertive cable subscriber Matthew Broderick? Besides which, it's not the first insane hairdo that's ever sat on Carrey's head--there was Ace Ventura's pomaded, cool-jerk tidal wave, the Greco-Romanesque 'do of Dumb & Dumber (co-opted, apparently, by Brad Pitt and George Clooney and so many others), the Riddler's orange sherbet spikes. "It's deeply disturbing to play this guy who is, like, 'the friend who needs too much,'" says Carrey. "He's a guy whose mother sat him in front of a television and went out looking for guys, so he grew up with the Partridge Family's mother as a surrogate. He needs a friend really, really bad and drives Matthew Broderick insane because of that need. This character has messed with me. I go home feeling this guy. I tell you, man, I can't wait to shave my head."

So, might one presume that this cable guy's neediness strikes a chord in Carrey, whose family history (depression, near-homelessness, illnesses real and imagined) sounds more like a family out of Eugene O'Neill than out of sitcomland? "Well, I'm just a freak like the rest of us," he concedes, grinning like a baby grand. "I'd say I've had an even flow of neediness through my whole life, and I got kind of clever about it early. I remember starting out imitating records in the back of the classroom, and when the teacher singled me out and tried to make me feel embarrassed by saying, 'Get up and do that in front of the whole class,' it marked the end of all normal life. I got up, did it in front of the whole class and learned that committing myself to getting a reaction was very addicting."

So, is Carrey still in the grip of this addiction? "For sure, I have an unnatural need to be noticed or liked. But I don't necessarily gear everything to an audience, going, What are they going to want? I'm not afraid to become a different thing, because I believe talent finds its audience. It's just like the Beatles. They didn't stay put. They changed, made a lot of enemies, lost fans, gained new ones."

Comparing himself to the Beatles, hmm? Has megalomania whupped him upside his head, maybe? Well, since he's inviting comparisons to the Beatles, does he see himself eventually cutting a kind of maharishi, turn-off-your-mind-relax-and-float-downstream groove? "I'm already way past that," Carrey answers, a nicely crazed gleam in his eyes. "I'm already aware of the all-powerful Oz guy behind the curtain. I'm self-educating right now. I have three books going at any one time, I'm reading Plato's The Republic, Intensity by Dean Koontz--which is just, Kill, kill, kill!--and I can never get enough self-help, so I'm also reading Wherever You Go, There You Are. All this self-help stuff helps because we all spend so much time worrying about what the plan is. The only real time we have is the present. That's your life. If you spend all your time worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, you don't really live. It's like Our Town, man."

At this Carrey falls into an uncharacteristic lull, then proceeds, "I'm trying to learn. See, with my first marriage--and this is still a problem--normal, nonwork life was tough. It's a very difficult thing to walk out there, be creative, go through all the craziness, get all the praise, then just go home. Calming myself down is really, really hard."

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