The True Man Jim Carrey
You don't expect a movie of scope and ambition to pop up the sea of summer fluff. And if one does, you don't expect it to star Jim Carrey. Which makes it all the more interesting to hear how the guy who once pretended to wet his pants on The Arsenio Hall Show came to make this summer's smart movie, The Truman Show.
Every time Jim Carrey gets out of his limousine and looks out at the crowd of people waiting to see him walk down the red carpet at the premiere of his new movie, he smiles that full-tooth Ace Ventura smile of his and thinks, "The illusion is complete."
As far as he's concerned, he's still that 10-year-old who sent a resume with a list of 80 impressions he could do to The Carol Burnett Show, the 15-year-old who got booed off the stage at Yuk Yuks in Toronto. Martin Scorsese never heard of Jim Carrey when he cast Robert De Niro as basement talk show host Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy, but Carrey will tell you that De Niro could have been playing him.
Carrey first made an impact on the public imagination when he became the bizarre white guy on TV's In Living Color. Then he took on the big screen as Ace Ventura. Then he became a full-fledged movie star with The Mask. Then he got $7 million for Dumb & Dumber, and $20 million for The Cable Guy, and another $20 million for Liar Liar. And now suddenly, Jim Carrey is starring in The Truman Show, a funny, moving, intelligent and highly original film by world-class director Peter Weir. In the film, Carrey plays Truman Burbank, the only person in a picture-perfect town who doesn't know that since birth he's been the unwitting star of a worldwide 24-hour TV show. The Truman Show is both satirical and poignant, funny and profound. And while it has moments of the familiar Jim Carrey, it also has moments that will make you wonder who Jim Carrey is--and who you are, too.
Carrey and I meet at a chilly, empty warehouse in downtown L.A. which he prefers, as an interview setting, to his Brentwood home, because he is trying to separate his public and private life. He smiles that friendly smile of his as he settles into the torn leatherette couch and says, "This is where I find out about myself. It's like therapy for me, this stuff."
LAWRENCE GROBEL: Do you still read self-help books?
JIM CARREY: Oh yeah. I like therapy. Honest to God, these interviews are enlightening for me, because you don't sit around to figure out what you're thinking all the time. I took 10 months off after The Truman Show when I felt I needed to live--I'd done three movies in a row--and it was the worst thing I ever did in my life. After four months I was dying--I'd had all the heavy thoughts I was going to have.
Q: You've done all kinds of therapy. What are the benefits of colonic therapy?
A: Sometimes you find old jewelry.
Q: What went on during your psychic phase?
A: I wouldn't call it a giant phase. I went to one psychic who told me that there were colors missing from my aura and I had to go and get ribbon from stores. So I went to find different colored ribbons to replace colors of my aura. Somewhere in the process I got hold of myself and said, My aura's going to be all right without the ribbons. Go to mass if you need to do something.
Q: How spiritual is your spiritual side?
A: Very. I pray every day. I talk to God all the time. All the time. I don't go to church, but I'm constantly looking. I wish more than anything in the world to just have one huge face come over the city and go, "It's all real, man."
Q: Let's talk about The Truman Show. What did you think when you first read it?
A: When I read the script I was so happy, because I had thought of this concept. It rings a bell with a lot of people: what if everybody is just an actor in my story? I even had a writer's meeting with a guy about possibly putting it together. And then two years later this script came by and I went, "Thank you, thank you." You don't come out of many movies these days and think, Hmmmm, that was interesting. This is a fascinating film with a lot of layers to it. It's not your regular movie. It just blew me away when I read it. I felt, at the very least they can't fault you for trying something different when you're doing this, because this is different.
Q: How did you and Peter Weir get along?
A: He came to my house a couple of months before we did it and he brought binders full of paintings, photographs, sketches and writings he had done on planes, thinking about the character. He completely inspired me. I went away from the first couple of meetings just reeling. Next thing I know I'm drawing with a bar of soap on my bathroom mirror. I filled the entire wall of mirror with faces--one would have a beard and glasses and a hat on, another would be a beautiful woman with an incredible dress, and I would just move my face into the mirror face. This is what Weir's excitement about the project spurred me into.
Q: Did you watch dailies with Weir?
A: Peter's fascinating in dailies. He's got a little boom box and a bunch of CDs he picked out during the day that he thinks might go with the dailies. He'll sit there and he's like a mixer, he'll play music.
Q: Did you feel anxiety over each scene, as you have in the past?
A: Sure. But I don't let it bother me too much. This one I had to learn to walk away and go, Well, Peter knows what he wants. If I can't trust Peter Weir, then who can I trust? We didn't have any problems that way- If I sat down and really looked at people's expectations, I would get paranoid and not be able to create anything. That's what the movie's about. Everybody's watching the guy who doesn't know he's being watched. It's like the only thing worth watching is this guy who doesn't know.
Q: Are you satisfied with the title of the film?
A: Yes. My daughter turned to me in dailies with Peter and said, "Dad, you just played Liar Liar, and now you're playing True Man."
Q: Robin Williams said doing comedy is like emotional hang gliding, and acting is like oil drilling.
A: What's scary about acting for a stand-up is that with stand-up, you assume that Bill Murray veneer, that nothing matters. No matter what I do, nothing fucking matters, so you can't hurt me. But when you go into a dramatic piece, you say to the audience, Something does matter to me. When you go, I'm me, you're either going to accept or reject me, this isn't a trick anymore, and somebody says, "I don't like you," it's more damaging and horrible.
Q: In the film, Truman says, "Maybe I'm being set up for something." Do you feel that way about your life?
A: Everybody who feels like their life is worth something and they have something to lose feels that: When's the ax gonna fall? I used to walk around the streets thinking, What separates me from that homeless guy? It's literally an accident.
Q: You worked with Francis Coppola in Peggy Sue Got Married. Can you compare Coppola with Peter Weir?
A: With Weir I had come into my own and was more comfortable. With Francis--it was like I wanted him to like me. I was really hungry and trying to be impressive, and I'm sure I came off as pretty obnoxious at times. Every once in a while he'd come out and say, "None of your shit's working." Just to completely mind-fuck me and throw me into a different place.