“Are you ready for another metaphysical interview,” Jim Carrey chuckles as he springs into the room at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas, sporting a violet jumper with dark sun shades covering his eyes, which he keeps on for the entire interview. “I’m really stoned right now, so I don’t want you to see my eyes,” he quips, bursting into laughter. “Maximum dilation at this point,” adds in a husky voice.
Joking aside, not only does the spiritual comedian avoid smoking, drugs and alcohol, he restricts his diet to vegetables and meat, and refrains from wheat, dairy, sugar, soda and coffee. “It’s pretty much just protein,” he says. “It sounds extreme and it is for the first 10 days and then what happens is you have this incredible feeling of bliss, kind of being all right everything, and it changes your body too: all the weight drops off and the lines disappear from your face and it’s incredible.”
In addition to his protein diet, he had to subject himself to a twice a day work-out for 3 months in order to get trim for portraying the guerilla street magician, Steve Gray, in his latest movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. “When you have a part like that, you have to kind of be an outward manifestation of the inner life of the character, so what’s he going to be? He’s going to be as vain as possible and self-conscious and all of that. He’s going to show the world that he’s the great and powerful Oz, which none of us can really pull off.”
To inhabit this character, Carrey sought inspiration from famed street magicians Criss Angel and David Blaine, though they were too tame for his taste. “I wanted it to be the next generation, the worrisome generation, the one that makes everybody go Omigosh, where are we going?” he laughs. “So I sprinkled a little jackass in there and a little masochism; all those lovely things people like to watch on the internet.”
Indeed, Gray pushes the boundaries of magic to unpalatable levels in his despair to gain fame and attention and to humiliate the great magician Burt Wonderstone (played by Steve Carell), daring a spectator to punch him in the face, cutting his cheek with a razor blade in order to squeeze out a folded bloody card from underneath his skin, spending the night lying on a bed of burning embers and drilling a hole through his brain with an electric drill.
Although known for burying himself in his characters, Carrey didn’t bother learning magic tricks while preparing to inhabit Steve Gray. “It was not necessary for my character. It was more about these outrageous illusions that I didn’t really have to do,“ he says, flinging his hand in the air. “Real magic is an exhibition and Steve Gray’s magic is an attack, an assault. Magicians came over and taught me some sleight of hand things, but I never really got them down.”
Instead, he did what he always does: rewriting the character to fit his vision. “It was a good script already, but I got to add a lot of my own dialogue and a lot of stuff that is kind of my psychology and mixed with pseudo-spirituality, that is used for the wrong reasons, used to manipulate.”
Interestingly though, Carrey denies possessing any of the Gray’s sense of being unwanted, rejected and an outsider. “Believe it or not, I feel like anything but an outsider,” he stresses.”I feel like everything so I don’t feel like our souls stop at the edge of our skin, so I feel like we are all encompassing. I can’t be contained because I’m the container. I feel that way.”
This kind of introspective philosophy is dominating the interview. The 51-year-old actor finds a deep meaning to everything around him, even to the most mundane. You see, Carrey has found spiritual enlightenment after a bout of depression, which enslaved him to Prozac for a long period of time during the nineties, and he finds it so healing that he speaks about it passionately at length, as if it were his lover. He tells me that he saw God, after spending 4 solitary days meditating in the Arizona mountains, without food and with only 12 fluid ounces of water, during which the sun and the shadows spoke to him and he had an out-of-body experience.
“I get these kind of experiences a lot,” he says, the perpetual grin on his face gives way to an earnest, reflective look. “Yet, it’s the craziest thing, you can still get completely caught up in what you want and what you’re not getting and you’re going through and what somebody is not doing for you.”
“I’ve gone through periods after that where I was an Atheist, where I didn’t believe,” he continues. “I just thought we were scared children who were afraid of the dark and it was all a bunch of baloney. Then every once in a while that story comes up in my head again and I go, ‘the $10 million check that manifested itself and all these wonderful things that have happened to me, I got to remember and not forget.’”
Indeed, the life of Hollywood’s highest paid screen comic ever is not short of a miracle. As a boy, he, and his family, had to live out of a van when his musician/accountant father lost his job. At the age 15, he quit school and worked as a janitor in order to help support his family. Amazingly, in spite of the financial hardship and life of privation, his family didn’t lose its sense of humour and its drive for success.
“My father and mother both lost their teeth when they were 35, so they had false teeth,” he smiles. “So when I’d come around and she’d do aaagghh and stick them out like Alien.” he opens his mouth wide, demonstrating. “It was always fun.”
His inspiration engine was his father, who impelled him to go out and perform in comedy clubs. “I had been entertaining the family my whole life and he brought me down to my first comedy club. He was always there in the front row going ‘go man, go.’” and when the young comedian won a contest, his father was so happy that his false teeth fell of his mouth. “I can’t get this image out of my head,” Carrey laughs, as emotions overwhelm him and tears moist his eyes.
From that humble beginning, Carrey went on to become one of the greatest comedians of his generation, fronting a string of zany blockbusters such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), The Mask (1994), Dumb and Dumber (1994), Liar Liar (1998) and Bruce Almighty (2003). Drawing giant audiences from teenagers to veterans around the world, he distinguished himself from other comedians with his physical comedy and hyperkinetic antics, which he attributes to his father.
“My father was the guy that could hold the attention of the room without even trying,” he smiles proudly, as he begins enacting his father’s body movements. “When he told a story, it was like this and that all over the place, his body would contort and his face would become the characters and everything. I was a little tiny boy and I was looking at that and going that’s something to be because you look at people and they’re all smiling and happy. That’s always what I wanted: to make people happy.”
He insists though that his goal is not solely to induce laughter, but also to stimulate the minds of his audiences with the underlying substance of his humour. “Even Dumb and Dumber: it was a flat out laughfest but in my mind it was about friendship and how pre-egoic innocence wins against the clever ones. So I am not promoting ignorance; I am just saying that innocence is pretty powerful.”
In his quest to be taken seriously, Carrey sought out dramatic leads in movies such as The Truman Show (1998) and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Currently, he is prepping to play a violent ex-Mafia enforcer in Kick-Ass. “I’ve had this urge to show a diversity of parts,” he says. “You won’t even recognise me in that, which is what I wanted.”
He admits though that he is troubled by the violent nature of Kick-Ass, due to the tragic shooting incidents that have plagued the US recently. But he is relieved that his character doesn’t use bullets in his gun. “I think that we’ve become addicted and entitled to violence in a way that I’d like to check in myself,” he says. “I don’t have a tremendous appetite for it especially lately and I don’t want to see somebody’s head get blown against the wall. I don’t want to judge others, but I think that does have an effect on people.”
And he is proud that he hasn’t used guns in his movies. “I want to do as little of that as possible,” he stresses. “Sometimes, a story just has to have that operatic danger without those stakes. I’m conscious of it.”
Amazingly, in spite of some of the serious, philosophical and spiritual topics that we have discussed in this interview, Carrey’s typical grin, that brought laughter to the lips and joy to the hearts of millions around the world, rarely departed his face, even during emotional moments. Being in his company is like watching one of his movies. He is truly a source and a fountain of convivial delight.
His co-stars, Steve Carell and Olivia Wilde, told me earlier that being with him on set was like a magical experience. So much so that they forgot that they were acting and they just wanted to watch and enjoy his performance.