With his head and his face bearing equal amounts of stubble, Jim Carrey arrives at his production company’s office. He has just shaved his skull for a new role, and dressed in a black suit and white shirt he looks like a happy, prosperous monk. But the name on the door – Pit Bull Productions – reveals far more about Carrey’s true nature.
Born in Toronto, Carrey had an uneventful childhood as the son of an accountant and a homemaker – until Dad lost his job and the family was left homeless and miserable. Carrey dropped out of school in 10th grade and worked at menial jobs to help out. He found better pay doing impressions on the stand-up comedy circuit. His harmless, permanently smiling persona translated to roles in such films as Peggy Sue Got Married and the short-lived TV series The Duck Factory.
The earlier hard times, however, had instilled anger and an edge in Carrey that eventually came out. Mindful that his father had been fired from a seemingly safe job, Carrey tossed out the mainstream act that had him opening for Rodney Dangerfield. He replaced it with a caustic, manic persona who went onstage without a set routine and punished his audience until it responded – sometimes with laughter, sometimes with debris. Keenen Ivory Wayans saw the edge as a strong match for his envelope-pushing Fox sketch show In Living Color and made Carrey the lone white male cast member in 1990.
Carrey scored a surprise hit as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and followed that with The Mask in 1994, another blockbuster, which instantly drove his price from $500,000 to $7 million a film. When Robin Williams vacillated on playing the Riddler in Batman Forever, Carrey jumped into the green suit and had his first global hit. Next: a record $20 million to star in the 1996 film The Cable Guy.
Hardly content to be a rich guy who makes faces and talks out of his ass, Carrey rolled the dice again. His edgy Cable Guy villain darkened the film’s tone enough to horrify studio execs (and audiences, who stayed away in droves). Still, the performance helped Carrey take a step toward serious films. In The Truman Show he played the unwitting star of a 24-hours-a-day reality TV show. Carrey then played quirky comic Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon.
The problem: Those serious turns seriously underperformed at the box office. In fact, 2001’s The Majestic was enough of a bomb for people to start writing Carrey’s career epitaph. The death notices were shelved when Carrey put on his funny hat again and delivered last year’s top-grossing comedy, Bruce Almighty. What’s an ambitious megastar to do? For Carrey the answer is to take the serious route yet again in his new film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a surreal drama about memory erasing that was written by Charlie Kaufman, architect of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.
Michael Fleming sat down with Carrey just as he began working on the role of Count Olaf, signature villain in the film Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, an adaptation of Daniel Handler’s kid-book series. The twice-divorced (most recently from actress Lauren Holly), now single Carrey was clearly getting into character. He seemed tightly coiled, partly because he doesn’t like doing interviews and partly because he had decided to explain certain aspects of his personal life that he’d never talked about before – and he wasn’t sure how his fans might react.
Playboy: You’ve been working around the clock on your new film, and you’ve just shaved your head. Are you feeling overwhelmed?
Carrey: Not today. I just came off the beach in Malibu, near my house. It was the most beautiful day, except for that inevitable paparazzi triangulation.
Playboy: Your Truman Show character has no privacy. Now, with the paparazzi following you, the same has happened to you.
Carrey: This country is getting us ready for The Truman Show. It’s happening. I feel a little scared and sad. They’re slowly desensitizing us to where there’s a video camera on every street corner. Shows on TV are getting more like, “Ha! What a stupid guy, that Joe Schmo or whoever he is.”
Playboy: The Truman Show seemed cautionary in 1998 but now seems prophetic. On The Joe Schmo Show everybody was an actor except the unaware contestant. Joe Millionaire’s contestants were duped into falling in love with a phony millionaire.
Carrey: It’s all unbelievably cruel. I believe in making fun of things that deserve to be made fun of–lies, arrogance. These are things you want to rip down as a comedian. But when you take a guy who’s a good-hearted human and you just go “Woo, woo, woo” behind his head, it’s cruel.
Playboy: Even though they gave him a hundred grand?
Carrey: A hundred grand means nothing. What are you buying– his humiliation and misery? It feels as if we’re just desensitizing people to the point where it will be all right to take a baby and do whatever you want with it. Or to kill somebody on camera.
Playboy: Meanwhile, celebrities get more and more coverage. How do you feel when you see an E! show consisting totally of people like yourself being stalked by the paparazzi?
Carrey: Unacceptable. Way over the edge, man. That channel is now eating its young.
Playboy: What do you say when they ask for an interview?
Carrey: I don’t do it.
Playboy: What about the argument that it’s the price of being rich and famous?
Carrey: I don’t think that argument holds water. We should respect the people who entertain us and make us feel good–unless I’m acting like an idiot, which I’m not. I know they justify it in their heads, but it can’t make them feel good. Unless they’re drunk or stoned and completely fogging over their feelings, I know that in their private moments, when they’re lying in bed staring at the ceiling, they can’t feel good about it. Taking is taking and giving is giving. Period. There will be a reckoning in their lives.
Playboy: What do you mean?
Carrey: There will be some kind of unexplainable disease, something that happens in your life that makes you go, “Why me?” And I’m here to tell you, it’s because of the choices you made.
Playboy: So you believe in karma?
Carrey: Absolutely, without a doubt. But this isn’t karma; this is the truth eating you alive. You can justify things all you want, but every human being knows the truth. To follow someone around with your lens like a little sneak–it hurts your spirit on this planet.
Playboy: Do you feel this strongly because you see yourself as a victim?
Carrey: I just feel it as a human being. I’m always looking at myself. I’m in no way perfect, but I’m always challenging myself to try to be better–in what I eat and what I read. I’ve always thought that a higher level is possible, and I’m always looking for it.
Playboy: When you played a guy with a split personality in Me, Myself & Irene, advocacy groups complained that you belittled the mentally ill. Isn’t everyone guilty of insensitivity, even you?
Carrey: I wasn’t trying to be insensitive at all. To me it was like a cartoon. I don’t want anybody to be hurt by what I do. If that in some way hurt somebody, I’d feel terrible. But it wasn’t intentional. Maybe that’s the difference: I was being funny.
Playboy: Do you understand the appeal of E! and other celebrity coverage?
Carrey: I’m not completely innocent here. I’ve indulged in it too. I watch those shows sometimes, but I know it’s a disease. It’s leading us down the wrong road, man.
Playboy: You’ve done more than watch these shows. Before Man on the Moon came out, the media reported that, in character as Andy Kaufman, you got into a fight with Andy’s wrestling nemesis, Jerry Lawler. Wasn’t that a calculated press stunt to boost awareness for a movie that needed visibility?
Carrey: I’m not really allowed to tell you what happened, so either way I’m screwed. I think an interesting byproduct was seeing how little had to happen to put the media into high gear– helicopters flying over the building, top story across the country. I sat in a hotel room watching and said, “Andy lives.”
Playboy: You talk about the entertainment media as if it were pornography.
Carrey: I don’t know what my attitude toward porn is. I’ve studied a lot of Taoism. It talks about trying to find a higher place and not wasting your sexual essence, how these Chinese guys live to be 120 because they don’t waste their essence. They might have sex, but they don’t waste it all the time. I guess if you’re going to squander your chi, the pages of Playboy are as good a place as any.
Playboy: Squander your chi?
Carrey: There’s a quote for you: Go ahead and squander your chi. But I guarantee you heaven isn’t in Miss March’s pussy. Sure, it looks good; it feels good. I have nothing against it.
Playboy: Wait–are you telling us you’re celibate?
Carrey: Oh, no. I don’t believe in that. I do believe in staying in balance. I’m not celibate, and I do masturbate. But not like a fiend. I believe in moderation. I think there’s an energy source. It’s like anything else: You can’t eat cake all day long or you waste your energy. And you get gray, lose vitality. And I’m really good at sex.
Playboy: You are?
Carrey: Nah, I just thought I’d put that out there.
Playboy: If heaven isn’t sex, where is it?
Carrey: Heaven is on the other side of that feeling you get when you’re sitting on the couch and you get up and make a triple-decker sandwich. It’s on the other side of that, when you don’t make the sandwich. It’s about sacrifice.
Playboy: So it’s about not indulging.
Carrey: It’s about giving up the things that basically keep you from feeling. That’s what I believe, anyway. I’m always asking, “What am I going to give up next?” Because I want to feel. It’s been my drive since I was a little kid, actually.
Playboy: Name something you gave up that gave you comfort.
Carrey: I don’t eat wheat, I don’t eat dairy, I don’t smoke cigarettes, I don’t smoke pot. All these things I’ve enjoyed. I live very sparingly.
Playboy: It sounds a little monastic.
Carrey: It is, a little bit. But I’m an experiment, you know? That’s how I see life. I’m not trying to put myself higher than anybody or anything like that. But I am my own experiment, and I love that. Physical health to me is my hobby. Psychology and spiritual life fascinate me to no end. When everybody wants to go to a rave, I like nothing better than to go home and read my books and say some prayers and meditate and try to break through. I’m always trying to break through.
Playboy: For how long have you been abstaining from these creature comforts?
Carrey: I have been struggling to do it my entire life.
Playboy: But you’re a wealthy movie star–you’re in a position to deny yourself comforts. Most people don’t have that many comforts to begin with. They have overdue bills and abusive bosses.
Carrey: That’s denial, man. That’s like obese people lobbying to call their situation a disease. I don’t believe it. God bless obese people, but they’ve got work to do.
Playboy: So you’ve given up pot, too?
Carrey: I think people underestimate the power of things like marijuana, the addictive quality. It’s not that the substance itself is addictive; it’s the stimulation of the pleasure center of your brain. It becomes an easy way out, an instant vacation. That’s addictive. I know people who have been stoned every day of their lives, for 50 years. They seem fine, but they are not getting to a higher level.
Playboy: Like who?
Carrey: I hung out at the Comedy Store with Richard Pryor and people who struggled when they wanted to do it straight. I stood in a parking lot one night with Richard when he said, “I don’t remember. I don’t remember 40 years. I don’t feel like I did it.” And of course he did it. But that’s the trick. You can do it without that stuff. You don’t need it if creativity becomes your high.
Playboy: You’re telling us that when you’re in your big house alone you don’t sometimes think, Screw it, I’m going to eat a gallon of ice cream?
Carrey: I have moments. But mostly I stay on my thing. I might have one day a week when I go off and have a glass of wine. I’m not completely dogmatic. But I keep honing this thing, this experiment. I fear that 90 percent of people are going to look at this and think, He’s turning into a head case. I’m not. This is about my not wanting anything halfway.
Playboy: You must have splurged somewhere.
Carrey: I’ve never been really decadent. Honestly, I don’t put a lot of onus on the things in my life. I have things. I try to keep my life fairly simple. I have a plane, and that’s an incredible luxury. But it mainly saves me so much stress because I travel so much.
Playboy: Your own plane? That’s a big comfort. How does that save stress?
Carrey: Not having to deal with the airports and the paparazzi, all that is involved with an airport. It’s a worthwhile investment in my peace of mind. I’m all about keeping myself in a healthy place so that I can go the duration, man. I want to make it to 120 years old. I’ve got a date to run a 10k on the Great Wall of China when I’m 90.
Playboy: Some people might say that this is just a fad–that during the next round of interviews for a movie you’ll be pounding a Big Mac and supersizing.
Carrey: Or drunk at the Oscars, holding my genitals? I’d never say never, but if I was doing that at McDonald’s, I’d just get back on my thing. I always have. Each time I go off and have one of those moments, it’s a shorter span of time before I get back on my game. I don’t promise anybody that I’m perfect. This is just my experiment.
Playboy: Do your friends think, Gosh, Jim, you’re not as much fun to hang with since you’ve turned into this Amish guy?
Carrey: I’m not as much fun for somebody who just wants to get wasted. I’m too confrontational to be around. But I don’t judge people. You want to get wasted? I’ll pass it to you. Here you go. You’re your own judge. I don’t want to judge anybody.
Playboy: You came up alongside comics who became stars and were overcome by excess. After John Belushi became a movie star, people around him wouldn’t let him have a bad moment even if it meant feeding him drugs.
Carrey: That’s bullshit. It was his fault. John Belushi was a strong-willed motherfucker who’d kick your ass if you told him how to live. This is the mistake people make. Why couldn’t someone talk to Elvis? Well, good luck. You were out the door if you did. It’s this habit we have of shirking our responsibility to ourselves.
Playboy: Many comics, such as Sam Kinison, seemed to work best when they were standing on the edge of a precipice.
Carrey: Sam was in total denial. He created a beast he couldn’t get away from. I’m not saying that’s ultimately what happened to him. But I know his struggle. He was always going back and forth. He’d come up to me and go, “Hey, Jim! We’re drug-free Christians, man.” We’d laugh because I was always trying to be straight and healthy. Then he’d go on Howard Stern, and Howard would say, “You know, you’re not funny when you’re not stoned.” And he’d be right back doing it again. And this is the trouble–when you create the beast, you’ve got to be the beast, you know? I’ve got enough of a beast in me, man.
Playboy: You are a perfectionist. Does this come at a high personal cost?
Carrey: Sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I don’t want to do it. Especially things like this. I twist for three days before I sit down and talk to somebody like you. How do I try to speak my truth in an interview like this, to describe this trip that I’m on, without coming off like a self-important asshole?
Playboy: You just say what’s on your mind and take your chances. People will respond, or they won’t.
Carrey: I’m trying to make sure that I’m a lion who likes to act like a monkey and not a monkey who likes to act like a lion. Don’t ask me to explain it.
Playboy: You shaved your head for Lemony Snicket. Why not put on a skin wig?
Carrey: I don’t mind being a bit of a freak while I’m doing a movie. It gives me an excuse. It keeps life interesting. It scares me a little bit sometimes, because it puts me in a certain place that bangs up against where I want to be in my life spiritually. When you try to live a good life, one of the things you don’t concentrate on is “How will I be self-loathing today? How will I hate God’s creation?”
Playboy: Did taking on the roles of Andy Kaufman and his alter ego, Tony Clifton, take a toll?
Carrey: Oddly enough, that one energized me. I was so lost in that character that I wasn’t myself. I looked at it like this: Let’s not be an actor doing Andy Kaufman’s life story. Let’s be Andy Kaufman coming back from the dead to do his life story. When I came out of it, it was as if I’d had a vacation from being Jim Carrey. I didn’t think as I think, I didn’t act as I act, I didn’t make choices as Jim Carrey. I had gone off the planet. It was probably how you feel when you die–you just go, “Ahhh, what a rest.”
Playboy: It’s remarkable that you could lose yourself so completely.
Carrey: It was actually spooky at the end. I had to sit for about three weeks and ask, “What do I believe again?” I lost track of my own likes and dislikes. I do know that it’s possible to program your brain. It really is. I’ve done it my whole life. Everything I have is because of a constant kind of brainwashing that I’ve done to myself.
Playboy: You have been prescient. You wrote a postdated $10 million check to yourself when you were poor, and when the date came up you had the money to cover it. You told yourself you were going to be one of the five biggest actors in Hollywood, that every major director would someday want to work with you.
Carrey: Is working with me.
Playboy: So you consider this approach to be pretty successful?
Carrey: The whole thing is all good brainwashing. Not “I’m going to do this,” but rather “I am doing this.” I’ve always said it in the present moment, as if it already exists. I may not be connected to it yet, but it exists. When people ask me about an Oscar, I try to be polite about it. But I’ve already won it. In my head I’ve won Best Actor.
Playboy: For which role?
Carrey: I don’t know what the role is. I want that to surprise me. I’m not being arrogant. I don’t have some sense of entitlement. It’s just that I’ve experienced it already. I just work this way.
Playboy: Does that block out fear?
Carrey: It just seems to program the computer. If it’s God’s will as well, then it’ll happen and connect with my thought. If it’s not, it won’t.
Playboy: What goals are you programming now?
Carrey: I have four more things in my wallet right now.
Playboy: What are they?
Carrey: I can’t tell you.
Playboy: Come on, give us one.
Carrey: No. That’s between me and God.
Playboy: Are they professional or personal?
Carrey: They’re career things, they’re life things, they’re spiritual things– they’re everything.
Playboy: You’re not gearing for a run for governor of California, are you?
Carrey: Let’s hope not. No, everybody would be in a lot of trouble if I did. I may do it in the movies, just so I can say what I need to say.
Playboy: You come from Canada but have talked about becoming a dual citizen so you can vote.
Carrey: I’m in the process.
Playboy: Would you have voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Carrey: I like Arnold. I have no idea how qualified he is. The whole power of celebrity in this country scares me, the idea that we trust this guy and feel we know him because he’s in a movie. If he mentions his frigging movies one more time in one of his speeches, I’m going to vomit. Dude, you’re a politician now– speak about the issues. There is something dark and evil going on in the Republican Party that’s just too frightening to get into.
Playboy: Care to elaborate?
Carrey: I love this country. I came here from Canada with huge dreams, and America gave me everything I ever imagined and more. But I think we’re in a lot of trouble. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to hurt us. We might wake up one day and go, “Wait, we’re the bad guy?” We’ve got to be careful.
Playboy: You mean the invasion of Iraq?
Carrey: I mean everything. Our business overseas. How we treat each other. Insensitivity to people, to other races and countries. God knows I feel for our soldiers. It breaks my heart that people are dying, and I appreciate that they protect us. But I wonder how far that $87 billion might have gone in showing goodwill to the rest of the world had we taken it and said, “How can we help you?” We might have won the hearts and minds of the Arab people.
I just hope Bush and those behind him have their hearts in the right place. We’re there now. We have to see it through. If their hearts aren’t in the right place and this is about oil, there’s no bunker thick enough or deep enough to get away from God’s bunker buster. I also believe we should stop writing cute messages on bombs. It isn’t funny–it’s cruel, and it doesn’t do the soldiers any good. If we’re going to write anything on a bomb, it should be “God bless whoever this lands on and may God forgive us all, on both sides.”
Playboy: Let’s change the subject. When you started out as a stand-up comic, what was your goal?
Carrey: When I started I wanted to please my mom and dad.
Playboy: Yet you abruptly scrapped your mainstream act as an impressionist and replaced it with something much edgier and more unpredictable.
Carrey: Oh, I’d have a war with the audience some nights. I’d go to war.
Carrey: I just felt like it was my mood at the time and it was dishonest to give them anything else. So I would go to the Comedy Store and pull the guns out and start firing.
Playboy: Did you have a plan when you took the stage?
Carrey: Sometimes I had no plan at all. I went up six months in a row and told myself that I wouldn’t repeat a word I’d said the night before. Every night was like death. I was bleeding with sweat before I’d go onstage, because I wouldn’t allow myself to repeat a joke or a line. I went up there with nothing.
Playboy: What was the reaction?
Carrey: The comics thought it was incredible. They were all lined up at the back of the room going, “Do you know what he’s doing?” Kinison would say, “You’re not going to save any of that shit, man? That was funny shit.” And I’d go, “Nope. Not gonna do it.” It was brutal, and two thirds of the time it was absolute shit. I got chairs thrown at me, and I got in fights.
Playboy: You had the added pressure of supporting your parents and siblings. That must have been tough.
Carrey: Well, yeah. It was hard when I threw my impression act out completely.
Playboy: Why do it then?
Carrey: Because when you juggle for five minutes, they call you a juggler. That’s it. Now, since I’ve developed other things, I can bring an impression back–in Bruce Almighty I do Clint Eastwood. It’s fun, but it’s not who I am.
Playboy: Who guided you when you made that transition?
Carrey: My dad was really instrumental in the creative decisions I made. He was a jazzman, an orchestra leader.
Playboy: Your father was also an accountant who lost his job. Did that show you the downside of playing it safe?
Carrey: For him it was a combination of fear and responsibility. He was a very, very good man. But I used to think my dad was a coward.
Carrey: Because he was such a nice guy to everybody, and he got run over in life. He got fired when he was 50, and no one wanted him anymore. He was always the guy who would give you the shirt off his back, and I used to look at that and go, “That’s not honest. It’s not entirely honest to be the nice guy all the time.”
Playboy: Did you ever say that to him?
Carrey: Not really, no. It was who he was. He loved people and showed me nothing but love, and I could never look at that in a bad way. But you learn from your parents. What I learned was not just to give everybody everything they want. They don’t know what they want. And they’ll eat you up and spit you out without even meaning to.
Playboy: What’s the alternative?
Carrey: If I got into a place where I felt pigeonholed, I would do the opposite until everyone forgot what I used to do. That came from seeing how it turns out when you pander to people. You’re asking to be kicked in the teeth.
Playboy: You first made good money doing impressions as Rodney Dangerfield’s opening act. Audiences liked you.
Carrey: I saw where it was going. I saw it leading to Vegas and opening for people. Or if you’re Rich Little, you become the Impressionist Guy. God bless him, but it was not good for me. This soul is too big to be housed by that.
Playboy: Dangerfield took you under his wing. What did you learn from him?
Carrey: More than anything, he supported my creative whims. When I stopped doing impressions and started spiking my hair and doing weird things, he still hired me. He’d stand off to the side and laugh, and when I came off he’d say, “Man, those people think you’re from another fucking planet.” He’s an incredible character. And he treated my father like gold, which was very important to me.
Playboy: You’ve drawn clear lines about not discussing whom you date. Did you get burned?
Carrey: You do learn that if you’re telling the truth it’s going to piss somebody off. But the press knows. They know that the celebrities who stand in front of the paparazzi are, you know, half going, “Just be cool. It’s okay. This serves a purpose. It gets the publicity out,” and half going, “These are the fucking people who follow me around! What am I doing?”
Playboy: The attention defines some entertainers.
Carrey: Yeah, there definitely are people out there who would do anything to get some publicity. I’m not qualified to speak for everybody. I’m kind of in rarified air. The main thing is, I just don’t believe in meanness.
Playboy: Comedy is sometimes mean.
Carrey: Sometimes I trip into it as a comic, but I have trouble reconciling that, too. Try to find a comic who isn’t angry when he’s 70. Why is George Carlin pissed off? He’s brilliant. But the man is so angry it’s getting unnerving. It’s like he practically doesn’t want to live on this planet anymore. I try to understand why that’s happening, because I don’t want that. I want to be a loving human being. I want to look at the world with joy and gratitude and see the things that are good about life.
Playboy: Your newest movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is about a couple who have their relationship erased from their brains. Why did you do it?
Carrey: What drew me is the idea that everybody has someone they’d rather erase: “Gosh, if I could just suck that out of my brain and my heart and never deal with it again, it’d be fantastic.” Everybody identifies with that, has some relationship that hurts so bad that they just wish they could make the ghosts go away. You can’t, of course.
Playboy: The hardships you and your family endured after your father lost his job have been well chronicled. Would you erase that pain?
Carrey: Well, there was only one time when I felt something really horrible was going on. That was when we were all doing the job at Titan Wheels [a tire manufacturer]. The whole family was working. My dad was doing the night shift, and I was doing afternoons and going to school in the daytime. I saw it changing us, making us hateful and bigoted. I empathize with kids who go to school and can’t understand or don’t want to understand what the teacher is saying. I was so angry then, I just wanted to bash someone’s head in.
Carrey: Yeah. I used to carry a bat on my cleaning cart. This factory was half Jamaican and half Indian–you know, Sikhs. Everybody had daggers and knives, and it was like a race war going on. I was in the middle of it.
Playboy: What did they do to make you so angry?
Carrey: They’d taunt me. They’d pile their chicken bones two feet high in the corner of the cafeteria because they knew I’d have to clean it up. Or they’d take a shit in the sink. Constantly trying to push my buttons to the point where I walked around with a cleaning cart and a baseball bat, just waiting for my opportunity to crack a skull. It was bad. I wanted to hurt somebody. I was caught up in anger. So I get how that feels. I understand.
Playboy: Would you be who you are now without those experiences?
Carrey: It definitely gave me an edge. And I don’t think anybody is interesting on-screen unless they have an edge of some kind. There’s a reason Russell Crowe is popular, besides being an excellent actor. The guy is an edgy dude. And all of us kind of live vicariously through guys who can bust some heads for us. I think an edge is interesting to watch. To have that, you’ve got to risk.
Playboy: In Living Color gave you your start, but it wasn’t Saturday Night Live. Would you rather have done SNL?
Carrey: I never made it in the normal way everybody makes it. I tried out for Saturday Night Live. The day I auditioned I went over to NBC, and as I’m getting ready I’m going, “Am I meant to do this?” I got out of my car, and an NBC page was standing on the ledge on the 10th floor of the NBC building, trying to work up the nerve to kill himself. And I just went, “This isn’t going to happen. This is not going to happen today.” Because I read the universe all the time and generally get my answers real quick.
Playboy: That could be taken as some kind of sign.
Carrey: Yeah, and all these news crews were coming out of the building. And this guy was shuffling toward the edge, trying to decide whether to kill himself or not.
Playboy: Did he?
Carrey: I don’t know. I never heard. I went in. So the whole time I was in there I was thinking, Is he dead? Did he die? But I never watched the news. I forgot about it. That’s how desensitized I was. It was all about whether I was getting on the show or not.
Playboy: On In Living Color you were known as the white guy. Did you have any idea who’d be the biggest success? Surely it wasn’t going to be the Fly Girl named Jennifer Lopez.
Carrey: God bless her, man. She went for it. That’s a driven woman. Unbelievable how well she has done. Incredible. But she’s paying for it big-time, too. I didn’t really have any notions about it, honestly. Sometimes I’d talk with Damon Wayans, who by year three had started getting opportunities and was on the way out of the show. He was tired a lot of the time, and I’d say to him, “But this is it, man! We made it already.” I was aware that this was a rung on the ladder, but I wanted to enjoy it. What if it wasn’t? What if this was as high as I was going? So I worked it to the very last show. Probably a little desperately.
Playboy: You’ve convincingly beaten the crap out of yourself in Liar Liar and Me, Myself & Irene. Does it hurt?
Carrey: I hurt myself on Me, Myself & Irene. I’d sprained my ankle during rehearsals in the scene where Renée kicks me in the mouth and sends me over the fence. So for the rest of the film, when I’m running after the car, jumping on the car and doing all this stuff–it’s all with a sprained ankle. I still have scarring on my bones. I don’t generally hurt myself that much, but there were a lot of bumps and bruises on that movie. And I was in hell in that Grinch costume, too. It was like knives were stuck in my eyes.
Playboy: Because of the thick, colored contact lenses?
Carrey: Yes. It was just the worst situation comfortwise you could possibly imagine. But still, when they said “Action!” I was free, you know? There’s something about that suspended life moment. When they say “Action!” I’m free.
Playboy: You grew up loving Jimmy Stewart and played a role he would have taken in The Majestic. It didn’t do well.
Carrey: It was a beautiful movie. I think what it missed was some humor. If you’re going to do a hats-off to Frank Capra you’ve got to have the part when the gymnasium floor opens up and everybody falls in the pool and he’s stepping on her robe and she’s naked, jumping behind a bush. This film took itself a little too seriously. Too sentimental. It’s odd when people go, “Well, how do you feel that this failed?” I never see it as failure. How can it be? This was 500 people working for four months. We turned on a town and gave them significance. I learned to be a better actor and met Martin Landau. Andy Kaufman? A frigging triumph! I don’t think it was meant to do a lot of business, because Andy didn’t do a lot of business. We were true to him and polarized the same people.
Playboy: What about The Cable Guy?
Carrey: Huge success! It has become this weird cult movie. So much focus was put on the money I made, and people came gunning for it. It’s not Shakespeare, but there’s some funny shit in that movie, man. It was dark. The mistake the movie company made was to tell people it wasn’t dark. The audience got surprised. It’s a dark, psychological, in-your-face comedy. I felt I’d done something fairly brave and that we had huge laughs doing it.
Playboy: You aren’t big on sequels. Did it bother you when New Line cast a lookalike for Dumb and Dumberer, a widely panned Dumb and Dumber prequel?
Carrey: Yes, it did. It was an odd kind of compliment and an odd, creepy thing to do, to dress somebody up and try to pass him off as me. That shouldn’t happen until you’re dead, right? I felt for that guy. He did a good impression.
Playboy: Would you coax your 16-year-old daughter to go into show business?
Carrey: No one coaxed would ever fucking make it. If she has a burning desire beyond belief to make it in this business, she’ll do it. No one can make it otherwise. No way. There are too many fucking humiliating things. She’s going to be accused of nepotism. But she has talent, and that will prove her or not prove her. She’s really a smart girl with a beautiful voice. She’ll make it if she commits.
Playboy: Having been forced to leave school for financial reasons, are you a stickler about her getting a degree?
Carrey: I want her to. I feel there’s some kind of solace that comes with finishing things. I don’t think about it so much anymore. I left halfway through 10th grade, but I read and I have a hunger for information and knowledge. Psychology has always fascinated me. One reason I love acting is that you always have to figure out where a character came from, what his parents did to him, what happened here. It’s like being a psychologist of some sort.
Playboy: You’ve been married twice; now you live alone. Do you miss having somebody around?
Carrey: It’s less about that than about wanting to be real with somebody. I want to love somebody without walking around in a secret turmoil and feeling like I’ve been made to be something I’m not. Somebody I can be nakedly honest with–that’s who is going to win my love.
Playboy: Given your current level of fame, how do you date a woman and know if she’s responding to you and not to your stardom?
Carrey: Sooner or later the monster shows its face.
Playboy: How do you know?
Carrey: I think we’re all innately psychic. We’re like dogs, man. We smell it. Sometimes we deny it, but we know it. We know when somebody loves us because they love us. I’m pretty sharp.
Playboy: Do you still go into relationships with an open mind, or are you cynical?
Carrey: The scariest thing for me is to change my mind and possibly hurt somebody. I don’t think about being hurt as much as I think about possibly waking up one day and wanting something else and hurting that person. That’s the fear, I guess. I want to have a lifelong love; I just don’t know if that’s real anymore.
Playboy: Maybe you’d be a better husband now because you are less needy.
Carrey: I wasn’t needy. I was perhaps not as tolerant as I could be. Perhaps I just picked people who were not good candidates to begin with, who weren’t necessarily a good match.
Playboy: Given your spirituality and your desire for dramatic roles, are you still a comic at heart?
Carrey: It is difficult because I’ve trained myself to be this comedic mind. That entails looking at something and deciding what’s funny about it. What’s funny about anything is what’s wrong with it. So you’re judging what’s wrong with something or someone all the time, every day of your life. Down the line, that’s got to take a toll. You can’t end up being a happy guy if you spend every minute of your life going, “President Bush–what a fucker!” You may think that from time to time–and I certainly do–but I also don’t believe that he necessarily thinks he’s doing something wrong. Some people can look at life and go, “That’s the beautiful thing, that’s the beautiful thing. Hey, there’s a beautiful thing.” And that’s where I’m trying to put myself.