He’s the man of a thousand voices and, as he once acknowledged himself, a man of a thousand faces, and a man of perhaps a thousand different personalities in his head. Canadian-born Jim Carrey has taken on so many personalities over his 25+ year career, from a wise-cracking pet detective in the Ace Ventura films to a cartoonish, green-faced superbeing in The Mask to a dimb-bulbed limo driver in Dumb And Dumber to a deranged cable installer in The Cable Guy to Andy Kaufman in Man On The Moon to The Grinch, and this is just in the 1990’s alone.
But as the 49 year-old comic has evolved, Carrey shows he’s equally adept at playing it straight as he does as Tom Popper in the family film Mr. Popper’s Penguins. But even for a straight role, Carrey is legendary for even turning his promotional appearances into a comedy show.
“I said, ‘Hello!’” Carrey calls out as he entered the room to be interviewed, “I feel like I’m at a pyramid scheme meeting. I’m an executive recruiter.”
His introduction to us only continued this pattern.
“I’m Adam Sandler, and I work a lot,” Jim blurted out as he greeted us.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins is an adaptation of the children’s book of the same name by Richard and Florence Atwater. Jim plays the title character, a businessman who suddenly inherits six penguins. Some parts of the movie were filmed using CGI effects to create penguins, some using animatronics, and some used real-life penguins. The comic shared the experience of all these different methods.
“I didn’t really have any idea how we were gonna go about it, you know, on a day-to-day basis,” Carrey explains, “What happened is I loved working with the real penguins, you know? Animatronic penguins were a little issue because everybody has a cell phone or some kind of plate in their head or whatever, these days, or some kind of electronic gizmo, iPads and things coming out of everywhere, and so you got guys on joysticks going, ‘Is that you?’ ‘It’s not me!’ ‘Is that you?’ It moves its head. It’s like Jacob’s Ladder, like this, when I’m trying to act with the penguin. So, uh, we opted for a lot of CG stuff, but most of it is real penguins and because I love working with animals.”
“I kind of like to join their energy, “ he continues, “And, oftentimes, we’d come in on the set, and they wouldn’t be there, and we’d be ready to be working with the x’s on the floor or the little tennis balls or whatever it is, and, uh, you’d hear them off in the distance in their habitat. They’d be interrupting the dialogue, anyway. So I go, ‘They might as well be here,’ you know? ‘Bring them on in!’ And a lot of times we did that.”
It was mentioned to Carrey that there was an actual habitat that the penguins lived in during the entire shoot.
“Which they loved,” Jim replies, “There was no hanky-panky on the set, but the penguins were going at it, which is always a good sign, apparently, with penguins.”
Jim was asked what he would do if someone in real-life inherited him penguins.”
“Eat them, probably!” Carrey answers, with no hesitation.
Carrey is legendary in comedy for his highly expressive face, which has been jokingly according to legend made out of rubber, and once said he would practice in front of the mirror. We asked him if he finds new things he can do to express himself with his face.
“Well, my face kind of operates on its own nowadays,” he answers, “It just kind of does what it wants to do. Sometimes it’s appropriate, and sometimes it’s not, and generally, sometimes in the editing room, [The cast and I] go like, ‘That’s not human! We wanna take that out!’ ‘Wait a second! Eyebrows aren’t supposed to be able to do that!’”
“But I find that I’m still doing things and little tricks and fun things that I created when I was 10 years old,” Jim adds, “All of it comes into play, and the play you do when you’re a kid is so super important. I’m so lucky that my life didn’t get turned upside down until I was 11 because I had a lot of great play and a lot of creativity that still comes into play for me.”
One of the things Jim does in the film that is recognizable from his stand-up comedy days is his Jimmy Stewart impression. He was asked how his earlier stand-up days helped shape his performance for Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
“Well, it certainly makes you more comfortable with yourself and comfortable being creative in the moment,” he replies, “I mean, working with the penguins, you could have a plan, but, you know, they’re going to do what they’re going to do, and you have to be kind of on your feet. So it’s all great training.”
“I used to do training,” Carrey continues, “I used to train, like think of it as training, as going up night after night, without a plan, at The Comedy Store, and two-thirds of the time people would throw chairs at me, and a third of the time it would be a flow that was really kind of God-given and kind of like you felt like lucky to be part of that made me comfortable.”
Carrey was asked what he would be doing if he was not acting.
“Uh, what would I do?” Jim replies, “Well, I wanted to be a veterinarian for about a week of my life, when I was a kid, but then I found out about the whole euthanasia thing, and I said, ‘Can’t commit to that. Sorry. Can’t do it.’”
“But, you know since the very beginning, I looked at my father, and he was commanding the room,” he adds, “Every time we had people over, he stood in the middle of the room, and people were just astounded at his creativity and his animation when he told a story, and I just went lie, there was no choice for me. I was just like, ‘That’s how I’m gonna get over in the world. I want to be that guy.’”
Jim talks about the experience of filming in cold temperatures to keep the penguins in good health.
“The set was so cold that I was fighting pneumonia the entire time,” Carrey recalls, “I don’t know about anybody else, but I was like hypothermic, all the time. A little bit with that. But I think it wasn’t even about the health of the penguins. It was because of their method. That’s what I found out. But then there was going outside when it was 75 and 80 degrees before the giant snowstorm, in five layers of clothing and a parka.”
It was brought up of how much Carrey bonded with the penguins on set that they would all flock to him.
“They don’t call me!” Jim blurts out in reply, “I don’t know what it is! I mean, I gave them the number!”
Jim talks about the experience of shooting on location at Wollman Rink.
“They would have to mop me down at the rink,” Carrey remembers, “Because I’m Canadian so I got the skates on and, ‘Goodbye. I’m not filming anymore. I’m not fantasizing about the Stanley Cup.’”
It was also brought up about how the steadicam operator on the film was a hockey player and how he and Jim played hockey together.
“We went mental together,” Carrey says of the two of them, “We were gone!”
Carrey was asked if the rink was his favorite location.
“Definitely one of them, for sure,” Jim answers, “And the oldest. The Flatiron and Guggenheim, Guggenheim was odd because I felt like I was falling downhill the whole time. It’s that downhill kind of thing going on. But, I definitely say the rink because it has special memories for me, too. I’ve been there several times, myself, and, uh, and I just love to skate. When I put a skate on the ice, I’m free from the world, and I have no problems at all. I am a bird! A penguin!:”
Jim shared with us his favorite, funny memory about working with the penguins.
“I got bit a lot,” he remembers, “That’s a good thing! I think I just loved the dinner scene, that we were supposed to have done just sitting in their chairs just pecking fish off the plates, but it was funny because they had the camera in my face, and then they would dolly back. We didn’t really know what I was going to do with it, and they dollied back, and they had the wranglers, they had broom holes kind of separating and holding back the penguins while, like a horse race or something.”
“And they were trying to get at the fish,” Carrey adds, “And then they go, ‘Okay! Jim, let it go!’ It should be called ‘distracting’, I swear, because it’s mayhem, basically, and I just kind of had to stay with it and have fun with it, but when stuff like that happens, inside I’m going, ‘Yes! Yes!’ ‘Go wild!’ You know? So that was a good memory.”
One of Carrey’s co-stars in the film is veteran British actress Angela Lansbury, best known for the TV series Murder, She Wrote. She plays Mrs. Van Gundy in the film and the comic had this to say about her.
“She’s incredibly tough,” Jim says of her, “4:00AM, she’s up, running us all ragged. It’s unbelievable, enthusiastic, completely into it. I dream of being that enthusiastic at that point in my career. It’s fantastic to watch. It was amazing to work with her.”
Jim shared with us his many other passions he has outside of comedy and acting.
“I have a lot of things going on,” he says, “I’m at a certain point at my life, uh, you know, like, for a long time I was harnessing it in one direction, and it seemed to be a few years ago things just started kind of just spilling over the edges, and I couldn’t control it so much anymore; I kind of let it go wherever it goes. I do have philanthropic concerns, and I try not to make it too loud. I have something called SRI that I’m involved with promoting, which is called System Rice Intensification, but it’s not just for rice; it’s up for other crops, and I’ve been spreading that. I’ve been going around the world, and kind of on a grass-roots level, you know, uh, directly to the farmers, uh, teaching a method of growing rice that uses 50% less water, 90% less seed, and yields four times as much rice.”
“It’s an incredible thing,” Carrey continues, “If you want to check it out, if you’d like to see anything about it, it’s on the, uh, Better U website, Better U Foundation, which is my foundation. Creatively, uh, there’s Twitter. Uh, no. But I also paint. I paint a lot, and, uh, this is a huge passion for me, so, when I’m not acting, I wake up every morning, and I – and I have my coffee, and I pick up a paintbrush, and it’s not just something I do on the sun porch. I have a studio in New York, and I’ve leaked out a couple little things here and there, but one of my paintings is in the movie. It was in my TV den and it’s in one of the scenes. It’s one of me, one of my paintings, but they’re all over the place.”
Carrey was then asked if the paintings he did were impressionistic.
“Uh, conceptual, uh, you know, impressionistic,” Jim replies, “I have a painting right now I’m doing in New York. I can’t wait to get back to it because I have about five more days. I’ve spent 200 hours on. And it’s 16 feet tall and 12 feet wide, and it’s a black-light painting, actually. So it’s definitely viewable in the daylight. It’s a normal painting, but when you turn the black lights on, everything lights up and people come of out of the dark, and it’s kind of interesting. So, yeah, there’s a whole other realm for me that’s happening that I haven’t really revealed to the world, yet, but I will.”