On a recent sunny afternoon in Venice, I sat in the company of Jim Carrey in a corner of a shaded garden and found before me a human being who is both wise and charming, as well as a handsome fifty-something man who captured my imagination and filled my thoughts for days thereafter. Part spiritual guru, part Saint Francis — yes, there was a bee buzzing around him the entire time, the animal clearly enamored with his scent and the actor unaffected by the imminent danger — Carrey appeared like the romantic hero with a sense of humor I had come across so many years ago. In ‘Once Bitten’ what is probably one of his first and most forgettable films, when I was in my teens and he, well, super young too.
But a few days after our tranquil interview, when we talked to Carrey about his latest project ‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond’, a Vice production premiering at the Venice Film Festival, the actor pulled a red carpet prank at NY Fashion Week and all was hilariously-Jim-Carrey-right-with-the-world once more. I imagined Carrey giggling to himself after our talk, thinking “I got that journalist, I really got her good, now she thinks I’m a smooth, great looking mystic and will write the most beautiful piece about me.”
Or was he?
Had I in fact stumbled upon the real Jim Carrey, the one who has made countless women fall in love with him and has captured the imagination of world audiences for more than three decades, making him a box office idol? The answer is hidden somewhere within his words, this man’s bright amber eyes, that fluid voice with the warmest tone and the kind way in which he interacted with the public and press — and even the armed forces — in Venice. The actor who called the whole experience in the Italian city on water a “dream so good, I’m tempted to keep sleeping.” The Jim Carrey who, with every single one of his answers, gave us a personal, intimate view into his heart and thoughts, and everything he’s been through in his chaotic existence as one of the funniest men who ever lived, yet one who holds the pain of the world within his heart. Somehow, I think you just can’t fake those things.
In ‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton’— documentary filmmaker Chris Smith’s perfect look at the making of Milos Forman’s 1999 film ’Man on the Moon’ about late comedian Andy Kaufman, and yes that is the full title of the film — we discover a different Jim Carrey. One very much like the Charlie Chaplin of our generation — funny to the point of heartbreak. More than once I teared up during Smith’s oeuvre because of Carrey’s candidness when he talks about the lack of satisfaction once you’ve made it, his own battle with depression and his dad’s professional woes. “I learned that you can fail at what you’ve settled for,” he says in the film, talking about his father losing his accounting job at 51, “so you may as well do what you love.”
So is Carrey happy? “Sometimes yes,” he replies, but its “a ridiculous expectation, to be happy all the time.” At least there is no “experience of depression at this point,” he admits, “when it rains, it rains but it doesn’t stay, it doesn’t stay long enough to immerse me and drown me anymore.” There is always something waiting to screw with us around the corner, and Carrey has had his own share of that in the last few years, that’s for sure. But his philosophy is quite zen, “I just think it’s a mistake always to look at anything experiential as something you can solidify and keep in place,” he says, “life can’t be held in place… There will be a flood in Texas and all the shit that’s held in place will be floating.”
‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond’ is the result of the EPK footage that Carrey collected on the set of Forman’s film, but which never saw the light of day because the production company for ‘Man on the Moon’ didn’t want it being used. Until Spike Jonze approached Smith about making a film around that footage and the rest, as they say, is history. Portraying the entire creative process Carrey went through in becoming Andy Kaufman, and Kaufman’s alter ego Tony Clifton, it is an insightful documentary on the development of art but also a reminder of the timeless genius possessed by both Carrey and Kaufman.
Yet, after filming with Forman, Carrey himself admits he needed distance from the character and didn’t participate in the R.E.M. video for their song, so why can he now suddenly live with Kaufman again, with his presence in his life? Because, the actor explains, this “was an experience that I don’t think has happened before very much in film.” Also, for the first time “someone like Chris comes in and looks at my life, doesn’t see it as a “yuck fest”, that I was just a masturbating monkey, you know.” The director realizing instead about Carrey “that I actually was thoughtful about my choices, that those things meant something to me.”
This brings about a bit of reminiscing on two of the three films that, along with ‘The Mask’ changed Carrey’s career path, in 1994 — the trio of comedies we learn in the film a fortuneteller foretold would change his life, make him recognizable to all. The actor admits “you know ‘Liar Liar’ means something to me, ‘Dumb and Dumber’ means something to me, ‘Ace Ventura’ means something to me, you know, the destruction of the ego-ic leading man concept.”
In fact, a lot of thought went into the creation of the strange, fascinating being that is Ace Ventura, which Carrey explains, “I modeled him after a smart bird, a bird that would mock — I walked like a bird, I dressed like a bird, and I made a hairdo that was like a cockateel’s, I mean those are huge risks.” Art and risk, the age-old companions, you can’t have one without the other and Carrey agrees, “if I’m acting or if I’m exploring something creative, painting or sculpting, everything I do risks the total destruction of the piece.” He continues, “I’m often going “god dammit, if this doesn’t work I’ve just put so much work into this painting” but if I don’t do it, you’ll never reach some sublime thing. Some thing that will really touch someone.”
Having watched him play The Hermit in Ana Lily Amirpour’s ‘The Bad Batch’ last year in Venice and now in ‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond’ I wonder out loud which character explains Carrey best. He points around the garden to all and says “all these people, they are all me, and you... Your problems are my problems now.” Oh boy, does he realize what he’s just taken on? I regroup from the instant, gratifying relief I feel for a moment there, having handed Jim Carrey all of my problems in thought, and continue by asking what he is most proud of, today. “I’m not proud as much as I am grateful and excited because this shift of perspective has made it possible to really love the moment I’m in… And there is a gratitude that comes with that, excitement that comes with that and freedom. I’m free of the business, I’m not a business.”
He further addresses his present state of mind by saying, “even though you’ve had an awakening, you’ve had a shift of perspective, reality is pretty propelling and you’ll get a phone call “you’ve had some trouble!”… And “we really need that stuff by Friday!” and suddenly you’re back into that God if I don’t do it, everything will fucking perish and I’ll go away and I’ll live on the street in a box.” Carrey has had his share of trouble of late and he hints at these difficult times by pointing out “some people have come at me in the last couple of years with the intent of breaking off a piece of the Holy Grail for themselves, you know… But the Grail isn’t a thing you can break off. So, they are going to learn that the hard way but it’s not pleasant, you know.”
As kind as Carrey appears during our talk, I’m sure he’s not the man you want to mess with.
We talk about spirituality, “to me heaven and hell are vibrations — hell is noisy and it’s all in your head, you are completely consumed with your thoughts. and believing that you are a separate entity from the rest of the world. And as you go up the vibrational scale you head gets quieter, by the time you get to heaven, which is here,” Carrey points to his heart, “you’re completely quiet.” We talk about his impressive beard in the interview part of ‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond’, and he explains “there is a little bit of ego still in there, the man ego that goes like “I wonder what kind of beard I could grow? I wonder if I could grow a reeeeally good one… “ And you grow it and people are completely consumed with it, it’s all they talk about.” He also hints at taking care of himself, by saying “I figured, I’ve got a few years left with this face.” I’ll admit he’s impressively plastic-surgery and filler free for a Hollywood man, his skin translucent and his body lithe, probably the result of his vegan habits. I’ve sat across from my share of leading men — and Carrey is first and foremost a leading man — and between the cheekbone implants of one famous comedian, and the caked-on make-up of that Oscar winner, not to mention the token orange fake tans, most of my idols have fallen.
But not Carrey, he’s more handsome in person than I ever imagined, calmer, more thoughtful, dreamier.
So does Carrey have any famous last words for us? “No one here is going to heaven, just want to let you know that,” continuing, “all I want is possibly to be thought of as a good energy that was here, a nice fragrance left behind.” And with those words, the Jim Carrey show goes off the air for me in Venice. Until his next work of art, until the next stop on this strange train we call life... Until we meet again.
‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond’ is available for viewing on Netflix.