Was Howard possessed by the spirit of Tim Burton, or what? For all of his proven strengths as a director of stories about real people (from Parenthood to Apollo 13), fantasy worlds clearly aren't a specialty for him (e.g., Willow). His live-action rendering of Whoville, while suitably bizarre, lacks any tangible sense of magic or wonder. Did Carrey think if voters couldn't recognize him under all of his Grinch makeup, maybe they'd accidentally nominate him for an Oscar? Oh, it's him all right, and his unmistakable brand of intense physical comedy risks intimidating as many younger moviegoers as it might enchant.
In any event, to borrow an old expression, if something isn't "broken," why try to "fix" it? "Well, first of all, because you know with Ron Howard being involved, it's going to be something really special, one of those things you just can't say no to. It seemed like such a cool idea that I guess I couldn't help myself," Carrey says with a shrug during a recent interview.
"I've always been fascinated by this story, but the movie was a matter of going someplace new with it. There's really no comparison with the original book or TV show. The movie is its own entity completely, and it's so beautiful to look at. I was caught up in my own performance while we were making it, but now that I've seen the special effects and the whole production design of the film, it sort of takes me back to when I was a kid, you know? It's like Bedknobs and Broomsticks times a thousand."
Carrey laughs and, after a perfectly timed beat, quips, "If I've forever destroyed the original "Grinch" for you, then I apologize. I swear I'll never remake It's a Wonderful Life! How's that?"
Destroyed may be putting it a bit harshly, but it's true that too little of Theodore Geisel's fanciful prose remains intact to fully justify the nod to Dr. Seuss in the title. Like the size of the Grinch's heart at the end of the story, the movie has been expanded to more than three times its original length with a lot of superfluous subplots and boring backstories about how the Grinch came to hate Christmas so much. Another drawback: As the inquisitive, ostensibly adorable Cindy Loo Who, Taylor Momsen is even less dimensional than her animated counterpart from the TV version.
Indeed, the most engaging performance in the film comes from Carrey's canine co-star, Kelly, who beautifully underplays her scenes as the Grinch's dutiful dog, Max. "That's actually a pretty cool story," the actor notes when asked about working with the pooch. "There were three of them, in fact, each with their own special ability, and all of them were rescued from the pound. I thought that was great, and don't you just know they were living it up, going from death row to being pampered on a movie set?"
Depending on where you get your information, Carrey endured anywhere from four to six hours in the makeup chair every day getting into character as the Grinch. (In a separate interview, makeup designer Rick Baker explains with a laugh, "The actual application process took more like two-and-a-half hours, but a lot of it had to do with how long we could get Jim to sit still at one time.") Getting in and out of the Grinch's bodysuit was another hour. And don't even remind him about those cumbersome contact lenses.
"Literally every part of my body was covered. Basically, it was impossible to even scratch my nose. It was a real lesson in Zen. I learned a lot about deferring pain. You know, like pinching myself on the arm or the leg to take my focus off the rest of my general discomfort. It was a challenge, but I got past it. I mean, if they call 'action' and I'm still thinking about my makeup, then I'm in trouble. It's just a little bit of Playtex," Carrey slips.
He laughs again. "Playtex? Latex! I meant latex. Oh, God, there goes my whole career!"
Or that ever-elusive Oscar nomination. For the umpteenth time, of course, Carrey fields The Inevitable Oscar Question from yet another reporter, one of many who believe the actor has been unjustly overlooked for his so-called "serious" work in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. As if by rote, he says, "No, I don't think there's a group of people out there wringing their hands and conspiring against me."
(Earlier this year, when the question came up during interviews for Me, Myself & Irene, Carrey seemed to appreciate a follow-up: Couldn't it simply mean there were five other performances a little better than his? "Gee, thanks a lot," he said, feigning hurt feelings before shifting gears again. "No, really, that's kind of nice to hear for a change, and it's an important thing to remember. Everybody around you is always saying, 'You should've been nominated,' but sometimes it's good to keep things in perspective and say, 'OK. Maybe mine was only the sixth best performance that year.'")
It's pretty much a moot point for Carrey this year. If those aforementioned serious movies didn't do the trick, Irene and The Grinch are no more likely to than Ace Ventura, Dumb & Dumber or any of his other more blatant comedies. "The danger of thinking too much about it is that you start choosing all your parts because they might be good for an Oscar," confesses Carrey, 38, who recently bailed from a movie/one-man-show called The Phonebooth, in which he would've played a despondent soul who spends the whole time on the line with a suicide-prevention counselor. (Instead, he has signed on to do the more heartwarming Bijou for The Green Mile's Frank Darabont.)
"I never want to get uppity, you know? It wasn't like I decided at some point, 'OK, now I'm going to be a serious actor.' I've always loved having fun and being funny, getting down and dirty and doing a comedy like Irene or something like The Grinch. It's a way of throwing the hounds off your trail again, because, let's face it, you've got to have some reason for doing this besides the fact that it's just another payday."
Even if they are $20-million paydays.