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Jim Carrey, Behind the Mask: The Actor Explains His Viral Red Carpet Interview, Painting, and Life Beyond Slapstick

IndieWire spoke with the actor, who has two new documentaries and serious ambitions, but he might just be messing with all of us.

Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey visits the Variety Studio at TIFF

Quance/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

“It was so much fun for me because she’s amazing,” Carrey said. “It was completely dialed into who I am. I am the hermit. I got to live in the desert by myself for 10 days, cook for myself, hang out under the full moon when the whole crew disappeared at the end of the day. There was this gorgeous girl, really attractive, who said, ‘Can I stay over in the trailer?’ And I said, no, I’m a hermit, I don’t do that.”

He found himself undergoing a reawakening in utter solitude. “It was so quiet out there at night that I could hear the blood rushing over the top of my ear,” he said. “It was like a vacuum. Silence is so important.” He was especially grateful that Amirpour, who was raised on ’90s American movies, found value in bringing him the role.

“She’s young, and innovative and hungry,” Carrey said. “But she grew up with me and admires me as an artist, seeing something beyond the superficial. And yet, I need her. I need the people that grew up with me to give me jobs and appreciate what I do.”

Jim Carrey in “The Bad Batch”

Carrey’s contemplative stance has led him to rewatch old performances. A few months ago, he revisited “A Christmas Carol,” Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture treatment of the tale in which Carrey plays both Ebenezer Scrooge and several ghosts. “I was like, man, this is actually a really good version of this story,” Carrey said. “Originally, I didn’t understand it. But for me and Gary Oldman and the other people involved, those are full performances, not voiceovers. I was happy.”

Carrey’s most daring lead role found him playing a gay con artist in 2009’s “I Love You Phillip Morris,” which included an opening clandestine motel room sex scene that the actor said he pushed to include in the final cut. “I kept saying, you can’t cut the edges off the fucking sculpture,” he said. “Those trips over the edge are important. That’s why people go to amusement parks, to go over the edge. To me, it was funny and lighthearted.”

He has been fighting those battles for years, he said, and built a strategy around it. In one take of “Dumb and Dumber,” he was discouraged from using the word “cunt” while improvising. “I said, ‘I’m not using that word, I’m using it so I can get away with the word I want to use,’” he said. “It worked out perfectly — they had something to cut.”

Carrey has yet to announce another film project, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t staying busy. He produced Showtime’s standup-comedian drama series, “I’m Dying Up Here,” which was just picked up for a second season. In August, he released “I Needed Color,” a six-minute documentary directed by “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” producer David Bushell showcasing Carrey’s ambitions as a painter. (He’s planning a big showcase of his work in Vegas in late September.) Some viewers thought that Carrey’s turn toward a new medium was just another prank, but he insists it’s a genuine, if calculated, move.

“I think there’s a value in getting out of people’s faces for a while,” he said. “I’ve done that periodically throughout my career. I’ve taken two years and not done anything. This time, I went through a lot of stuff. I could’ve done 10 movies in that time. I wasn’t in love with anything. I was at a point that didn’t require a greenlight committee or marketing. So the art — sculpting and painting — was like a direct conduit from the idea to the canvas. It was just pure. It brought me back to my childhood.”

He sold his first painting, a portrait of Lenny Bruce, to Judd Apatow. Then he recruited Bushell to document the work. “I started putting together footage of making art and my thoughts about it, because it goes really deep for me,” Carrey said.

Of course, as “Jim & Andy” proves, Carrey’s serious approaches to his work can also exist as a form of high-concept comedy, so he’s either messing with us or trapped in a never-ending joke he devised long ago. Nevertheless, his latest string of random credits and appearances suggest he’s in a state of transition. “I’m not in a state of wanting anything,” he said. “It’s all just happening. I just want to express myself. Honestly, there’s nothing better for an artist than empty walls.”

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