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Jim Carrey on ‘Kidding,’ Cartoons, and Building a ‘Life Raft’ for People in Pain

Delivering a career-best performance in Showtime's dark comedy, Carrey spoke to IndieWire about art, business, and finding hope in both for a happy life.

Jim Carrey in Kidding Season 1 Episode 8

Jim Carrey in “Kidding”

Erica Parise / Showtime

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Right now, Jim Carrey is happy. Sitting on the set of “Kidding” Season 2, he’s just finished an “awesome” sequence that made him feel “like I’m just happy to be alive.”

But Carrey knows that feeling can’t last forever. Sure, he’s going to enjoy playing in the vast creative space of his Showtime series, and more good things will come after it. But Carrey said clinging to happiness at all times is an irrational impossibility; something fabricated on TV, and something he’s not interested in propagating himself.

“We try to put as good a face on as as we can, and sometimes we actually experience real unfettered joy,” he said. “But to try to hold that joy and freeze it in time and have it never be anything else is a lie. It can never happen for anyone. […] Last night, I was sitting outside and I had a tangible feeling of, ‘Man, I’m really satisfied. I feel fantastic right now. I feel joyful.’ But I wasn’t deluding myself into thinking, ‘I’m just going to hang onto this forever.’ Because tomorrow, you get bad news, and you go down that part of the ride. Hopefully you recover from it as quick as you can, but that’s life, you know?”

And that’s what he’s trying to capture in “Kidding.” Instead of making a show about an “ideal,” he wants to make a show about real life. Even though Dave Holstein’s comedy about a children’s show host named Mr. Pickles features magical daydreams, barrel rides over waterfalls, and plenty of puppets, it’s also about an optimistic father struggling to stay positive after the death of his son. Carrey’s Mr. Pickles — Jeff, to his friends and family — isn’t OK, even if he can still bring joy and meaning to people’s lives.

When IndieWire spoke to Carrey, he was in the middle of shooting one such jubilant scene. He said Season 2 is “more surreal” and “more esoteric, but filled with fantasy and really fun departures,” and that he doesn’t feel pressured by the often quick TV production schedule, crediting Showtime for giving him time to hone certain scenes. Carrey said his job is to bring as many ideas as he can to a given scene, so the directors and editors have plenty of options to work with. Perhaps even more importantly, he’s having a great time doing it.

“They’re really going for it this year with some really fun, fanciful stuff,” he said. “I got to ride a bigfoot’s hand over the wilderness, so that was pretty amazing. I actually can’t [believe it]. It’s wonderful.”

Yet on the flip side, Jeff Pickles is coming off his most vicious act yet. At the end of Season 1, he finds out his surviving son’s stepfather is smoking pot — worse yet, bringing drugs into Jeff’s son’s house — and that crosses a line for the vehemently anti-drug Mr. Pickles. In a matter of seconds, Jeff goes from hugging Peter (Justin Kirk) to smashing into him with his car.

Jim Carrey in Kidding Season 1 Episode 7

Jim Carrey in “Kidding”

Erica Parise / Showtime

It’s the kind of moment that would justify a big reaction; the kind of exclamation point Carrey’s been adding to his work since the rubber-faced comedian bounced from one jubilant blockbuster to the next, and even later on, as he explored more dramatic indie terrain in “I Love You, Phillip Morris” and “The Bad Batch.” When asked how he decided to approach those two critical moments — Jeff pre- and post-crash — he even joked, “Well, you know me: I’m the king of subtlety.”

But it’s not a joke. Carrey proves it again and again throughout “Kidding,” expanding on notes first unveiled in past roles like “Eternal Sunshine” and “Man on the Moon,” before culminating with this season’s heartbreaking and terrifying final scene.”That’s the moment where he suddenly feels entitled to his rage — ‘Because I’m a father,'” Carrey said. “It’s like a person saying, ‘I believe in God and you’re saying something against my God.’ There’s a certain mode that people get into where they give themselves permission to violence.”

Yet Carrey’s strained neutrality doesn’t give away what’s going on inside; before Jeff screeches forward into Peter, the audience only knows he’s upset. Carrey dials things way back, letting the action speak for itself while exposing the curdling rage within his character through one choice word: “Oops.”

“I used to do a routine in my act about impulses — about standing on a balcony and saying, ‘I’m this close to the end of my life.’ It’s just a choice. It’s a quick impulse that you don’t stop,” Carrey said. “Jeff is a guy that doesn’t show his feelings. So he remains Mr. Pickles whether he’s giving a child a flower or he’s doing something completely unacceptable. […] It’s an interesting thing: I’ve known so many people, even people that are close to me, [and] everyone around them says, ‘Wow, [that’s] the nicest person in the world,’ And I sit back and go, ‘Yeah, but are they nice, or are they just afraid to be seen as flawed? Are they afraid to be seen as emotional?’ Is it an act of cowardice to be nice sometimes?”

These kind of questions aren’t typically easy to digest for mainstream audiences, and “Kidding” has done well on Showtime without breaking out into the blockbuster levels of Carrey’s recent past. But the actor and executive producer, who’s dealt with depression himself, believes people will find it when they need it.

Jim Carrey in Kidding Season 1 Episode 10 snow

Jim Carrey in “Kidding”

Erica Parise / Showtime

“It’s like Bob Dylan,” Carrey said. “There are a lot of songs Bob Dylan writes that you don’t want to hear the lyrics of — it’s confronting, and it brings up painful things,” he said. “But you know what? When you’re going through those painful things and you’ve just experienced something awful, or you’ve got the blues because you’ve lost something important to you, man, that Bob Dylan song is a life raft. That’s what this is. This is a life raft.”

Of course, the ratings questions only come up because “Kidding” exists as most television does: on a network that’s out to gain subscribers, cultivate success, and make money. Showtime’s series often examines the delicate relationship between art and profit through the lens of Mr. Pickles’ PBS show. When he says he wants to make an episode about death — for kids! — the higher-ups try to stop him. They don’t want to lose advertisers or merchandising dollars. But, as “Kidding” argues as well, Carrey believes the two things can co-exist.

“Before ‘The Truman Show’ came out, a bunch of people that worked on the show went to dinner, and in the middle of dinner, Andrew Niccol blurted out, ‘If this movie makes more than 40 million bucks, we failed!’ — bleak artist that he is – a wondrous genius, but his outlook is a little gray. And I said, ‘You’re wrong. You’re absolutely wrong.’ Because in an absolute sense, if you hit the buttons for people, and you create something that’s beautiful as well as meaningful and truthful and prophetic, you’re going to make money. It’s going to happen. And if you don’t, fine, at least you did the former. But that’s what you shoot for: something real and good and amazing, or funny as hell and crazy and artistic. I believe it’s possible to do both,” he said.

Carrey, however, is doing much more than “Kidding.” His political “cartoons,” as he calls his various political sketches and paintings, have made quite a stir on Twitter. Some are headed to Montreal this month, along with a sculpture he made featuring shark fins circling the Constitution, as part of an exhibit at The Phi Centre. Toss in movies, and he’s a busy man — just the way he wants to be.

“I never stop. I literally never stop,” Carrey said about his art. “I’m in a constant state of creating, always. It didn’t use to be that way, but it’s become more that way. One side of my living room is paintings and canvasses and pens and paint brushes and smocks and whatever. The other side is cartoons and computers. And in the middle is me running around talking to myself and doing characters. It’s just, I love it so much. I’m literally in love with it.”

Now, it’s just a matter of acknowledging that feeling, without worrying it’s inevitably going to end. That may be the only way to lead a happy, truthful life.

Jim Carrey is eligible for “Kidding” in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category. The series is available to view via Showtime and Season 2 is expected to premiere later this year.

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