By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
LAS VEGAS—When Jim Carrey was still just a young stand up comic, he got a chance to open for Rodney Dangerfield at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. With a desire to do more than put on the same act every night, the young Canadian would try out some mighty unusual material—like pretending to be a cockroach avoiding getting sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. Carrey’s routine confused many in the audience, the actor recalls, but Dangerfield loved it.
“I’d come offstage and he’d say, ‘Man, they’re looking at you like you’re from another planet,’” recalls Carrey, doing a very good imitation of his late mentor.
A quarter-century later, Carrey is back in Vegas. This time, though, he’s here to promote his new movie “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” He plays Steve Gray, a rock ‘n’ roll type street magician (think Criss Angel mixed with David Blaine) who has it in for the more famous Burt, played by Steve Carell. Fearing that Gray will overshadow him, Burt has to convince his ex-partner, Anton (Steve Buscemi), to rejoin their act.
As he does with so many of his roles, the 51-year-old Carrey disappears into the longhaired, tattooed bad guy Gray.
He recently spoke about his latest role and getting into the mindset of a mean-spirited magician.
Q: You appear to be in great shape in this film. Did you have any particular workout plan?
Carrey: I’ve just never taken my shirt off in a movie before so it was good to do that finally. (He chuckles.) I figured that was Matthew McConaughey’s thing and I was just going to leave it to him. No really, it’s not a natural place to live in that kind of shape. It looks great. It’s fantastic. It gets a lot of attention, but you have to eat, like, anti-matter to stay in that kind of shape. It’s not a happy place to be. Somewhere in the middle (is better). But I’m back now. I’ve got Mr. Cuddly back, and I’m happy.
Q: Could you relate to the highs and lows of show business?
Carrey: It’s a roller coaster, for sure. There are so many highs. I find myself constantly working with people like (Steve Carell). There are moments in your life where you say to yourself, “I can’t believe how insanely lucky I am.” Then, in the next moment, you can turn and round and get completely caught up in your own wanting and desiring and needing and somehow you’re missing something. The higher the high, the lower the low.
Q: How was it working in Vegas? Were you able to play off your environment?
Carrey: That’s kind of normal for me. I felt totally at home out there. It was nice being out there. I like being on the street in Vegas; I have trouble being in the room. I don’t know what happened with architecture. I think they’re getting us ready for space colonies. Nobody puts a window in that you can crack (open). So I’m literally drying out on a daily basis. I’m drier and drier; I’m chewing my lips right now. By day three, I’m beef jerky. I have crazy dreams here too. Last night, I dreamed I’d been shrunk down to the size of an insect and I was swallowed by hungry giant, and I went through his esophagus and into his stomach, and I was burned by the juices. Then, by the time I got to the lower intestine, I was no longer anything I could recognize, and then I woke up at that point at the cashier window at Bally’s, begging for another line of credit. I don’t know if was the Ambien or whether I have a gambling problem. But if somebody could give me 500 bucks, I swear I’m good for it. Seriously, I’m getting really hot. Ask anybody.
Q: Did you read the script or did you improvise your lines?
Carrey: It was a great script, and it’s great to start with a great script and a fantastic idea. I always like to bring what I can to something. I’m always thinking and I don’t sleep. I think about things. And when we threw that wig on the character, we kind of did a 180, and it a required a little more “who is this guy?” He immediately struck me as a guy who had a Christ complex. That kind of psychological warfare is something I like to play with as a joke, so it really suited me. The combination of what was written and being in the moment is always the best way. You’ve got to start out with something solid and then you play. You know, the whole floating out of the scene and touching Steve’s face and doing my little Radiohead line, those are the things that keep it alive for us.
Q: What was your tattoo methodology?
Carrey: I actually designed the tattoo. I’m an artist so I designed the tattoo and the insignia with the rabbit skull and the top hat. And my makeup artist, the Academy Award winning artist Billy Corso, helped me bring it to life and refine it so that was kind of thrilling. It was the first time any of my art has actually crept into a film. It’s amazing all these little touches—how little you have to do to become a completely different person. It’s incredible.
Q: What do you think of Las Vegas performers?
Carrey: There’s everything here. There’s everything you can possibly think of here. There’s this big, Vegas-y glitzy thing that everybody kind of thinks of as Vegas, and you’ve got to get people’s attention. You look out there on the strip and its blinding, the energy that’s happening. Last night, it blacked out, the whole strip, because I was using my hair dryer. Crazy! But I found the breaker. I turned it back on and everybody had a good time. (He chuckles.) It’s kind of a cool place. I’m not a gambler. I’m not into the whole Sin City part of the whole deal, but I like the shows.
Q: What’s your fondest memory of Las Vegas?
Carrey: I used to perform here with Rodney Dangerfield years ago at Caesar’s Palace. I opened for him. I brought my dad down to see the show and stuff and to see your name up on that big sign is such a thrill for somebody when they’re starting out. It’s like, “Wow, I’m really here.” Then I did have a shift (in my style of comedy), and I went away from the impressions and I started dressing weird and had spiky hair, and I started imitating cockroaches avoiding vacuum cleaners and things like that onstage, and I totally lost the audience which I planned to do from time to time. But Rodney used to stand backstage and howl with laughter at my failure, in a fun way, though.
Q: Have you ever seen anyone perform in Vegas that blew you away?
Carrey: I love Tom Jones. He’s amazing. I used to watch his show from London when I was a kid. And I met him one time at an airport and he was such a great guy. He was a hero at one point. I think anyone who gets here and stays here (in Vegas) for any length of time is first of all, living in a Martian environment and should be commended, but also they have to be good to a certain extent. It may not be your kind of good, but it’s good. They know how to do it. Way back, I came here to do showcases at the Aladdin, during the strike, way back when I was a kid, and I went to see Lola Falana with Fred Travalena opening for her, and it was always a great show. They know how to entertain here.
Q: What is the craziest rumor you’ve ever heard about yourself?
Carrey: The craziest thing I’ve heard about myself is that I have an iguana, and in my (contract), they have to hire a chef for my iguana. That was pretty interesting. I did have an iguana at one point but I didn’t specifically have a chef for him.
Q: Why should audiences go see “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone?”
Carrey: I think people will laugh a lot and tell their friends and they’ll laugh a lot and they’ll tell some friends and they’ll laugh, and peace will be brought to the world. And there will be no borders or nations.