How Michel Gondry tapped into Jim Carrey's loneliness
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director on their new collaboration, Kidding
Michel Gondry is a wildly inventive director famous for both his music videos (the White Stripes, Kanye West, Bjork, Paul McCartney) and for his films, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, starring Jim Carrey. His latest project, a Showtime series called Kidding, sees Gondry reunite with Carrey, who plays a beloved children's television personality suffering from an existential crisis.
For Gondry, working with Carrey in such a role is a dream, as it allows him to tap into both sides of the actor, both the light and the dark.
"I love his comedies, I'm a huge fan of them," Gondry says. "Dumb and Dumber and The Mask, his imitations he was doing when he started were completely incredible. They were art, in a way, but I think, like everyone at some point, he wants to get something else out of him."
I tried to find this little gap, little crack where you see what's behind him.- Michel Gondry on Jim Carrey
Gondry goes on to describe something he saw in Carrey before they ever worked with each other, a "little glimpse of loneliness," he says. "For instance, at the end of the episode of In Living Colour, everybody sort of party on the stage and he seemed to be a little lost. Also, I saw him a couple of times on the set of Bruce Almighty. In between the takes, he was sort of recovering and he had this sort of loneliness."
Gondry saw what he wanted to tap into, specifically with Carrey's character Joel Barish in Eternal Sunshine. The film ended up being a directorial breakthrough for Gondry and the perfect showcase for Carrey as a capital-A actor, playing completely off type as an introverted, deeply depressed man trying to erase his memory in order to get over a relationship.
It's that same element at work on their new collaboration, Kidding, with Carrey personifying both sides, the light and the dark, on screen.
"I tried to find this little gap, little crack where you see what's behind him," says Gondry.
In Kidding, Carrey plays Jeff Pickles, a children's television personality whose been on the air for 30 years but who, after the death of a son, finds it hard to deal with his own personal life. He's spent his life teaching children to be better versions of themselves, but can't do the same for himself.
"That's a thing, Mr. Pickles on the show has a strong wisdom, he is loved by his audience," says Gondry. "Unfortunately, his wisdom in the outside world in this particular moment of his life doesn't apply. That's his problem and this position that creates the tension."
It's the kind of role that Carrey excels at, especially since it seems to mirror many aspects of his own life. Carrey is famous for his comedy, but lately, he's become known for creating original works of visual art in order to "heal a broken heart" and for giving brilliantly bizarre red carpet interviews ("He just played a character," Gondry says of that).
"I've noticed that the actors or directors who direct very dramatic movies are happier than the ones who direct comedy or act in comedies," he says. "Comedy is the surface of somebody, [but it's] much more trouble than they appear. In fact, you should notice they die younger in general. The dramatic actor and director — it's a generalization, it might be wrong — but sometime they dive into this dark world because their life is too bright. So there is something inverted between who people are and what they do."
At first, Gondry says it was difficult to gain the trust of Carrey, a notably guarded and self-assured actor who knows exactly what he wants, even if it means challenging directors. But after Eternal Sunshine, they have a relationship built entirely on trust — even though it was initially built on a lie.
It happened on the set of Eternal Sunshine, during a scene in which they'd already done around 15 takes. It was getting late, they were losing the light, and then the camera ran out of film.
"At the end he asked, 'was I OK?' So I say, 'yeah, it was perfect,' because I had to move on so I had to lie to him," says Gondry. "He had this sort of bodyguard/secretary that was very nice, but he was really checking everything around and he saw that and he went to tell him. And Jim came back to me and he said, 'you lied to me. The camera stopped.' I had absolutely nothing to say. I was humiliated. And I decided that I would never lie to Jim again, to not put myself in this situation when I have to lie to an actor. And so Jim knows that I'm going to tell him the truth no matter what."
It's just one reason Carrey worked again with Gondry on Kidding, his first TV show since In Living Colour aired in the early '90s. Carrey gave everything he had to the part, and in return, "he had the pure honesty from me," says Gondry.
"For instance, if he plays theatrical, I say that was overacted. He had no ego about that. I could never, ever, ever say that to another actor because they would punch my face or would go in a room to cry. But with Jim, he trusts me, he has no ego, he just wants to do the best work possible."
Kidding, directed by Michel Gondry and starring Jim Carrey, airs on CraveTV and TMN in Canada, Showtime in the U.S.
— Produced by Vanessa Nigro
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