When Jim Carrey was told he had 10 minutes to live, this is what he did
In his new memoir, Carrey melds fact with fiction — and turns Rodney Dangerfield into a rhinoceros
It was January 2018, and Jim Carrey had just been told he only had 10 minutes to live.
The actor and comedian was in Hawaii, on a call about his semi-autobiographical novel, when his assistant, Linda, FaceTimed him from the other side of the island with the news.
"She said, 'There are missiles coming, and they're going to land in 10 minutes. This is real.' And as she was strenuously clutching her iPhone, she accidentally took a screenshot of my face," remembers Carrey in a q feature interview with co-author Dana Vachon.
WATCH | Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon's full interview with q host Tom Power:
That shot is now the cover of the recently released book Memoirs and Misinformation.
"So the book's cover is an actual shot of my face after being told that I have 10 minutes to live," says Carrey, pointing out the look isn't one of panic or hysteria.
"It was more a wave of calm coming over me and a sense of 'Oh, that's strange. Huh, what a funny way for this all to end.' And that's the feeling I got," he says.
The alert, which warned of a ballistic missile headed for Hawaii, sent the islands into a panic, with people abandoning cars on a highway and preparing to flee their homes.
Carrey recounts how, in that moment, he tried to decide what to do next: hide under the stairs? Get in the car?
"I tried to get off the island on the phone to my daughter and I couldn't get through," says Carrey, his voice cracking.
"And finally I just said, 'You know what? I've had a wonderful life.' And I decided to sit there and watch the ocean and go through all the ways in my head that I could be grateful for what I had. And I started this list of gratitudes that could have gone on forever."
With just two minutes left, Carrey got a call back from co-author Dana Vachon, letting him know it was a false alarm.
"It's a part of me. It's a part of this book," says Carrey, reflecting on whether the experience changed him. "When all is lost, then all is found."
'Real is an illusion'
It was a harrowing moment in Carrey's life, but one that seemed tailor-made for Memoirs and Misinformation, which twists together biographical moments and fiction to the point where the line between is indistinguishable.
And that, says Carrey, is exactly the point. Our personae are constructed from fictions that others impose on us and that we tell ourselves, he argues, whether they're religious ideas, nationalities, or even our basic sense of self.
"'Real' is an illusion. I really think it's as simple as that," says Carrey, who describes the Buddhist belief that there are no two things, but rather just the absolute and the relative.
There is also no distinction to be had between Jim Carrey the actor that legions of fans have come to know and love, and the "real" Jim Carrey, he adds.
"There is no difference. They're both ideas, and abstract constructions. I truly believe that," he says. "And this is not an arrogant thing. I'm not being supercilious when I say we all have this."
Carrey describes how he started playing with the line between the self and the rest of the world, imagining a coffee table was his foot, for example.
"It started to expand itself until I become the walls around you, and I become you, and the air we breathe. And we have everything in common. There's nothing we don't have in common. We are one thing. Try to breathe without the trees, and you'll find out — quickly."
'He was just lovely to me'
In the novel, moments from Carrey's real life are woven together with flying saucers and fire bombings, raging wildfires and female eco-terrorists, a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie and an alien-battling, Excalibur-wielding Nicolas Cage.
At one point Carrey is in a motel on Sunset Boulevard with director Charlie Kaufman and Sir Anthony Hopkins — who is dressed in Lone Ranger pyjamas and toting a gun — trying to channel Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong.
In a particularly tender moment, Carrey's real-life mentor and champion Rodney Dangerfield is digitally reincarnated as a rhinoceros.
"He was an incredible human being and a tremendous support. If he loved you, man, you were under the wing and he was telling you what you needed to know, that you needed to make the tank so strong that no bonehead could stop it," says Carrey, describing the legendary comedian who died in 2004.
"And he supported me when I was experimenting and would stand backstage laughing and going, 'Those people are looking at you like you're from another friggin' planet, man.' But he supported me, and kept hiring me. He was just lovely to me."
'There's nowhere to go'
So when it comes to writing Memoirs and Misinformation, why did Carrey and Vachon opt for semi-fiction rather than writing a novel or a memoir?
Vachon says over the course of many late-night sessions, he interviewed Carrey about his life, gathering a foundation of biographical material to draw from.
From there, the pair added layer after layer of fiction; after all, they argue, even that base layer of biography was a fictionalized tale.
"I thought of the fiction as being a construction, but constructed in service of illuminating these beautiful visions of a true past, much of which was in Canada," says Vachon, pointing to the way medieval cathedrals use vaulted spaces and stained glass to illuminate "true" stories.
"That the line had already been blurred. And then we got together and we realized not only had it been blurred, but it had been befouled because most celebrity memoirs are messing with the truth anyway, either through omission or distortion."
And although Carrey has starred in countless hit films, among them How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dumb and Dumber, The Mask and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and is himself a celebrity, Memoirs and Misinformation is anything but a show biz homage.
In fact, Carrey says one of the main goals of the book was "to go through this absurd journey of definition, and the madness of Hollywood and the burning down of old structures to get to at least a taste of that infinite nothingness and everythingness" and that the Hollywood glitterati are "a bunch of entities and people struggling to make some sort of relevance for themselves."
In the end, he says, apotheosis can't be reached as an individual; rather, you have to let go of the individual to get a glimpse of enlightenment.
Ramana Maharshi, a wonderful Indian sage, was on his deathbed and one of his servants came up to him and said, 'Ramina, I don't want you to go.' And he said, 'Where can I go? There's nowhere to go.'- Jim Carrey
"Ramana Maharshi, a wonderful Indian sage, was on his deathbed and one of his servants came up to him and said, 'Ramina, I don't want you to go.' And he said, 'Where can I go? There's nowhere to go.' There's nothing that isn't him," explains Carrey.
"I don't think of my father as gone. I don't think of my mother as gone. They'll never go. There's nowhere to go," he says.
"So where are they?" asks Power. "Where aren't they?" replies Carrey. "They're in you."
Of course, legions of fans around the globe feel they know the individual who is Jim Carrey, even if he is a fictional construction in their — and even his own — minds. So how does he feel about that Jim Carrey?
As he puts it, "I feel lucky to have gotten the part."
Written by Jennifer Van Evra. Produced by Chris Trowbridge.