Jim Carrey sat down with us to share what drew him to Mr. Popper's Penguins, his focus on family, his passion for playing hockey, and how a brilliant teacher helped him channel his creative energy.
If you're looking for something to do with dad this weekend – treat him to Mr. Popper's Penguins! In theaters June 17! The summer movie season’s first live-action family comedy event stars Jim Carrey, whose chilly relationship with his family heats up after he inherits six adorable, lovable and mischievous penguins. Mr. Popper’s Penguins is based on the award winning classic children’s book.
The talented and charming Jim Carrey candidly chatted with our group of writers about family, making your kids the center of your universe, and his love of penguins and hockey.
How was it like to act in the freezing conditions – and with the live penguins?
It’s anything for the show. I'll suffer greatly to do anything creative. But, I found out it wasn't even necessary. It's just that the penguins are method. Their Stanislavsky thing.
What was the most fun thing to do?
Well, anytime I'm with the penguins. So, I always opt for using the live penguins whenever I could. But, I'd get on the set and there'd be like these little marks on the floor, and I'd think, "Oh, it's a CG sequence or whatever." And then, I'd hear "Huuuuu." I'd be trying to get a line out and I'd hear "Huuuuu." They're a maximum disturbance, and they actually sound like Velociraptors from Jurassic Park. I thought, "That sounds like a raptor or something like that." Mark [Waters, director] said they actually used the sound of a penguin's voice for those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, which is kind of cool.
On his favorite penguin:
Well, Captain I kind of spent a lot of time with. So, I mean, they were surprised that I was able to actually get really close to them and touch them. Because they said right out of the gate these are not trainable animals.
Anything bigger than this is a predator, you know? So, don't try to pick them up or they'll peck your eyes out.
Yes, I got to touch them.
On playing a dad who is trying to do the best he can for his kids, but still struggling:
That's what really drew me to the movie other than the fact that I love penguins, and I've said it, so many times before I ever did this project. But, the theme of somebody who is an adventurer but doesn't explore his relationship with his own son is an amazing theme for me. Certainly there have been times in my life when I was so crazed with Hollywood and everything that was going on that I missed time with my daughter. So, I understand that and how important that is. And so, that's a theme that I’m ready to play. We've certainly mended anything that was going on between us. We're closer than ever.
Well, I was already in a good place with my daughter. We've done really well together. But, yes. I mean, it's definitely a recognizable theme and certainly something that's really prevalent for everybody nowadays. Everybody has to work and everybody's got that kind of guilt feeling, "Am I spending enough time," and, "Do they have my full focus?" The most important thing in the world is to make your kids feel like they're the most important thing to you. And they have to feel they're cool in your eyes. That they're important. They're the priority. So, there was a time in my life where I felt like that was slipping a little bit. I took a year and a half off. I didn't work, and I took those two years off to make sure that she knew.
What was it like working with your younger costars?
Great. They are really talented kids, super talented, more so than you even see in the film. Madeline’s going to be a great actress. I always worry for kids when I work with them that they're going to make it through okay, because it's a really tough thing for an undeveloped ego to handle that attention and that extra energy like that coming at them. I always wonder about people who adopt kids from Africa and then there's these cameras in their face. They go from a hut to a paparazzi line and they think, "What?" How can they handle that? I worry about fame with kids. I know a few, and Ron Howard is this wonderful guy. He made it through because he had parents, again, who made him the most important thing.
There's a book called Drama of the Gifted Child. Steve Martin gave it to me, actually. He said, "This is a really kind of good clue into kind of where you might have come from a little bit." And I don't think it totally applies, but I think it's really an important thing for parents to realize that they're there to love their kids, their kids aren't there to love them. They will, if you love them. But, it's not their obligation. It's up to us to love them and let them go and do their thing and not go, "You're not making me feel good." "Why aren't you making me feel good?" Well, because I'm not here to make you feel good. You're supposed to do that for me. So, it's an interesting thing. These kids, when I see them, I just hope that the whole Hollywood acting thing is about what they love and not what their parents want or how their parents what to be seen.
What's your advice for parents and for kids that wanted to get into the business, because it is such a hard thing for kids to get into.
I would just say that, make sure that it's about them and not you, not how you're seen in the world, not, "You're going to make me look great if you do the right thing." I literally have, in films, seen a toddler being spoken to by a parent saying, "Your dad and I talked about this. It's going to be a lot of money." And I'm sitting there pulling my face off going like, "That child doesn’t have a chance". That's the main gist.
On seeing himself in his grandson, Jackson Riley:
He is starting to mimic and stuff like that. It's so funny. But, he's about a year and two months. So, he's just kind of "gah blah," or whatever. But, he does definitely mimic. And the great thing about him, you can see with kids, before they get squashed by anybody in school or anything like that, is there is this confidence of knowing that they are it. You know what I mean? He walks into the room and he says, "Hi!" He's got this mischief on his face and stuff that you can just tell that he knows he's going to be completely accepted in every way, you know? There's no rejection in there at all. It's just full on, "I am IT. I know you want to see me. I know whenever I say hi, everybody's going to laugh, everybody's going to do their thing."
But, he's very funny, too. Yesterday it was the sunglasses, putting the sunglasses upside down and putting them on and then coming, "Ha ha ha." And that totally reminded me of me because I used to get out of eating every day, this is what I'm told, is that my mother said that I got out of eating. I was a very finicky eater. I got out of eating every time by just making everybody laugh and everybody howl at the table. When I was an infant, I was doing weird faces and stuff until the food got cold.
How much skating did you squeeze in on set?
Well, I don't know if you saw the thing on my website. Behind the scenes, in the apartment when they put that floor down that you could skate on, they lose me when that happens because I’m Canadian. And the rink in Central Park, "Hello." I was drenched with sweat. Before every take, they'd have to completely redo my makeup and blow-dry my hair. They’d say, "Come on inside," and then they'd blow-dry my hair and give me new clothes and everything, because I took my hockey stick and my puck out there and fantasized that I was a Stanley Cup champion. Because, honestly, it's just certain things from your childhood. When the lake froze over, we would skate. And we would pass the puck and it go for miles if you missed it. And you'd be out in the middle of this giant lake with the green underneath the ice and stuff like that, hoping you won't go through.
But, it was complete freedom. As soon as my blade hits the ice, I am a free soul. I'm completely like a bird.
Growing up, did you have comedians that you admired that inspired you?
Yes. Well, the funny thing is, one of the people that I really loved was Dick Van Dyke. I used to watch reruns of the Dick Van Dyke show and Mary Tyler Moore. And they were just sublime to me. To me, that was flawless comedy. And recently, he was on Rachel Ray and he said some really nice things about me. It was like Christmas. I was out of my mind with joy. I really loved it. And he said something about if somebody was going to play him or play the Dick Van Dyke show now or whatever as a movie or something that he would want me to do it.
I invited him to the premiere and he's coming to the premiere.
At what age did it hit you that, "I need to be an entertainer?"
Since I was a little tiny kid, since I can remember, because I used to look at my dad and he used to command the room. And he was one of the funniest human beings you've ever met in your life. I mean, seriously like a file of jokes and funny stuff, but off the cuff funny. Rodney Dangerfield used to just be blown away by my father. I'd bring him down to see me in Vegas opening for Rodney Dangerfield. And, Rodney would just be sitting there saying, "Who is this guy? This guy's incredible, man. Where the hell have you been?" You know, that kind of thing. And he's Percy, Percy Joseph. He was just one of these characters that when he told a story, he was so incredibly animated. The character I played in Truman Show was my father. You know, "Good afternoon, good evening, and good night," the old standup guy. He's deaf in one ear, so everything you said, he didn't really hear you. He'd just go, "Eh?”. But, he was one of those guys you felt like you knew for 50 years if you talked to him, a minute with him. And so, I saw him early on and I thought, "That's me. That's who I'm going to be."
Did you get in trouble at school a lot for your energy?
I did until I had one teacher that was so smart in the sixth grade, Lucy Dervadis. I can never remember her new name. She talked to me later. But, she sent me back a lot of the pictures of her being assassinated in several different ways that I used to draw at the back the class. She confiscated them in school, and then she sent them back to me when I got famous. You know, the missiles hitting her and stuff like that. It's unbelievable. And she kept them. She knew because I would always finish my work first. I was really smart in school. And I would finish and then I would disturb everybody by being funny and doing disruptive things in class. And so, she had the brilliant idea of saying, "Jim, if you just sit there and be peaceful, be calm, don't bother anybody after you finish your work, I'll give you 15 minutes at the end of class to do whatever you want in front of the class."
And so, I would finish my work and then I would start writing routines. And I would write, "Okay, today I'm going to imitate the principal in the boy's locker room looking at their underwear," and stuff like that. And I was completely politically incorrect and all of that stuff. But, she came up with an idea. It's like such a clue into kids. Instead of giving them drugs for ADD, find an outlet. Find something to do with that, because it's just that they're special.
Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox
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