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Wednesday 3 September 2014

Jim’s back and having fun again

In Hollywood, the golden rule is, never work with children or animals -- but breaking that rule has usually worked out pretty well for James Eugene Carrey. So far.

His big-screen breakthrough came with 1994's Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and its sequel the following year, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, didn't do too badly either. Both featured more than a smattering of our furry friends.

As for children, they featured heavily in How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), Liar Liar ('97) and Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events ('04). In some cases, the little tykes were even allowed to talk.

So, you know, plainly, Jim Carrey ain't afraid of no Hollywood golden rules.

"Yessiree, I ain't scared of no goats," smiles the 49-year-old, Canadian-born actor.

"Or words to that effect. I think the rule is there for a good reason, but both children and animals have become much more professional down through the years.

"Besides, I think that's where my humour really comes to life -- when I'm allowed to be silly. And both children and animals allow you to be very silly indeed."

A strong reason Carrey was drawn to his latest movie no doubt. Even the title would have probably been enough to grab him. Mr Popper's Penguins. Says it all. Or enough.

"Doesn't it?" he nods. "I was definitely kind of hooked from very early on with this movie. The book is pretty old, and it's stood the test of time. That was definitely another part of the appeal -- for a kid's story to last over 70 years, it's got to be special.

"Of course, it helps that Mr Popper's Penguin has been part of the reading curriculum in elementary schools in America all this time, too. That way, kids have got to like it."

Originally published in 1938, Richard and Florence Atwater's eponymous children's book has indeed not only survived the passing years, but thrived. In America, at least.

In the book, Mr Tom Popper is a poor house painter who dreams of travelling the world, and is somewhat thrilled when, after sending him a letter, Antarctica explorer Admiral Drake announces on the radio that he's posting out a surprise to his fan. Which turns out to be a penguin. And soon the local aquarium has sent out a female companion for the new addition to the Popper family. And soon they are joined by 10 baby penguins.



comedy

In the film, it's a little more modern. Mr Tom Popper (Carrey) is a divorced businessman who inherits six penguins. So, this is, what they like to say in Hollywood, a loose adaptation?

"Yeah, I think you could call it loose," says Carrey. "We wanted to change a few elements of the story, and push the comedy of the situation that little bit higher. It's just too sweet a concept not to push it a little. A guy in New York whose apartment suddenly becomes a winter wonderland because he's got all these penguins living with him -- how could I resist that?"

Shot on a refrigerated soundstage with real Gentoo penguins, Carrey and co were also determined to go authentic on their adaptation. Except when it came to all the pratfalling. And the line-dancing. That's when the CGI geeks would work their magic.

"They're smart, those penguins, but not quite smart enough to do entire dance routines with me. We tried to get the penguin from Happy Feet involved, but he was too busy on his sequel. And, frankly, we couldn't afford him -- he's too big a star now."

And there can only be one star in a Jim Carrey film.

"That's right!" Carrey shouts. "I don't want anyone who might be funnier, smarter, or more beautiful than I, appearing in any of my films. It's a policy that has made me the superstar that I am today."

Sad and lonely?

"Exactly."

It's been a strange few years for Jim Carrey, as Hollywood chases after franchises rather than famous faces for their hits. Jim Carrey is no exception. His 2009 A Christmas Carol failed to justify its $200m budget, while good reviews didn't save I Love You Phillip Morris from becoming a box-office flop.

"It would be very, very easy to go crazy, always looking at the numbers for your movies," says Carrey. "There's such an exact science when it comes to market research and test screenings, and yet, anyone in Hollywood will tell you that you really never truly know what's going to happen with a movie.

"So, you know, best not to think about all that too much, and just get on with making movies that you get a kick out of. I'm lucky in that I don't have to sweat it, I don't have to go out begging for work. Of course, I want the work that I do commit to to have some merit, to have a degree of fun involved. And fun involves being challenged a little too."

Having separated in April of last year from his girlfriend of five years, Jenny McCarthy, Carrey is said to be dating 24-year-old America's Next Top Model contestant Anchal Joseph. Which is one way of dealing with the fact that you've just become a grandfather, Carrey's daughter, Jane, having given birth last year to Jackson Riley Santana. Pop is rocker hubby Alex Santana, who, no, isn't the son of Carlos, the re-animated hippy axeman.

"We're all getting older," finishes Carrey, "but, the big question is, are we getting wiser? Here's hoping. In the meantime, I think having some fun along the way is probably the best path to take. It's important to go out with a smile on your face . . ."

Mr Popper's Penguins hits cinemas on August 5

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