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Whenever Jim Carrey thinks he’s getting too big for his boots – like playing God in his new comedy Bruce Almighty – he gets a good dose of something he’s come to know as The Eugene Factor, he tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

“My middle name is Eugene and I always thought my parents gave me that name to keep me humble,” Carrey explains during a recent chat in Los Angeles. “No matter how cool I got, somebody would come out of nowhere and remind me that my middle name was Eugene so shut up. Those universal slams happen to me constantly.”

Just take his recent brush with his ‘movie star’ persona after his “big, fat, behemoth of a car” (a new SEL Mercedes) broke down in the middle lane during heavy traffic in a low-income and somewhat dangerous neighborhood in Los Angeles. “I start pushing the car and finally got it against the curb and I’m sitting there and I’ve got the visors down because I don’t want anybody to see me and I’m waiting for the paparazzi to show up and then I turn and look and my billboard is right across the street from me (picturing Carrey as God with the world literally on a string) and I start howling with laughter,” he says. “I can never get too full of myself because God just slaps me down to earth!”

"I like being skinny"

Carrey’s middle name also led to a nickname that suits him more affectionately than the tag of ‘gaunt’ or ‘thin’ in every profile ever written about him. “They used to call me ‘Jimmy Gene the string bean’ because I’ve always been skinny and I like being skinny,” he says unapologetically. “I am the same weight I was when I was nineteen years old and I like to kind of stay there, so it takes a little sacrifice here and there, but I like it. People ask me sometimes with my energy level, what do you want? I say ‘a treadmill at 5:00 in the morning before I go to work!’ I enjoy it.”

The Canadian actor has a lot to enjoy these days after his much-documented rise from being a ninth-grade dropout from a poor family who briefly lived out of a VW van to his current status as one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood with a string of hits including: Ace Venture: Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and his Golden Globe-winning performance in the Peter Weir drama, The Truman Show, to prove he could also pull off something serious. 

Not that Carrey really cares about being taken seriously. “I think the biggest sin that I could commit is to crave respectability,” he bluntly responds when asked if he yearns to be seen as more than a character who talks out of his butt. “To hell with respectability. I don’t give a shit. I really honestly want to do good work in good stories whether they be dramatic or comedic and I don’t care about respectability because basically that’s up to someone else. I respect myself. My daughter respects me. My family respects me. They know who I am and what else do I need? It’s a real danger to overlook your gifts because you want to fit yourself into what people think is respectable. I love making the public laugh and it’s the highest calling, but I can cry as easily as I can laugh so I don’t have any trouble going anywhere and don’t put those limitations on myself. Limitations are for people that need to compartmentalise things.”

"I don’t personalise it"

Carrey also refuses to blame his comic persona for the box-office failure of his dramatic offerings including Man on the Moon and The Majestic. “You want everything you do to be hugely popular of course,” he winces slightly, “but it’s not about me and I don’t personalise it. I did good work on those movies and on The Majestic, I met Martin Landau and became good friends with him and learned a lot about my craft. I don’t think it’s because people are sitting out there going, ‘he’s not going to make me laugh’.” He pauses, ponders, then adds the disclaimer; “and maybe I’m kidding myself but I am just going to go on kidding myself like that!”

In Bruce Almighty, Carrey again teams up with director/producer Tom (Ace Venture: Pet Detective and Liar Liar) Shadyac and plays a chronically malcontent TV reporter by the name of Bruce Nolan, whose constant whinging eventually proves to be too much for God (Morgan Freeman). Tired of being blamed for everything, He endows Bruce with all of His powers and challenges him to take on the big job and see if he can do any better. 

As well as the broad-strokes comedy that Carrey is best-known for, the film also gives the actor a chance to show off a Clint Eastwood impersonation that convinced many early critics that he’d actually recruited Dirty Harry himself for a cameo. “I do a pretty good Clint,” Carrey says proudly. “I haven’t done it for a long time but I started out as an impressionist and did about 150 people at one point. Clint’s a friend (who actually hired Carrey for small roles in The Dead Pool and Pink Cadillac after seeing his impression of himself) and he doesn’t do that sort of thing very often - jump into something - so I just decided to do a little tribute to him and it turned out to be a bit more spooky than I thought because my teeth actually looked like him, which was kind of scary!”

"Does Carry have his own wish list if he got promoted to Jim Almighty?"

Does Carry have his own wish list if he got promoted to Jim Almighty? “All ex-wives’ lawyers straight to hell,” he quickly retorts, an obvious reference to his two contentious divorces from actress Melissa Womer (who recently embroiled him in further legal paperwork after filing for additional child support for their daughter Jane, 15) and actress Lauren Holly. He continues to spit them out with glee. “I’d probably make the world out of rubber so you could cave peoples’ heads in and they would pop right back when they bugged you. I’d fill the LA aqueduct with Jell-O just because it’s easier on my gums. I’d eat lightning and grab thunder and of course I’d feed the poor, heal the sick and then make myself invisible and hang out in the womens’ locker room!”

For all his humor, Carrey runs surprisingly deep with his own endearing brand of self-deprecating humility. He is as proud of his life lessons, he makes it clear, as he is his career. “Ultimately as you grow up I think you learn that it’s just more fun not to be thinking about yourself all the time because it’s a frigging bore is what it is,” he says. And he genuinely means it. “I did an interesting experiment with Tom Shadyac one time when we went to Alaska to stalk grizzly bears – which I don’t know why but, you know, it’s a living and we don’t hunt them but we just sneak up on them and hide behind a tree and go ‘boo!” he begins to riff before reining himself back in. 

“Anyway, we played this game with Tom and another guy where we took our major communicating trait away. Tom couldn’t direct the conversation or quote anybody – because he’s always quoting Thomas Merton and other spiritual guys – and the other guy was a radio therapist and he was not allowed to have all the answers and had to just say the whole time, ‘I don’t know.’ I couldn’t say ‘I’ or ‘me’ and that was actually a very pivotal moment because you start to realize once you take away that stuff, you are crippled. So the next day we were all staring into our breakfasts wondering who to be!

"I started listening to people consciously after that"

“We came to the conclusion,” Carrey admits, “that it’s all right to have that as long as that’s not the only side of your personality. I started listening to people consciously after that. It makes life so much more interesting when you’re actually listening to the person doing the talking!” 

Published June 19, 2003

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