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Jim Carrey: SCROOGE, Not Stooge

Last week, Jim Carrey told MTV that he had dropped out of the long in gestation Farrelly Brothers Three Stooges film, feeling that the project would take it’s toll on his health.

“For me, I don’t really want to do anything halfway, and I don’t feel like a fat suit does it,” he said. “I started experimenting with it a little bit, and I gained 35, 40 pounds. I wanted to gain another 30, 40. When you’re [Robert] De Niro in your 20s or early 30s, you can kind of come back from that. It’s a tough thing to come back from when you’re upwards of 30. Your body can’t carry it or you can have a cardiac arrest.”

Yet, in Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol, which is released on DVD/Blu-ray tomorrow, Carrey plays eight different roles, including main character Ebenezer Scrooge at five different ages, thanks to motion capture, with no ill health effects.

You are well known for tackling highly physical and comedic roles. Was that part of the attraction of playing Ebenezer Scrooge in the new movie, A Christmas Carol?

This role was a dream come true. Playing Scrooge was challenging in every possible way and I had to use everything I had to make this character work, but it was a wonderful, wonderful challenge. It’s something I will never forget because it was a fantastic experience. You find yourself standing in the middle of an empty warehouse wearing a ridiculous motion capture suit with balls all over it. You’re wearing a hat with pincers attached to it, with cameras pointing right into your face and you have to act as hard as you’ve acted before. You have to create a whole new world in your head – and you have to make it believable for the audience. It was a great challenge for me. I couldn’t be more proud of this movie.

It sounds like you had a pretty unreal experience shooting the movie…

To be honest, it was wonderful to work with all this new technology. It was incredibly exciting to work with motion capture because I couldn’t wait to see what the performances would turn into. It was certainly a little odd to be dancing around in the suit in front of loads of cameras, but it was also fun. You’re on a motion capture stage and there are grids and outlines of furniture and props, but you have to create the mood in your head. It’s certainly a little more difficult than doing a regular film where you’re helped by the scenery, costumes and props around you. It’s also an odd thing to stare at your acting partners and have two prongs sticking out of your head with HD cameras attached to it.

What was your most bizarre experience during the shooting of the movie?

I had a lot of face-to-face scenes with Gary Oldman and at one point he said to me, “I wanted to work with you, but I never imagined it would be like this. It’s like acting on Mars!” He not only had the pincers and the cameras staring at this face, but he was also on a crane for 90% of his performance. You have to transcend all of that and give a performance and believe it. It was a daunting prospect, but the process soon became very comfortable, especially with the help of the director, Robert Zemeckis. He made things very easy. It was a nice atmosphere on the set. It all worked out well. 

How much faith did you have in the director?

It’s so important to trust your captain on any project you work on. It’s important to have faith and to love their work. I always knew this was going to be a beautiful movie – and it is.

How tough was it to play loads of different roles in A Christmas Carol?

The wonderful thing about this digital process is that I can be cast in roles that I would never be cast in. If I have it in my soul to play a character, it doesn’t matter what my face looks like, or my age. I find that really liberating. It was a huge challenge to play all these different characters, but that’s what made the movie fun for me. I wanted to give each character a distinctly different accent from the UK, which was another challenge for me. However, it was a challenge I was looking forward to working on.

How did you decide on the different accents for the various characters you play in the movie?

I used many different avenues, but they were all shepherded by Barbara Berkery, who is a wonderful voice coach. The Ghost of Christmas Future was a tribute to Marcel Marceau and I chose a Yorkshire accent – from Sheffield – for the Ghost of Christmas Present because I felt he was really connected to the common man. Nobody enjoys Christmas like the common man. He has an innate need to party and an innate need to enjoy the Christmas season, so I felt that was appropriate.

What about the other characters?

I thought Irish would be cool for the Ghost of Christmas Past because the Irish are very good with old stories. They are wonderful at reminiscing about old times and the way things used to be. I went for a very gentle, dreamy voice from Ireland for this character. I’ve got Irish blood on my mother’s side, so it was a tribute to my Irish roots. I put a little bit of myself in there.

How did you come up with the voice of Scrooge?

I had particular pleasure in working on Scrooge. I thought someone like Scrooge would be very careful to speak correctly, but I also wanted his words to cut like a knife. I chose to bring out the pronunciation of words with him and it had a little bit of an exaggeration to it.

How would you describe Scrooge?

I always think the only thing we have to be aware of in this world is the unloved – and Scrooge is certainly there as an unloved character. For a long time, Scrooge desperately tries to cling to whatever is good. He clings to his sister and he clings to the things that he cares about, but life slowly disappoints him over and over again. Scrooge is abandoned.

What do you think Scrooge was like as a child?

Children try to think positively about their situation and they try to make the best of it – and Scrooge was certainly like that as a child. However, by the time he is 35 years old, he’s done with making the best of life. That void can’t be filled anymore unless he really goes inside himself. However, the ghosts in the movie are his opportunity to do that.

Did you have any concerns about playing such an iconic character and making him your own?

I felt a huge responsibility because A Christmas Carol is one of the greatest stories ever written. However, I was also sure that if I was true to myself and true to my understanding of the character, then everything would be original in its own way.

What do you think of the look of your Scrooge?

It’s a little bizarre, but the character looks exactly like my father. It is really spooky. If you take away the pointed nose and the chin, that is the exact look of my father, so I got a glimpse of what I’ll look like when I’m old. What a scary thought.

What makes your version of A Christmas Carol different to other Scrooge movies?

I hate to compare movies. All I will say is that this new movie is a really beautiful holiday film. It’s got everything. You get the scares. You get the catharsis. It’s a beautiful story of redemption – and when is that not popular?

Apart from your new adaptation, what is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol?

When I was a little kid, my favorite version of A Christmas Carol starred Alastair Sim. I used to watch that version every year and I loved it, but Alastair Sim was a man whose face was born to play that part. His whole being had an acid reflux bitterness to it that was splendid to watch. I wanted to have that feeling in my Scrooge; that deep feeling that causes rheumatism. I hope I pulled it off.

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