Inside Jim Carrey's Twisted Approach to Fame: Demons Are Better for Business So He Lets Them All Hang Out

The famously private actor says he tries to not put too much stock into "personalities"—but that's still made him quite the character

By Natalie Finn Sep 12, 2017 10:30 PMTags
Watch: Jim Carrey Sounds Off on Icons and More at NYFW 2017

When Hollywood zigs, Jim Carrey zags.

That's pretty much the way it's always been with the Golden Globe winner, who broke out 27 years ago as "the white guy on In Living Color," pulled off a blockbuster hat trick with his first three major films and moved straightaway into the upper echelons of stardom, never to touch the ground again. A walking contradiction, the rubber-faced clown who also landed on People's Most Beautiful list, simultaneously the most entertaining guy in the room and the guy most likely to leave you wondering what exactly you just witnessed, the commander of eight-figure paychecks for playing a buffoon and a surprisingly soulful dramatic actor—Carrey stopped dishing out what was expected of him long ago.   

So when he circled E! News' Catt Sadler like a shark at New York Fashion Week a few days ago and informed her that "there's no meaning to any of this"... it was hardly the most surprising display of contrariness he'd put on in public.

But while he's known for going method when he's invested in a project (when he played his famously eccentric idol Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, he went all in, and he's out promoting a documentary about the making of the 1999 film and how he approached the role), lately it seems that Carrey has decided to wear the disdain he has for the Hollywood game on his sleeve and amuse himself while he's at it.

What has he got to lose?

"I don't believe in icons," Carrey told Sadler at the Harper's Bazaar Celebrates Icons by Carine Roitfeld & Jean-Paul Goode party. "I don't believe in personalities. I believe that peace lies beyond personalities, beyond invention and disguise, beyond the red 'S' you wear on your chest, that makes bullets bounce off."

So he felt the event to be a tad preposterous, but he was still there because, when you've got a film about one of the most poignant moments in your career hitting the festival circuit, you have to get out there. That's what movie stars do.

But while Carrey has harbored a healthy skepticism about Hollywood and the cult of personality for some years now, quietly (yet unwittingly publicly) becoming a practitioner of holistic wellness, meditation and other consciousness-raising methods as a way of escaping from the day-to-day B.S., he's also caught in a particularly precarious position right now when it comes to his relationship with fame and the media. He's long been aware that, as easily as he's been the toast of the town after a string of mega-hits, he knows that the spotlight doesn't discriminate—it shines right in a celebrity's face no matter what's going on in his life.


At the moment, there's a chance the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Carrey last fall by the family of his late ex-girlfriend Cathriona White, who committed suicide in September 2015, could end up going to trial in 2018. They had last been photographed together, hand in hand, the previous May, having dated off and on for three years. White's mother alleged in court documents that the actor "knowingly" gave her daughter three STDs, lied about it and then dumped her "out of concern for saving his own public image, calling her a 'whore' and shaming her, and then using his high-priced Hollywood lawyers and 'fixers' to intimidate and threaten her in an effort to silence her."

Carrey strongly denied the allegations in his own court filing and moved to have the suit dismissed, but a judge set a tentative trial start date for April, saying she needed more time to consider the case. "Mr. Carrey loved Ms. White dearly and so obviously it will be a very painful process for him," his attorney Raymond Boucher told reporters in June.

White died of an overdose of painkillers and her death was subsequently ruled a suicide. At the time Carrey, who served as a pallbearer at her funeral, said in a statement, "I am shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of my sweet Cathriona. She was a truly kind and delicate Irish flower, too sensitive for this soil, to whom loving and being loved was all that sparkled. My heart goes out to her family and friends and to everyone who loved and cared about her. We have all been hit with a lightning bolt."


When he presented at the Golden Globes in January 2016, his first public appearance after White's death, he served up some perspective along with the award for Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical. "Thank you, I am two-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey," he said impishly, cracking a knowing grin. "You know, when I go to sleep at night, I'm not just a guy going to sleep. I'm two-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey going to get some well-needed shut-eye.

"And when I dream I don't just dream any old dream. No sir. I dream about being three-time Golden Globe-winning actor Jim Carrey. Because then I would be enough. It would finally be true. And I could stop this"—he glanced around—"terrible search for what I know ultimately won't fulfill me. But these are important, these awards. I don't want you think that just because if you blew up our solar system alone you wouldn't be able to find us or any of you in human history with the naked eye. But from our perspective, this is huge."

As we said, Carrey's been offering up his insight into a world he still very much circulates in for some time now, both participating and trying to operate at a certain level of remove. He learned early on that the less he said about himself, especially as it pertained to other people, the better. Because, after all, things would get said whether he participated or not.

Jim Smeal/WireImage

Divorced from the mother of his daughter, Jane (now 30 and a mom herself), by the time he was a household name, Carrey married Dumb and Dumber co-star Lauren Holly in 1996—and they were divorced by 1997 after eight months.

Asked to recall the good part of their brief union, Holly said on Oprah: Where Are They Now? last year, "The good part? It was just sort of exciting, and it was a great sort of ride that I went on." Holly continued, "But when it ended it was really hard for me. First of all, I was incredibly sad and I felt like everybody knew. I felt like they felt sorry for me or something, you know? So that was kind of a weird thing to play that part out of it, the ending part out in public."

That was Carrey's last trip to the altar, but he's had multiple high-profile relationships since, including a short engagement to Renée Zellweger, whom he met making Me, Myself and Irene, and with Jenny McCarthy, whom he was with for five years.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Getting rave reviews at the time for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which examines the fickle nature of relationships and the lengths people will go to absolve themselves of the pain of a breakup or embrace the pain to honor the love that was, Carrey admitted on 60 Minutes in 2004 that, in getting ready to play the lovelorn Joel, "I was trying to speak to my ex, and all this stuff, and say these things, and I mean, artistically you do that, you know." Asked if that pertained to someone in particular, he laughed and said, "I don't want to say. There are many. There are many that I've felt that way about, you know?"

He met McCarthy in 2005 and they got increasingly serious.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

After they split up in 2010, however, McCarthy said on The Oprah Winfrey Show that "when it's not fun anymore, you need to start investigating and do an inquiry into the relationship."

McCarthy made waves in 2012 when she told Howard Stern that she wished Carrey still had any sort of relationship with her son, Evan, who of course got close to him when they dated.

"I haven't [reached out to Jim directly]," she admitted. "I think that sometimes people need to take a real break from each other. "But I still love him. I think you can love people from a distance and respect him. But as a mother, you just hope when you have a relationship with someone, it has nothing to do with the child when you break up."

"Jim's a dark guy," observed Stern, who's interviewed Carey multiple times over the years, most recently over the phone this summer.

"As you get older, Howard, you kind of get to see things more clearly," McCarthy (who's since married Donnie Wahlberg) said. "Hopefully you get happier, and I am so much happier."

In response to McCarthy's comments about Evan, Carrey told E! News in a statement, "I will always do what I believe is in the best interest of Evan's well being. It's unfortunate that Evan's privacy is not being considered. I love Evan very much and will miss him always."

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Carrey has only grown warier of the news cycle since, as he has more firsthand knowledge of how quickly a story can get out of hand.

Talking to Stern in June, he was asked his thoughts on the Bill Cosby trial, which was unfolding at the time in Pennsylvania (and would end in a mistrial).

"I don't know what to think after being the subject of opportunistic lawyers, you know, exploitation," Carrey said, referring to his own experience being targeted by White's mother. "Anything can happen in this world." (He did say the claims against Cosby seemed "damning.")

That jaded perspective seems to be at odds with how Carrey would prefer to live his life, preferring not to acknowledge what he feels is nonsense but knowing that that's just not the way the world works.

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"You already know who you are and that peace, that peace that we're after, lies somewhere beyond personality, beyond the perception of others, beyond invention and disguise, even beyond effort itself," Carrey said in his commencement address to the 2014 graduating class of the Maharishi University of Management, which also presented him with an honorary doctorate. "You can join the game, fight the wars, play with form all you want, but to find real peace, you have to let the armor fall. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don't let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory."

Coming off the massive success of his Ace Ventura movies, The MaskDumb and DumberBatman & Robin, Liar LiarThe Truman Show (which won him his first Golden Globe), Bruce Almighty and Yes Man, which made him the highest-paid actor in Hollywood in 2008, it isn't easy to pinpoint when exactly he embraced this letting-go-of-self approach to life. But he's let on that he shares what a lot of gifted entertainers, the funny ones in particular, can't help but seem to have in common—they're kind of a mess. The tortured comedian is, of course, a stereotype, but...

Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for LACMA

"Desperation," Carrey said in a 60 Minutes interview in 2004, when asked how he realized he had a gift for making people laugh. "I had a sick mom, man. I wanted to make her feel better. Basically, I think she laid in bed and took a lot of pain pills. And I wanted to make her feel better. And I used to go in there and do impressions of praying mantises, and weird things, and whatever. I'd bounce off the walls and throw myself down the stairs to make her feel better."

Carrey, the youngest of four, was born in Ontario, Canada, to Percy and Kathleen Carrey. He dropped out of school at 16 after his father lost his job as an accountant and the family fell on tough times. "If my career in show business hadn't panned out I would probably be working today in Hamilton, Ontario at the Dofasco steel mill," he told the Hamilton Spectator in 2007.

"My family kinda hit the skids," he said on 60 Minutes. "We were experiencing poverty at that point. We all got a job, where the whole family had to work as security guards and janitors. And I just got angry. I was angry at the world for doing that to my father. I wanted to bash somebody's head in, basically."

That feeling of desperation would continue to fuel both his comedy and his work ethic.

"People need motivation to do anything," Carrey said. "I don't think human beings learn anything without desperation. Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything, or creating anything. Period. If you ain't desperate at some point, you ain't interesting."

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He had also battled depression, but at the time he was trying to combat whatever ailed him in a holistic fashion, showing CBS News' Steve Kroft up to a tucked-away spot on his property where he liked to "hang out with Buddha and Krishna and you know, all those guys."

"I was on Prozac for a long time," Carrey said. "It may have helped me out of a jam for a little bit, but people stay on it forever. I had to get off at a certain point because I realized that, you know, everything's just OK. There are peaks, there are valleys. But they're all kind of carved and smoothed out, and it feels like a low level of despair you live in. Where you're not getting any answers, but you're living OK. And you can smile at the office. You know? But it's a low level of despair. You know?"

As for substances in general, he "rarely" drank coffee and was "very serious about no alcohol, no drugs. Life is too beautiful."


But the "desperation" that drove him when he was first starting out never truly went away, though as he became a wealthy, famous guy the itch he was scratching took on different forms.

In a 2010 exchange included in Judd Apatow's 2015 book Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy, he asks Carrey what he did with the $20 million he was paid for Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, and Carrey quips back, "I'm still living off that 20 million dollars."

The two of them were chatting, along with Ben Stiller, about the initial failure that was The Cable Guy, an ultra-dark comedy which Stiller directed and Apatow produced, that has become far more appreciated over time. "I wanted to do the lisp because—you know, the more money people pay me, the more I want to rebel," Carrey recalled pouring it on to play the deranged title character.

Columbia Pictures

Stiller said he was fresh off a breakup when they made the movie, Apatow said he was "very, very lonely," and Carrey added, "We're all disenfranchised. It's all about abandonment, man. Every role I do is about abandonment."

Apatow observed that Carrey's performance "set up people to know that The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine were coming. This one was the first time they were like, 'Oh my God, this is not what his other movies were like."

Sure enough, when The Truman Show came out, it proved...confusing. The trailer had a comedic tone, and Carrey won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, but the movie, about a suburban family man who finds out his entire life has been a meticulously orchestrated reality show for a real world somewhere out there, wasn't actually funny. And surely some people who went to see it, hoping to be tickled by another Carrey laugh-fest, were disappointed.

"I ran into a lot of criticism…'Be the comedian. Like why is he trying to do that? They're all trying to do that,' kind of thing," Carrey told 60 Minutes. "And, I believe in that side of myself, absolutely. So, I'm willing to lose everything to express that side of myself. I'm willing to give it all up."

Carrey memorably went for the aggressively hirsute Jim Morrison look at the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, where he won for Best Male Performance for The Truman Show and languidly puffed on a cigarette on his way to the stage. "You know what," he leaned into the mic with an intense stoner affect, "after this year's so-called Oscar race, I realized that dancin' for the man just ain't where it's at. And I decided right then and there, that no matter what they tried to take away from me, I was gonna be who I really am. Thank you." 

He took a pause to smoke and fiddle with his long hair, before adding, "So I wanna thank a coupla people. I'd like to accept this award on behalf of my new biker friends. I'd like to thank MTV for throwin' this little shindig, givin' us an excuse to party one more time. I got a little bone to pick with the programming department. You know, I like rap music as much as a nice, frightened Caucasian. But you know would it kill you every once in awhile to play to play a little Foghat? Last, but definitely most important to me," he smiled lasciviously, "I'd like to thank all the ladies for dressin' up so pretty. There's some fine-looking p--sy in this room tonight, I'll tell you that much."

Trust us, in 1999, that was wild.

And Carrey was just doing the character-playing-a-character, messing-with-people's-minds thing ahead of the release of Man on the Moon that December.

The biopic ended up flopping at the box office, though it earned Carrey strong reviews and his second Golden Globe (errantly for Musical or Comedy again, though, dang it all). Aside from the highbrow-beloved status of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another role that earned Carrey a Musical or Comedy Globe nomination despite the fact that it wasn't a comedy, the masses don't seem to be that into Jim Carrey, Dramatic Actor. And he's noticed that, but it never stopped him—nor was he forced to "give it all up." 

Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Then again, the hotly anticipated Dumb and Dumber To underwhelmed at the box office in 2014, so who knows what people want these days?

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While it might be the easy way out to attribute Carrey's oddball red carpet behavior to his recent re-connection with Kaufman (as easy as it is to attribute it to him just being a weirdo, anyway), he himself says that shooting Man on the Moon—which he championed for years before it finally came together thanks to Carrey's A-plus-list clout at the time—was a game changer for him.

"I feel like my personality was something that I thought was everything to me at the beginning of this incredible journey I'm on. Doing characters for the films, especially with Andy, the realization starts to hit you after awhile that even you are playing the character as a character," Carrey explained to The Hollywood Reporter while discussing Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond—The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton, which screened at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month. "This [documentary] experience as well kind of draws some realizations especially that there's a character that is playing me my whole life."

Universal Pictures

Carrey told THR in Venice that he went so method to play Kaufman 18 years ago that he spent two hours on the phone talking to How the Grinch Stole Christmas director Ron Howard in character. "Jim Carrey didn't exist at that time," he said. "Andy actually affected The Grinch as well." (Incidentally, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is Carrey's biggest domestic box office hit to date at $260 million.)

But Carrey was always one to go the extra mile—and often in the opposite direction, recalling in 2010 how 15 years beforehand, the big paychecks freaked him out because he feared he would become "safe."

Apatow told Carrey he remembered himself and Stiller being amazed by Carrey's energy level on the set of The Cable Guy, to which Jim replied, "I'm a desperate human being."

Asked if he felt if he was needier back in 1995 or then, in 2010, Carrey said, "I'm definitely in more pain now than I was." (Ben said he was right there with him.) "Does success bring about peace and calm, or more pain?" Apatow asked.

"When you start to realize that peace and calm are not actually gonna help you in the business—that they'll actually be bad for you—that's when the real divide happens," Carrey said. "When you go, 'Oh, I could work toward peace, I could find bliss, but I won't have a career.' It's all about abandonment, it's all about need, it's all about worthlessness. If I remain worthless in my own mind, I will be the king of show business."