If you don’t immediately recognize Jim Carrey in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, you’re forgiven. The 51-year-old comedian looks like Colin Farrell’s evil brother: his arms are strapped with thick tattoos and leather bands, and the arms themselves are so ripped that Carrey looks like he’s playing a gladiator, not a Vegas street magician who calls himself the Mind Rapist.
“You have to eat, like, anti-matter to stay in that kind of shape,” said Carrey of the temporary muscles he put on to play the David Blaine-eqsue Steve Grey. “It’s not a happy place to be.”
In his first scene, Grey slices his own face with a knife – a scar he wears for the rest of the movie – and by the time he sews the gash together with thread, you realize that the most unrecognizable thing about Carrey in Burt Wonderstone isn’t the blonde wig or the six-pack or goatee, it’s that he’s finally resurrected his wicked brand of humor.
It’s been five years since Carrey shot an adult comedy (and much longer still since he shot a good one) and during that time, a new crop of actors have taken over his spot as comedy’s biggest box office draw. Among them is Steve Carrell, the actual star of Burt Wonderstone, which puts Carrey in the once-unthinkable position of playing back-up to his competition. But as career moves go, it’s smart: the only thing better than being the star is being the guy who steals the movie. Which Carrey does – fitting for a flick about two floundering superstars (Carrell and Steve Buscemi) who get supplanted by Carrey’s sinister stunt magic.
At the Burt Wonderstone press day in Las Vegas, Carrey talked honestly about the parallels between the characters in the film and his own career:
“[Show business] is a roller coaster for sure. There’s so many highs. I find myself constantly when I’m working with guys like this, there’s just moments of your life where you go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how insanely lucky I am.’ And then you can turn around and the next moment feel so completely caught up in your own wanting, and desiring, and needing and feel like somehow you’re missing something. It’s just higher the high, the lower the low.”
Like Steve Grey, Carrey’s career took off in Vegas when Rodney Dangerfield hired the young Canadian impressionist to open for him at Caesar’s when he was barely old enough to drink:
“To see the name up on that big sign is such a thrill for somebody when they’re starting out. It’s just like ‘Wow! I’m really here. I went away from the impressions. I started dressing weird and had spiky hair and imitated cockroaches avoiding vacuum cleaners and things like that on stage. I totally lost the audience, which I had planned to do. Rodney Dangerfield used to stand backstage and howl with laughter at my failure, but in the most fun way. I’d get off stage and he’d be like, ‘Man, they’re looking at you like you’re from another f–king planet!’
I think anybody who gets to Vegas and stays here for any length of time is, first of all living in a Martian environment and should be commended, but also they have to be good to a certain kind of extent. It might not be your kind of good, but it is ‘good’—they know how do it.”
Carrey’s Steve Grey definitely isn’t everyone’s kind of good – in one scene, you actually believe he’s capable of killing a puppy – but he’s memorable. For both comedians and magicians, that’s what counts. And to Carrey, that’s where their similarities end:
“I was always fascinated by [magicians], but they’re kind of like ‘Abracadabra—you’re an idiot.’ They don’t let you in on the joke. Comedians, you’re always in on the joke unless it’s Andy Kaufman.”
Now, the test for Jim Carrey is to see if comedy fans will let him back in the cool kids club after his string of kiddie flicks and Oscar bait. If Burt Wonderstone doesn’t do the trick, this August he’s playing Colonel Stars and Stripes in Kick-Ass 2, and for next year he’s lined up the lead in Loomis Fargo, a bank heist comedy by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite).
Stay tuned to Screen Rant for further Burt Wonderstone interviews including real-life magician David Copperfield!
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opens in U.S. theaters on March 15th, 2013.
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