Carrey now tackles Ebenezer Scrooge and the three Christmas Ghosts in Bob Zemeckis’ (Back to the Future) take on A Christmas Carol. BBM spoke to Jim about the challenges involved.
You play Scrooge at various ages as well as the three ghosts. What was it like playing multiple characters?
There were a lot of challenging aspects to the film, but once I got into it I found the process worked well and Bob (Zemeckis) made things very easy for me. He would ask: ‘who do you feel like today?’ But really every spirit is an aspect of Scrooge’s personality and that is how Bob approached it. I have to relax a little bit on a film like this, because when you look at the whole process it really is a daunting challenge. There are regional accents which are hard. I had a wonderful voice coach to help me – but I am still waiting for the response from the UK, from the British Isles (laughs).
How challenging is to react when you are acting opposite yourself, because you are playing the different characters interacting with each other?
You know I had the most incredible help anyone could ever ask for from Cary Elwes. He sacrificed a lot for me making this film. He really was there for me all the way. He played opposite me in all the scenes, playing all the characters, to give me a reference point and it was wonderful to play the scenes with him. He is a genius. He is also very helpful as far as accents are concerned. I call him ‘accent man’ because you could literally name any country on the planet and he knows the accent. So he was absolutely invaluable to me. He is a brilliant actor and he is wonderful in the film and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude because he gave me such amazing support.
Actually can I tell a point of interest about Cary Elwes? I just want to mention it because it is fascinating. Scrooge was based on one of his great, great, great, great uncles, John Elwes. He was a member of parliament and was actually the template for the character. He was so cheap and mean that he would wear the same clothes all the time even when they were in tatters, he wore a wig that he found in the garbage and he wouldn’t buy new game until he had eaten all the meat that he had, even if it was rancid he would finish it. This was the man Dickens based Scrooge on.
You obviously got to know Scrooge well, what kind of man is he, did you get a sense of his inner life?
Gosh that is a big question. Scrooge was abandoned as a child and I always think that the only thing we have to beware of in this world is the unloved. And that’s where it all comes from, that is where Scrooge came from. He tried desperately to cling to whatever was good in life, the things he cared about, and his sister. But he slowly became disappointed by life. There is a transition in the film, at the point where we have the break up scene between Scrooge and Belle (Robin Wright) where he has become a different person. As a child, as children do, Scrooge tried to think positively about the situations he found himself in, children always try to make the best of things. But by the time he was 35, he’d had enough and was just about done, he was finished with making the best of it. And that void within him cannot be filled any more unless he really goes inside himself, which is what happens in his journey. The ghosts that he encounters present his opportunity to see himself. He is introduced to himself. I think that everybody would have the kind of cathartic experience Scrooge has, if they were given the facts about their lives, if they could see the whole picture.
What was it like working with Bob Zemeckis?
It is so important for me to trust my captain, (Zemeckis) and to have that faith in him and to love his work (which I do). But acting is always uncomfortable, so when acting I am always in a state of discomfort, I am never satisfied and the thing that saves you in the worst moments doing a film like this, is having that faith and trust that it is going to look beautiful and work out.
Can you discuss the acting process
for you; is it really uncomfortable all the time?
It is like divine dissatisfaction – and I don’t know how else to describe it. Usually when I feel I have really nailed something, when I have done a scene and feel ‘I nailed it’, those are the never the things that are left in the movie, because I was probably too conscious of myself at those times. It is hard to get your bearings when making a film. There is a certain level of professionalism as an actor, and I can’t speak for everybody, but I always feel uncomfortable. Do I think that is going to change? No it is what it is. And it doesn’t mean the end result isn’t great.
What kind of acting does this genre call for?
It is so exciting and amazingly creative. Certain aspects of the technology make things easier, because you can get a lot of scenes done and create the work you want, doing it this way. As an actor though there are extra challenges. You have to create the ambience and the belief in your surroundings in your head and sometimes that can be disconcerting. With this technique, there are no cameras and there are no more boundaries any more, like there are making conventional films. As actors we are used to boundaries and it is odd not to have any.
It seems like a great role for you because it is so physical?
It was a dream come true for me. It is challenging physically and I use everything I’ve got. My fingers turn into these long, spindly, wonderful things, it’s great, it’s like puppeteering.
How interesting was it for you looking at the characters when they were completed, looking at Scrooge?
Can I tell you how freaky it is for me doing this film? When I saw the movie, one of the first things I said upon looking at the first close up image of Scrooge was: ‘my family is going to have a heart attack because that is my father’ (laughs). He was not Scrooge, he was the happy version of the character, the day after the ghosts have visited him, but it is unbelievable, it is really a look into the future for me. I am in the modern age of course, but the look is my family’s, that is what I am going to look like. (laughs) And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A Christmas Carol is available right now on Blu-Ray and DVD.