Compared to Jim Carrey, just about anyone looks like a straight man, even comedy director Tom Shadyac. The pair, who first collaborated on the runaway hit “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” are behind a new film, “Liar, Liar,” which opens March 21. Carrey plays Fletcher Reid, an unctuous lawyer whose life is turned upside-down when it becomes impossible for him to tell a lie for an entire day. With his unruly shoulder-length hair and wire-rim glasses, Shadyac, 38, looks less like a comic innovator than a sober-minded grad student. Wisely, in a joint interview, he made little effort to keep up with his star.
“Liar, Liar” is a key test for Carrey, 35. The new movie, along with last summer’s critically drubbed “The Cable Guy,” signals a shift from the adolescent zaniness of “Ace Ventura” to more sophisticated, adult roles. Well, somewhat more sophisticated, anyway. As the two riffed on a variety of topics--their collaboration, Carrey’s $20-million paydays and the little-known link between Bob Hope and Moammar Kadafi--they discovered they may not know each other as well as they thought.
Question: Your first big hit was “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” How did you two go about creating the character Ace Ventura?
Carrey: Well, for legal reasons, we’re not allowed to say. . . .
Shadyac: The obvious choice is that the character is a pet detective and he’s bumbling, he’s not cool. It was Jim’s idea to go the complete opposite way.
Carrey: I’m supercool, I have all the answers to a ridiculous degree, and women just fall at my feet. [reflective] We were so scared all the way through that project. It was like this wonderful terror.
They wanted to take the “Pet Detective” out of the title. They thought [the subtitle] would be stupid. And I said, “It is stupid. Don’t apologize, just put it out there.” . . . But I think that was the thing with ‘Cable Guy,’ too. They [softened] the trailer because they were afraid it was too dark. The whole time I’m going, ‘Tell ‘em it’s dark! It is dark! Don’t apologize for it.’ So people showed up expecting fluff and got the creature under the bed.
Question: Were you worried about apologizing for anything in “Liar, Liar”?
Shadyac: Not that we filmed. [They look at each other and laugh.]
Carrey: “Liar, Liar” was just such a wonderful concept, because it’s an opportunity for me to actually have a [family] relationship. But at the same time, it has that kind of frustrating, John Cleese kind of situation to it, where you have the opportunity to go completely mad. Imagine if it was impossible to tell a lie and you had to, for some reason, go to court, or get in one of those situations where you’re constantly checking yourself. [pauses] Like this interview.
Question: Are you checking yourself?
Shadyac: You have to check yourself.
Carrey: OK, let me tell the truth, let me tell the truth.
Shadyac: Go ahead.
Carrey: [leans forward in his seat, earnestly] First of all, the Sunday paper’s too . . . thick. And you’d think they’d be able to do something to keep it from turning yellow by noon. Because some of us don’t get up till then.
Question: [to Carrey] You go through a lot of extreme physical antics in “Liar, Liar.” What was going through your head on the set?
Carrey: “Do my hips look wide in these pants?” [laughs] When I did it, I didn’t think it was gonna be so physically demanding, but it really was, because it was this constant suppression of angst, completely freaking out all the time. I would go home with total exhaustion.
Question: Do you stay in character all day on the set?
Carrey: No. I definitely take it home, a little bit. We had a little story come out on the set about me screaming and yelling before a take. A story came out in the [supermarket tabloid] Globe about how I was out of control. So for a couple of days I was kind of calm, and Tom said, “You know what? Don’t even listen to that stuff, man. Just scream your head off if you need to.”
I do scream and yell. But not at anybody. It’s not like I’m having a temper tantrum or something like that. It’s just getting rid of cobwebs. Sometimes instead of screaming I just go [screwing up his face] sploot, oot, goot.
Question: Tom, I found out something interesting about you.
Carrey: Oh, man. [glances at Shadyac and then springs from his seat as if discovering something shocking] He’s red! He’s red! [laughter]
Question: [to Shadyac] I found a clip that said your father [Washington lawyer Richard Shadyac] was a registered agent of the Libyan government.
Shadyac: Wow. You’re going back. . . .
Carrey: [interrupting with uproarious laughter] Oh! Oh! Beautiful! Beautiful!
Shadyac: Yeah, my dad had dinner with Moammar Kadafi at one point. My dad’s half-Lebanese, my mom is full Lebanese. I’m three-quarters Lebanese. Irish-Lebanese. [turns to Carrey, setting up a punchline] Go ahead, Jim. Irish-Lebanese.
Carrey: [rising to the bait] He’s at war with himself.
Shadyac: But my dad used to represent several Arab countries interests in the United States.
Carrey: Yeah. Right.
Shadyac: That came out when Carter was running for president, and my dad supported Carter and [the media] said, “Registered Libyan agent.” It was so bizarre. I didn’t even know what that meant, other than that he represented . . .
Carrey: Libyan movie stars. I think what we’ve learned in this movie is that the truth is always the best, Tom.
Question: [to Carrey] You didn’t know this? How truthful were you guys with each other?
Carrey: [with a fussy air] Truthful in the moment, OK? I thought I knew him.
Question: Tom, how did you get to Hollywood?
Shadyac: I started writing jokes for Bob Hope. I wrote bad jokes for about 2 1/2 years for him. I had an uncle who worked for him.
Carrey: [to the reporter] So you might want to explore that Hope-Libyan connection.
Shadyac: [Working with Hope] was actually a lot like being a doctor; you were constantly on call. He would call you at the oddest hours; he’d be in England, and he’d say, “Tom, I’m speaking for the queen tonight,” and then you would know you’d have to write royal family jokes.
Carrey: On a big cue card. In huge letters. They were bumpy at the end, weren’t they? [puts his hands up as if reading Braille]
Shadyac: Yeah, they got bigger and bigger . . .
Carrey: . . . until they fell over and killed someone.
Question: [to Shadyac] Did you want to be an actor?
Shadyac: No. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I was always feeling like I was more comfortable directing someone than I was actually doing it myself.
Carrey: Well, the difference is, Tom, that actors are slaves to their emotions and you’re not. I am the prisoner of my emotions. That’s the difference between directors and actors.
Shadyac: That, and about $18 million. But hey! [laughter]
Carrey: Yeah, I’m sure you’ll even that score.
Question: [to Carrey] Which brings up an interesting point.
Carrey: [straight-faced] Yes, I do deserve every penny of it.
Question: Since a lot of people have focused on what you make, I wonder whether you’re tired of hearing about it.
Carrey: It just doesn’t really hit me. I mean, there’s other carbon-based life forms out there that make the same money I do. I’d be a stupid idiot if I took less when I could get more. It’s just an easy angle for journalists who like to sit up and have a Tom Collins rather than think of questions the night before. [turns to Shadyac] How’s that?
Shadyac: Wow. You took the whole heat off the Libyan thing right there. [laughter]
Question: [to Carrey] Do you feel under pressure?
Carrey: [pause] Well, you’d love to go through your life and have have everybody go, “We love everything you do.” But that’s just not possible.
Question: People have made a lot of your shift to more serious roles.
Carrey: I don’t want to stay in the same gear all the time. You see it all the time in people who are so afraid of losing their status that they don’t do anything different. I’d rather lose it all and not do the same thing every time than pander to this imaginary thing that’s my strength--or whatever it is.
‘I’d rather lose it all and not do the same thing every time than pander to this imaginary thing that’s my strength--or whatever it is.’
‘I mean, there’s other carbon-based life forms out there that make the same money I do. I’d be a stupid idiot if I took less when I could get more.’