Green Becomes Him
According to director Ron Howard, the appearance of the young Grinch in “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was supposed to be just a sight gag--sort of a Mini-Me version of Jim Carrey as the mean green one. But that was before actor Josh Ryan Evans was cast in the part.
“As it turned out, he was able to create a character and generate a lot of heart for the story,” says Howard. “It was such a pleasant surprise. The days working with Jim were always amazing, but Josh was just delightful.”
The 3-foot, 2-inch Evans manages to elicit both laughter and sympathy as the little green furry boy who looks different from all of his schoolmates. It is their laughter and guffaws at his appearance and an ill-fated Christmas gift that make him turn his back on his hometown of Whoville and Christmas.
“I think that scene where everybody in class is laughing at him because he’s different is every kid’s nightmare, and that it happened to the young Grinch is kind of offbeat and entertaining,” says Howard. “But it’s sad and it rings true.”
The 18-year-old Evans--a rare disease halted his growth at age 2--is accompanied to a recent interview by his manager and his mother, Cheryl. It’s an unusual day off for the young actor, who has developed a cult following thanks to his funny, inventive performance as the living doll, Timmy, on NBC’s daytime drama “Passions.”
Though he’s the size of a small child, Evans has the appetite of a typical teenager. “He eats from the moment he’s up until the moment he goes to bed,” says his mother, as Evans starts devouring spicy chicken fingers, chicken drumsticks and a hearty supply of salsa at a quiet Sherman Oaks restaurant.
Cheryl Evans hands over her son’s latest business card, which features two tiny portraits of him: one as himself and one in his Grinch makeup. Underneath his name it says simply: “Young Grinch.”
“There were really no lines for the character,” says Evans. So he and Howard put their heads together in order to flesh out the mini-Grinch. “We made up lines on the fly,” says Howard, “like when he said: ‘The fires of love,’ or ‘What a lovely family heirloom.’ None of those things were in the script.”
Evans spent a day watching Carrey cavort as the Grinch, as well as dailies of the actor at work. “He did a great job of creating a connection there between the young Grinch and the grown-up Grinch,” says Howard.
It took 5 1/2 hours each day to apply Evans’ Grinch makeup and bodysuit--two hours more than for Carrey because everything was so small and intricate.
The shooting was difficult for Evans and everyone involved. “I have had heart surgery three times, so I know what it was like to have pins and needles stuck in you,” Evans admits.
“At one point we were there 16 hours and I was ready to pull him,” says his mother. “Then Ron said, ‘Action,’ and he just came to life.”
“If I’d been pulled from the film, I would never have forgiven myself,” Evans says, sipping on his soft drink. “I came close [to pulling myself]. I had two days left and I knew I had to go back. It was in the morning and, while getting up and putting on my clothes, I did not want to go. The night before I was yelling at my mom every minute she was saying something.”
Not only was he dreading the makeup application, he was feeling the pressure of matching Carrey’s performance, “doing what Ron wants and making the Dr. Seuss legacy valid in a new medium.”
Evans has been a regular on “Passions” since its premiere in July 1999. His character of Timmy was brought to life by a witch named Tabitha (Juliet Mills). The two, though, have a long history together. In fact, they were both burned at the stake at the Salem witch trials and Timmy even was a servant for Rasputin.
“I’m not evil, but some people are freaked out by a living doll,” Evans says, laughing. “I don’t play him as a doll. I play him as a person who can go into doll mode, a being who can turn into what looks like a doll.”
The Timmy-Tabitha story line has had a strong following since the show began, says the show’s executive producer, Lisa Hesser. “It seems to span all age ranges.”
The idea of casting Evans in “Passions,” says Hesser, came to her in the middle of the night. “We were talking about the character of Timmy and if it was going to be something animated or going to be a person. I was truly tossing and turning one night, and I flicked on TV and on E! there was a special behind-the-scenes of this movie [“Baby Geniuses”] Josh had done.”
The next day, she had her casting director get Evans for an interview. “He was so charming and wonderful, there wasn’t any question that he was the one who would play Timmy. Tabby and Timmy get to do and say all the things that most of us think but never say out loud.”
Born in Hayward in Northern California, Evans watched movies and television shows while recuperating from his childhood surgeries to replace a heart valve. (“It was all I could do besides reading books.”) Watching TV and movies helped him forget his pain. “I thought, if it’s all pretend, why can’t I do that?” he says.
By the time he was 12, he says, “I was feeling better. I realized my life was not going to be, per se, normal. I had already spent lots of time in the hospitals.”
“He said one day, ‘Mom, I’m never going to cure cancer, but I can help them forget they have it,’ ” recalls Cheryl Evans, who describes her son as a “life force.”
He had a business card made up stating “Josh Ryan Evans--Kid” and started giving them out to anybody who was an actor. “My mom is really into musicals, so I would take her to musicals and go backstage and meet the actors,” he says.
His persistence and ingenuity paid off. Within six months he got an agent and landed the part of the moon-walking baby on a Dryer’s Ice Cream commercial. His head, though, was replaced by that of a baby. “A lot of my jobs were head replacements in the very beginning,” he says.
His big break came as the child prodigy lawyer Oren Koolie on the first season of “Ally McBeal.”
“It’s so funny, I am a five-year overnight success,” says Evans. “Everybody said, ‘You hit it so big when you were on “Ally McBeal.” ’ I didn’t do anything for a year after ‘Ally McBeal,’ and I had to write David Kelley to get myself back on ‘Ally’ a second time because I thought the character should be on again.”
Evans, a high school senior, is tutored on the set of “Passions.” Evans doesn’t know if he wants to go to college but wouldn’t mind giving film school a whirl. “Ron Howard gave me an offer to intern because I asked him if I could observe him,” says Evans.
He adds: “I can’t think too far ahead. I am feeling better than I have ever felt. I love being an actor. I love my work. I love the payoff.”