Jim Carrey (right) and co-author Dana Vachon Photo: Linda Fields Hill
The scenario sounds bleakly familiar. Holed up in his home, depressed and binge-watching Netflix while the apocalypse slowly gathers steam outside his door, Jim Carrey is spiraling.
At least, thats how we find Carrey at the start of the actors memoir-novel of sorts, Memoirs and Misinformation.
Its a likely story in the midst of the pandemic, but the difference is that the end-times in the book eventually come in the form of an alien invasion so, not exactly the same. And yet, much of the novel, which was co-written with novelist Dana Vachon, similarly appears as an absurdist fever dream whose satire of many things the end of the world, the evils of capitalism, the cult of celebrity suddenly doesnt feel like much of a satire anymore in these uncertain times.
Were being surprised by it on a daily basis, how prophetic it was, Carrey, 58, told The Chronicle in a recent video call, sitting next to Vachon as they quarantine together in an undisclosed location during their virtual press tour.
Most of the novel, which quickly became a New York Times bestseller after its release this month, is unequivocally fictional, but its underlying ideas speak to Carreys beliefs and, seemingly more with each passing day, to the upheavals of this year.
In the novel, Carrey is a self-spoofing caricature of himself, wrestling with the trials of fame and relevance: Should he do the the bombastic, Oscar-baiting Mao Zedong biopic (with Carrey as Mao) or the AI-scripted animated Disney film created to sell Hasbro toys? As he embarks on a quintessentially Hollywood journey that includes aliens and Rodney Dangerfield as a CGI hippo, all around him is hedonism, blind egomania and a certain insidious brand of American corporate gluttony.
Were all his victims victims of greed, Carrey says. Its this disease. Its the real pandemic thats going on greed is exacerbating everything else. Its making every issue we have in this country worse. The issues are there; theyre not about Trump.
Thoughtful and forthcoming, Carrey is much calmer than what one might reflexively associate with the actor whose megastar fame was built on hyperactive films such as Ace Ventura and The Mask. He is, in the earnest self-awareness he expresses at this point in his life, more akin to The Truman Show, the 1998 Peter Weir film he starred in that, in its premise of a man realizing his life is a program being filmed for others to consume, seemed to speak precisely to Carreys dizzying global fame at the time.
A long time ago I started seeing myself as a construct, Carrey says. Its not necessarily a negative thing. Its a natural thing for a human being to want to build walls around themselves that make them secure. You build a scaffolding of ideas around your fear and your desires for survival. Your survival mechanism does that. But at a certain point I saw it for what it was.
To consider Carrey simply through the lens of his filmic personae and stardom, then, is perhaps the very problem, and also the crux of Carreys struggle in the novel. Most of Memoirs and Misinformation plays with our cultures myopic and feverish view of celebrity, as an absurdist stream of movie stars constantly shuffles in and out of frame Tommy Lee Jones is a whiskey-soaked, Harvard s and Gwyneth Paltrow as much a computer hacker as she is Goop mogul.
The real-life Carrey is quick to acknowledge the good fortune and privileges of his success, but beyond the novels Hollywood bacchanal is a self-consuming tug-of-war with ego that applies to everyone, especially as capitalism has gradually dictated that our online presence be turned into personal brands and personas.
Jim is just in this incredibly unique position where he is on the mountaintop and can make some amazing observations about the cult of the self for everyone, Vachon says.
One of those observations is that the fixed self the brand or idea of Jim Carrey never really exists. It becomes sarcophagal. Im the guy that says alrighty then! and thats it, Carrey says. I dont have one cell in my body that is the same as when I did Ace Ventura.
When did Carrey realize that who he was existed outside of the construct? Almost yearly, he says.
After he played Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, obsessively absorbing himself into the role, he was left asking himself, Who was I again?
If I can enjoy losing myself in another persons character, then what am I? he says. Am I just that, too? Just another character being played?
In a sense, the book is the fullest portrait of Jim in showing this amazing thing he does, this Houdini act of escaping the last persona and rebirth, Vachon says. Hes an artist whos just uniquely adept at that.
The constant growth, the shedding of the fixed self, is what led to the novel. In recent years, Carrey has been, in his words, stepping through the Truman door to explore other forms of his artistry. He has painted prolifically, known perhaps most for his anti-Trump artwork, and spent some eight years writing the book with Vachon, in person and through Skype sessions.
Along the way, he seems to have deliberately entered a more tranquil place as a movie star. Spoofing the inner workings of the industry, the novel can be an act of talking back at the apparatus of contemporary Hollywood as it moves stars like money-making chess pieces to construct billion-dollar franchises.
You have to play to the audience sometimes, Carrey says. Theres pressure from the people who are guiding your career: Hey, we need some energy. We need to get you back out there. We need to do something thats popular. You always have to weigh those things out. I generally dont pick those things unless theres some good artistic reason for me to do them.
That includes his recent turn as the mustachioed villain in the recent blockbuster Sonic the Hedgehog, which was partially shot in San Francisco.
Sonic is a very prescient character to me, he says. Its not just funny it is funny, and its crazy and wonderful to be that insane but its also everything we fear right now, everything were dealing with. Are we going to be replaced by machines? Are we going to have a place when this place is entirely mechanized?
The same strain of questions courses through the novel, which in all its fantastical parody, he notes, revolves around the same deeply human truth: the fear of erasure the ego, again. In the novel, he fights to finally understand this when the world eventually crumbles around him and aliens overrun the planet. The real-life Carrey arrived at this understanding long ago, but he is also wise enough to know it never lasts.
Ill reach it once today, he says. People have this mistaken idea that they can get to an enlightened state and stay there. The fact is, if you have the understanding of what freedom is and how to get there, you can get there sometimes. But you cant get there and stay there.
Memoirs and MisinformationBy Jim Carrey and Dana VachonKnopf(272 pages; $27.95)
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