Casting Jim Carrey In The Mask Was A ‘Gamble’ Not Many Studios Would Take

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There’s nobody in the world who can replicate Jim Carrey’s unique on-screen energy and presence. He’s the sort of performer where you can’t imagine anybody else in any of his roles — is there literally anybody else who could have played Dr. Robotnik in the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movies? Absolutely not! Could just anybody have made “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” work? Not on your life, buddy! Carrey is a specific type of weirdo that Hollywood seems to be unable to find another one of, and that makes him an invaluable part of many comedic films.

But before Carrey was harassing people while method acting as Andy Kaufman or making disturbing paintings of Donald Trump, he was just another young comedian trying to make a name for himself. And despite his clear and unique talent, he had to start his career at the bottom like everybody else.

Carrey’s first real big break came due to his friendship with Damon Wayans, as he explained to The Hollywood Reporter in 2019:

“I had known Damon through the stand-up circuit, and we were always kind of clocking each other. He kind of admired what I was doing onstage. He told me, ‘Hey, crazy man, what do you think about coming in to audition for this thing? Come and meet my brother.'”

Even then, people were clocking Carrey as a unique comedic talent, and this led to him being cast in “In Living Color,” a Fox sketch show with a predominantly Black cast starring the Wayans brothers. Carrey, then credited as “James Carrey,” appeared in 125 episodes of the program and played countless characters during his run. While Carrey was by no means the star of the show, he still managed to make a great impact, one that got him noticed by many in the industry.

Making The Mask Funny

While “The Mask” is now known as one of Jim Carrey’s breakout film roles, he wasn’t always destined to don the mean green mug of Stanley Ipkiss. When talks first began about making a movie based on the “The Mask” comic book series by Dark Horse Comics, the big screen adaptation wasn’t meant to be the silly Carrey comedy vehicle it became. The comics, which were originally published in the early ’90s, were extremely violent and somewhat nihilistic, and original talks for the movie had it pegged as a gory horror flick, according to the 2019 Forbes oral history of “The Mask.”

But the darker version of the story wasn’t connecting with the decision-makers at studios, so they shifted gears to the more comedic version that we all eventually saw, as director Chuck Russell recalled in the Forbes piece. “If you find the original comic, it’s more of a straight-up horror [story]. People get chopped up and killed and it’s black-and-white splatter-punk style,” he explained, later adding that “The Mask [in the comics] would pull an axe out of his pocket magically where I might have had Jim Carrey pull out a rubber chicken or a bazooka.”

With “The Mask” now setting a course for Laughs and Good Times Island, it became a film much more suited for Carrey’s talents. But with a list of potential leads that included the likes of Rick Moranis, Martin Short, and Robin Williams, “the white guy from ‘In Living Color,'” as comics creator Mike Richardson recalled him being described as in the Forbes piece, didn’t seem like a prime candidate. Luckily for Carrey, his career spent making impressions on people was beginning to pay off.

Made For Him

Like many of his roles, “The Mask” seems tailor-made for Jim Carrey’s skillset. His physical comedy chops are unparalleled, and his mix of explosive movements and general elasticity made him an almost uncanny match for the wild and mercurial Mask character, which grew to resemble Carrey himself more and more over time. That’s becasue, despite his relatively low profile, people on the production had noticed Carrey’s potential early on.

In the Forbes oral history, director Chuck Russell told the story of his first exposure to Carrey and how it helped solidify the decision to make “The Mask” a comedy:

“I saw Jim Carrey at the Comedy Store and was almost unable to believe my eyes at what he could do with physical comedy and his level of literally ingenious energy. I began to watch ‘In Living Color’ after I saw him at the Comedy Store and I just said, ‘There’s this guy Jim Carrey [we need to cast] and we need to make this a comedy.'”

But Russell wasn’t the only one whose attention Carrey drew. Even New Line Cinema executive Mike DeLuca was suggesting him. Here’s Mike Richardson’s recollection of DeLuca’s interest:

“Mike DeLuca at New Line sent me this tape and said, ‘Watch this. Do you know the white guy in ‘In Living Color?’ I was vaguely familiar with him, but he sent me this gag with Jim Carrey doing his version of the movie ‘My Left Foot.’ He was such a contortionist. It cracked me up and I called [Mike] and I said, ‘That’s The Mask!'”

Even Richardson, the original creator of the character, had pegged Carrey as the perfect choice for the part. With so many fans of Carrey’s in the production, it’s no wonder he eventually got the role.

A Calculated Risk

A big part of any film’s financial success lies in its cast. That isn’t just conventional wisdom — even Harvard Business School studies have shown that if a film has some recognizable names on the poster, people are way more likely to go out and spend money to see it. That’s why the ultimate decision to cast Jim Carrey, who was relatively unknown at the time, as the lead in “The Mask” was such a risky decision. But according to producer Robert Engelman in the Forbes oral history, it was a risk New Line Cinema was willing to take:

“It was made as a small-budget film and [Carrey] had the physicality and the fun to do it. The film was made before Jim Carrey’s other movie, ‘Ace Ventura,’ came out, so it was very much of a gamble and New Line was very big on gambling. We loved his physicality and the fact of what he could do. He was just right for the part, there was just no question about it.”

While New Line Cinema’s love of gambling has resulted in some financial woes for the studio over the years, taking a risk on someone as talented as Carrey on a relatively inexpensive film is one that clearly paid off.

And so, Carrey was chosen for the part, and Russell recalls even Carrey understanding instantly how perfect the role was for him:

“When Jim read it, he said to me, ‘My God, it’s like it’s written for me!’ I said, ‘It is. It was.'”

A Career Leaves Orbit

The excitement of everyone involved was quickly validated, as Carrey made the role his own as only he can. His extremely funny and wildly physical performance (even when he was under the weather), along with his unexpectedly excellent chemistry with Cameron Diaz, elevated “The Mask” to a whole new level of hilarity. Despite a mixed critical reception at the time, the film was a hit with audiences, and Carrey’s performance received plenty of praise, including Roger Ebert saying, “‘The Mask’ is a perfect vehicle for the talents of Jim Carrey, who underwhelmed me with ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’ but here seems to have found a story and character that work together with manic energy.” The positive critical reception coupled with huge box office gains proved that New Line Cinema had not only won their gamble, but hit the jackpot.

1994 was a massive year for Jim Carrey. Not only was “The Mask” released, but “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and “Dumb and Dumber” came out as well. In one year, Carrey went from a risky casting choice to a genuine movie star.

The people who become most successful in show business aren’t always strictly the most talented. Some people are extremely good at what they do and simply never get the opportunity to prove it on a big stage. But Jim Carrey was so undeniably entertaining that he drew the attention of Hollywood bigwigs solely through his work. Such a unique talent simply refused to go unnoticed.

Read this next: The 95 Best Comedy Movies Ever

The post Casting Jim Carrey In The Mask Was A ‘Gamble’ Not Many Studios Would Take appeared first on /Film.

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