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Jim Carrey Talks Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Jun 12, 2011

By: Lynn Barker

We know funny actor Jim Carrey from countless movies; “Lemony Snicket”, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Mask, The Truman Show etc.

The popular kids’ novel “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” was written way back in 1938 but in the updated movie version, Jim Carrey plays Popper as a tough New York real estate developer who inherits a brood of penguins (Captain, Lovey, Loudy, Bitey, Stinky and Nimrod) from his dad. The adorable squawking, honking little guys waddle their ways into his heart and help him reunite his family.

Jim Carrey as Mr. PopperJim Carrey as Mr. Popper

Some of the penguins in the film were created on computer but real penguins were often used and Carrey clued us in on some of the funny consequences. We also learned a great deal about what makes Jim Carrey tick; things he hasn’t talked about before. Check it out….

Kidzworld: You’ve done visual effects where nothing is there before. Does it get any easier working with effects and did you know when real penguins would be used?

  • Jim: We opted for a lot of CG stuff but most of it is real penguins because I love working with animals. I kind of like to join their energy and, oftentimes, we’d come in on the set and they wouldn’t be there and we’d be ready to work with the little “X’s” on the floor or the little tennis balls and you’d hear them off in the distance in their habitat going “Blaaaaaaa.  Yaaaaaaaa” (loud penguin noises) so they’d be interrupting the dialogue anyway. I’d go “They might as well be here. Bring ‘um on in”. And, a lot of times we did that at the last minute,
  • I really didn’t have any idea how we were going to go about it on a day-to-day basis. I loved working with the real penguins. Animatronic penguins were a little issue because everybody has a cell phone or some kind of plate in their head; some kind of electronic gizmo; i-pads coming out of everywhere so you get guys on joysticks going “Is that you? It’s not me” (laughter).

Kidzworld: Were they happy in their on-set habitat?  

  • Jim: Yeah. They made love. There was no hanky-panky on the set but the penguins were goin’ at it which is always a good sign, apparently, with penguins. (laughter)

Kidzworld: Any special memories of working with the penguins?

  • Jim: I got bit a lot. I think I love the dinner scene where they’re supposed to be sitting in their chairs picking fish off the plates and it was funny. They had the camera in my face and then they would dolly back. They had the wranglers there with broom poles separating and holding back the penguins like a horse race or something and they’re trying to get at the fish (he makes another funny penguin noise). “Okay, Jim? Ready. Go!” It’s mayhem really. I just had to stay in it and have fun with it. When stuff like that happens, inside I’m going “Yes! Go wild”. That was a good memory.

Kidzworld: If someone gave you penguins like in the film, what would you do?

  • Jim:  Eat them, probably? No! Buy their merchandising rights and sign them up.

Jim Carrey as Mr. PopperJim Carrey as Mr. Popper

Kidzworld: It had to be very cold on set to make the penguins comfortable. Was that uncomfortable for the actors? Did anybody get a cold?

  • Jim: The set was so cold that I was fighting pneumonia the entire time. I was taking Oscillococcinum the whole time. It wasn’t even about the health of the penguins. It’s because they’re method. That’s what I found out. It was good for the scenes in the movie where we had transformed the apartment and you would open the windows and it turned into a winter wonderland and we’re wearing winter coats and things in the scenes. It was in the scenes before he decided to do that that it was difficult. We had to sneak silk underwear under people’s clothes for some semblance of comfort while they were on set.

Kidzworld: Would penguins actually choose loving a human over eating a fish as they do at one point in the film?

  • Jim: (sad face) They don’t call me. I gave them my number. I don’t know what it is. 

Kidzworld: You seemed to enjoy skating at the rink in the film. Did you?

  • Jim: They would have to mop me down at the rink because I’m Canadian so I get the skates on and “Goodbye. I’m not filming anymore. I’m now fantasizing about the Stanley Cup and shooting pucks against the boards” and I was drenched with sweat.

Kidzworld: Was the rink your favorite location?

  • Jim: Definitely one of the for sure and the Flatiron building and the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim was odd because I felt like I was falling downhill the whole time. But, I’d say the rink because it has special memories for me too. I’ve been there several times myself and I just love to skate. When I put a skate on the ice, I’m free from the world and have no problems at all. I am a bird…. A penguin I guess.

Jim Carrey as Mr. PopperJim Carrey as Mr. Popper

Kidzworld: You do a lot of crazy, funny expressions with your face. Are you still finding new things you can do with your face?

  • Jim: My face kind of operates on its own nowadays. It just kind of does what it wants to do. Sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes in the editing room, we’ll go like “That’s not human. We’ll want to take that out. Eyebrows aren’t supposed to be able to do that”.  But I find that I’m still doing things, little tricks that I created when I was ten years old. All of it comes into play. And, the play you do when you’re a kid is so super important. I’m so lucky that my life didn’t get turned upside down until I was eleven because I had a lot of great play and a lot of creativity that still comes into play for me.

Kidzworld: I was glad to see you could still work in some of your stand-up experiences like your Jimmy Stewart impression. To what extent does stand-up comedy help in a performance like this?

  • Jim: Well, it certainly makes you more comfortable with yourself and comfortable with being creative in the moment. Working with the penguins, you can have a plan but they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do so you have to be on your feet so it’s all great training. I used to think of it as training, going up (on stage) every night without a plan at The Comedy Store and two thirds of the time people would throw chairs at me and a third of the time it would be a flow that was really kind of God-given and you felt lucky to be part of and that made me comfortable.

Kidzworld: What would you be doing if not acting?

  • Jim: I guess just direct. I wanted to be a veterinarian for about a week when I was a kid but then I found out about the whole euthanasia thing and said “Sorry. Can’t commit to that. Can’t do it”. But, since the very beginning, I looked at my father and he was commanding the room. Every time we’d have people over, he’d stand in the middle of the room and people were just astounded at his creativity and his animation when he told a story and, after that there was no choice for me. I was just like “That’s how I’m gonna get over in the world. I wanna be that guy”.

Jim Carrey as Mr. PopperJim Carrey as Mr. Popper

Kidzworld: Jim, what are some of the ways you express yourself that we might not even know about? What is a favorite passion of yours?

  • Jim: I have a lot of things going on. I paint a lot. This is a huge passion for me. So, when I’m not acting, I wake up every morning and I have my coffee and pick up a paintbrush. It’s not just something I do on a sun porch. I have a studio in New York and I haven’t revealed, I’ve leaked out a couple of things here and there. One of my paintings is in the movie. It’s in the TV den in one of the scenes but they’re all over the place.

Kidzworld: What kind of painting is it?  

  • Jim: Conceptual, impressionistic. I have a painting right now I’m doing in New York and I can’t wait to get back because I have about five more days. I’ve spent two hundred hours on it and it’s sixteen feet tall and twelve feet wide and it’s a black light painting. It’s viewable in the daylight. It’s a normal painting but when you turn the black light on everything lights up and people come out of the dark and it’s kind of interesting. It’s a whole other realm for me that’s happening that I haven’t really revealed to the world yet.

Jim Carrey as Mr. PopperJim Carrey as Mr. Popper

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