LOS ANGELES – Jim Carrey likes the “p” word. He stars with a bunch of those tuxedo-ed critters in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” a movie based on the 1938 children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater.
Full of alliteration employing the letter “p,” the story depicts the life of a businessman (Jim) whose life unravels when he inherits six penguins. Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Madeline Carroll and Ophelia Lovibond also star in the family comedy directed by Mark Waters.
Behind the mugging, Jim has a serious side. He paints and talks engagingly about his lifelong pursuit for meaning and purpose (he is inspired by Eckhart Tolle, the popular spiritual teacher and author). But in this laughter-filled interview, we choose to highlight some of the fun, silly quotes from the Canada-born actor.
There are many “p” words in this movie.
What’s your favorite “p” word?
Parthenon – seat of intelligent thought. It was pretty fun. It was one of those things where we went, wow, I wonder if we can pull this one off. I thought Ophelia [Lovibond] did a great job. We were constantly searching for phrases to put together.
How many real penguins were used in the movie?
A lot. Occasionally, a penguin is doing a little bit more than a real penguin ought to do, but that’s for a little artistic license. I worked with real penguins as much as I possibly could. I preferred that because animals are unpredictable and interesting. I wanted that to be the bulk of the work. I’m good with animals. I’m used to it.
What type of an actor is a penguin?
Definitely, method. I know they’ve done some time in the Antarctic. No, I forget where these penguins were headed but they came from a habitat in Montreal. They’re Canadian penguins. A little cronyism there – trying to get them in, getting green cards for them and getting them married. Some married pigeons. That will never work but it will get them green cards.
We had a major concern – that the penguins remain happy and well taken care of. So I was glad that, throughout the process, the handler was coming to us and saying, “They’re mating; that means they’re happy.” It’s one or the other – you’re either happy because you’re mating or you’re mating because you’re happy.
How difficult are they to train?
Very difficult. They did train them to the point where they got used to jumping up in a box or hitting a mark. But in general, it was a wrangling situation where you kind of cut off certain exit points. Then, I body language my way into a place where they felt like, that wasn’t the exit or things like that. We had to be clever about it. I had fun figuring out ways to deal with them, including putting fish into my pockets.
You sound like you do love penguins.
The reason I was attracted to the movie is that I do… love penguins. You can look at the things I’ve said on Twitter. I have a thing about penguins. Steve Martin said you can’t be unhappy around a banjo. I don’t think you can be unhappy with a penguin in the room. That’s why penguin things are attractive to people. It’s like they’re puppies times 10 – pure love. There’s something about them that you just immediately open your heart and go, “Okay, all right, I love you.”
Can you share any memorable experience working with animals in movies?
I mated with a duck once. I just chalked it up. Just a little mark in the wall there. Got that done. Never have to do that again.
I enjoyed riding an ostrich. That was one of the fun things in my life. Riding an ostrich was pretty cool. I don’t think he was happy about it but …
Of all the comedies ever made, what would be your own Top Five?
Oh, wow, only five? “Modern Times” was pure genius for many different reasons, not only for the brilliance of the set pieces. You can’t beat those things. They will last forever. “A Shot in the Dark” with Peter Sellers. When people think of Peter Sellers, they think of “The Pink Panther” movies and leave that one out. But that’s a gem. “Shampoo” is a brilliant movie, a comedy with a backdrop that’s completely serious, political and poignant. A lot of Hal Ashby’s movies, like “Harold and Maude.” In that film, when you see the tattoo on Maude’s arm, all that was ridiculous and funny suddenly come together in a very serious idea. I would have to include mine in the mix – “The Cable Guy.” I should have gotten an Academy Award for that, but they don’t give an Oscar for that sort of thing.
E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.