In Not Caring About Whether You Like Him Or Not, Jim Carrey Has Made His Best Work

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Erica Parise/Showtime

"I just didn't want to be in the business anymore," Jim Carrey, 56 and tired of this shit, told The Hollywood Reporter in August. Carrey had taken an extended hiatus, effectively disappearing from public life for two years. He re-emerged from his tragicomic chrysalis no longer the jovial entertainer we remembered, but rather a political agitator who channeled his disillusionment onto a canvas. He was now an artiste, furiously scribbling Trump-skewering cartoons in felt marker and distributing them to his 17.9 million Twitter followers. Maybe he just wanted to share his art with fans à la Britney Spears. Or maybe the actor just stopped caring about being likable.

The people-pleasing Jim Carrey of the Ace Ventura era, the one that America fell in love with in 1994, had seemingly been replaced with a frank mouthpiece who had given up playing into the celebrity vanity that keeps the tabloid machine well-oiled. At last year’s Harper’s Bazaar New York Fashion Week party, for example, Carrey gave an interview on the red carpet. "There's no meaning to any of this," he said of the event. "So I wanted to find the most meaningless thing that I could come to and join and here I am."

Yes, Carrey had gone through intense personal tragedy, but he also realized somewhere in the last four years that he no longer needed to keep the Hollywood hamster wheel turning. Life is too short. He is now quasi-retired—only taking roles that he wants to. His last big turn was as his unforgettable doof Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber To, arguably his last bit of fan service. In 2012, Carrey dropped out of Kick-Ass 2 following the Sandy Hook shooting citing that the "level of violence" in the film made him uncomfortable. With a net worth somewhere in the ballpark of $150 million, he no longer needs to work for money. “What motivates me now, when I don’t have ‘getting rich’ to hold up in front of me, or ‘getting famous’ to hold up in front of me?” he recently said in The New York Times.

The answer? Added value. This Jim Carrey is looking for meaning in his work. With his new Showtime TV show, Kidding, “the first thing I’ve done since I quit the business,” he says, Carrey has constructed a new post-vanity persona, one that isn’t motivated by wealth or fame. And critics are saying this series is some of his best work in years, calling it a terrific showcase for the actor. That he’s teamed up with Michel Gondry, who directed him in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, most likely helped. But the show is unlike anything else currently on TV.

He plays Mr. Pickles, the host of a children’s program somewhat akin to Mister Rogers. Pickles spends much of the first two episodes trying to convince his show’s producer that he should be able to talk about death on Mr. Pickles' Puppet Time. One of his sons has died, and he wants to teach children about love and loss. The plot has faint echoes of the real-life Carrey, railing against a showbiz system that begged for him to "play the hits." It’s precisely why he took up painting. 
“I really liked the control of painting—of not having a committee in the way telling me what the idea must be to appeal to a four-quadrant whatever,” he explained to THR.

As the divorced, melancholy TV host, Mr. Pickles is a revolutionary part for Carrey. He still gets to do his facial gymnastics and wacko impressions on a show where he is surrounded by Jim Henson-esque puppets, but the more heartwarming—or heartbreaking, depending on your viewpoint—scenes are when Pickles is alone. He buys the house next door to his ex-wife and sees her kiss her new husband through the kitchen window. He watches his only son light up a spliff on his dead son’s grave to impress his friends, slowly driving away instead of confronting him. It’s … sad, and Carrey is uncompromising in his acting the part.

Maybe, just maybe, there is something we can learn from his late-career lack of fucks to give.

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Erica Parise/Showtime

Some of Hollywood’s best actors have eschewed the fame game and are all the better for it. Forget what people think, it’s all about the art. Children of Men actor Clive Owen told the The New York Times in 2007, "The worst piece of advice I was ever given by somebody, a long, long time ago, was 'Clive, it's all about likeability’ […] I remember going, what a ridiculous thing to say about acting." He added, "I don't go into my parts wanting the audience to like me. I'm much more interested that they understand and believe me."

Actor Ethan Hawke—who has arguably laid the blueprint for an arthouse-friendly career—isn’t afraid to call out the status quo. Even if it damages his rep. He was slaughtered for recent comments he made in an interview about the superhero genre. “I went to see Logan 'cause everyone was like, ‘This is a great movie’ and I was like, ‘Really? No, this is a fine superhero movie,’” Hawke told Film Stage. “There’s a difference but big business doesn’t think there’s a difference. Big business wants you to think that this is a great film because they wanna make money off of it.”

All of these actors are no longer here to be the box office cash cow. In fact, they’re fine to be set out to pasture. “The only thing I know for certain is that I will be washed up again very soon,” Hawke joked at an awards ceremony in 2016.

When you no longer have to answer to a studio head or a test audience—privileged though that may be—you can finally focus on making something you truly believe in, regardless of whether or not it will connect with audiences. Carrey has finally reached that point, that higher plane.

“I’ve stepped through the door,” he explained in a recent Netflix documentary, referencing the door separating the fake set in his film The Truman Show with the outside world.

“The door is the realization that this [*gestures at documentary set*], us, is seaside. It’s the dome. This is the dome. This isn’t real. You know? This is a story.” It is a story, and Carrey is doing his best to tell it on his own terms.

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