Mar 18 2010 By Kate Whiting
I Love You Phillip Morris
BOYS will be boys and Jim Carrey will be Jim Carrey. Few other actors would have the guts to paint a big red smiling phallus on the poster of their latest film, in front of a stunned room of European press.
But then Carrey, known for his wacky roles, is not like his fellow actors - and never conforms to type.
I LoveYou Phillip Morris is his wackiest role to date and incredibly, it's a true story.
Jim plays clever conman Steven Russell, who escaped from prison four times in the States to be with his gay lover Phillip Morris.While Morris helped the filmmakers and makes a cameo appearance, Russell is currently in solitary confinement serving a sentence that could see him die in a Texan jail.
The film about their lives, based on a book by journalist Steve McVickers, made it to the big screen because of French film producer Luc Besson. Whereas Hollywood backed away from the project, Besson had no qualms about making a 'gay' film.
It's for this reason that Carrey, his co-star Ewan McGregor, Luc Besson and writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are sitting in front of the garish yellow poster, which looks slightly out of place in a plush Parisien hotel room.
Floppy-haired Carrey, who's just become a granddad for the first time at 48, admits the script was one of the few that he has just 'had' to do. "A lot of times when you get a script, especially with comedies, it's a good idea to sit in a room and turn it into something.
"There are various scripts that come through when I think that nothing has to happen, they're already there and this was one of them," he says.
Some of the actor's representatives weren't so sure about his choice of film, fearing a gay sex scene and a snog with Ewan McGregor was too "edgy".
"There were people in my circle that were concerned about it, absolutely. Advisors and people close to me were saying, 'I don't know man, there's some pretty edgy stuff in here'."
But Canadian Carrey ignored the naysayers. "Why else do we live except to do something that people haven't seen before in film and to push the boundary a little bit, so when it snaps back, it doesn't snap back quite so far? "I don't really care about the reaction if there's a negative reaction," he adds. "I care about doing a story about amazing fascinating people that's unbelievable, but real. It's a true story about love and someone's relentless quest to find it and keep it."
While Ewan McGregor met Phillip Morris as part of his preparation to play him, Carrey wasn't allowed to visit Steven Russell in prison because it was feared his star status would attract too much attention.
Instead, journalist Steve McVickers went on his behalf and recorded their conversations.
"I listened to recordings of him and it was quite fascinating to hear what excited him and to listen to the dialogue about the movie happening, which was the inspiration of his life at that time. He was very excited about it, you could tell, and about the choice of Ewan for his lover," he adds, grinning.
"He's smarter than all of us (Steven has an IQ of 169, in the 'exceptionally gifted' range), but dangerous in that way. He never hurt a soul, but he's in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. I think he should be hired by the government, he'd do a better job at intelligence than they've been doing so far," he quips. Russell's incredible jail breaks included stealing a green marker pen and using it to dye his white prison uniform green, then simply walking out disguised as a doctor. More extreme was the time he took laxatives and starved himself to fake his own death from Aids, which had been the fate of a former lover.
One scene shows Carrey lying on his prison bed, with his rib cage protruding disturbingly from his bare chest. For the actor, it was a physical challenge to lose weight for that shot. "In the last week or so I was literally having this little tomato drink once in a while and I had water and supplements so I could stay alive but there was really nothing of substance.
"In the last two days before the main shots where I look really skinny, I just stopped eating completely and had a little taste of water, like an African runner."
Carrey shot to fame for his funny voices and rubbery face contortions in 1994's Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and the following year's The Mask.
Since then he's gone on to play a range of characters from a state trooper with multiple personalities in Me, Myself And Irene, to a man who's whole life is played out on television in The Truman Show.
But the actor insists that rather than inventing a series of characters, each of those roles demonstrates a little part of him.
"It's all me, everything I do is me. If I go over the top, it's me, if I'm quiet and cerebral, it's me. I'm all of that and I'm so lucky to have stumbled into a life where I can be all of that and Luc will allow me to make a movie like this and believe I can be believable."
And on that profound observation, Carrey stands up, produces a little pot of red paint and a brush that he's procured for this very reason, and starts to paint a smiling phallus.