These two comedic actors go ten rounds with Dr. Suess' classic book.
Dr. Suess' classic children's book Horton Hears a Who is coming to the big screen this week. Based on Theodore Geisel's 1954 literary classic, the feature length animated film features the voice talents of Jim Carrey as Horton the Elephant and Steve Carell as the Mayor of Who-Ville. No one believes Horton, the imaginative pachyderm, when he hears a tiny cry of help coming from a speck of dust. When he comes to believe that there may be life on this speck, he does everything in his power to save it.
We recently met up with both Jim Carey and Steve Carell to go one-on-one in a ten question round robin. Here is our literary breakdown and assessment of the situation:
Question 1: How does one become a Horton, and how does one become a Who?
Jim Carey: I thought of peanuts. Peanuts on my breath. I figured that I would have the sweet smell of peanuts on my breath at all times. I wanted to be the type of elephant that didn't realize he was enormous and bulky. He was light as a feather, as he puts it. He was like a dancer. He was a dancer in his head. He's not bigger than anybody else. That's kind of where I was coming from with that character. Maybe it's an inferiority complex, I don't know. He doesn't feel like he's bigger. He could do a lot of damage if he wanted to, but he doesn't feel like he has that power. He feels equal to everybody.
Steve Carell: Imagine it. Have the kids in your class imagine a world where nothing goes wrong, ever. There, everything is always happy. Everyone always gets along, and everything is always good. The sun is always shining. And then have them imagine that something goes wrong. How you would react to that.? That's kind of what being a Who is like. Especially in this story. There's this perfect world in which nothing ever goes wrong. Suddenly it is turned upside down.
Question 2: How limiting was the voice work since you both come from such a physical comedy background?
Steve Carell: I think there's a freedom within the limitations that are set up. When you are given a structure, and you can do anything within that structure, there's something freeing within that. When you can do anything, any time, anywhere, you just don't know where to focus. At least for me. The heavy-lifting is done by the animators. I think we provide as much as we can vocally. But then you see it, and you see where they've taken whatever you've done vocally, and it's so remarkable.
Jim Carey: That's the great thing about this. We are surrounded by artists who are just as creative, or more so, than we are. And I love being handled by nerds. It's fantastic, man. Just to spew something out, and then have somebody put wings on it. It's fantastic. It's a wonderful thing.
Question 3: How did you both fit this film into your very busy schedules?
Jim Carey: What they do is, they come to your house and they say, "This is going to be the simplest process in the world." They lie to you. They just completely lie to you. Anybody that they're doing that to in the future might want to take note. It is hard work. It's not as simple as they make it sound. It is a half a day here and there. Whenever you get a free moment, you're going in to do it. But the fact is, they come to you, and they really don't have a script. They have an overall idea of where they want to go, but they go, "Here's eight pages. What do you think we should do with it?" And you sit in a room and you jam. You come up with ideas, and you come up with lines. It's a very amazing process. You think, "How is this ever going get to the end and make sense?"
Steve Carell: It's also a huge leap of faith, too. Because there you are, and you don't know how anything you do will synch up with what anyone else is doing. It's all based on how the director sees it and hears it. He's the one threading all of these performances together. You give him one thousand different variations on a scene. And then he crafts it with the rest of the performances. I think it's a huge leap of faith. You can do things where you think, "Will that even work?" In terms of what he's hearing, yeah, it does work.
Question 4: Was there ever a time in your life where you felt like a speck?
Steve Carey: I know I'm a speck. Absolutely. There's no question about it. That's how I feel. Honestly. I'm an interesting speck. That's how I've always thought about it, in those terms. How can you look at the sky at night and not feel that you're a speck somewhere? I saw a picture on the Discovery Channel one time of Earth from Mars. And you could hardly find it. It was a speck. We truly are a speck. There are all different levels of that. It's just kind of where you're at. It's really true.
Steve Carell: If I think about it too much, my mind will explode. We're all so, so tiny, in the big picture. It depends on what picture you're looking at. In the really big picture, we're infinitesimal.
Jim Carey: I've always thought there were worlds within worlds within worlds, though. That somewhere on my right arm, inside a cell, there's some kind of world happening where people are sitting there, going, "Oh, I hope we don't destroy ourselves."
Steve Carell: Which gives us absolute power.
Jim Carey: He could swing that arm and hit it against a tree, and we're gone.
Steve Carell: That's right. That's why we're paralyzed. That's why now, after doing this movie, I can hardly move. Because essentially, I'm afraid I will be crushing tiny universes wherever I go.
Jim Carey: That's right.
Steve Carell: So even in your laughter, and the saliva that's coming out of your mouth, you are killing worlds.
Jim Carey: Right. There are worlds of people that are dying.
Steve Carell: If there's one thing people can take away from this movie, I hope it's that.
Jim Carey: It's Armageddon in my pants right now. I swear to God, it's Armageddon.
Question 5: Did either of you get to meet with Audrey Geisel?
Jim Carey: Every once in a while I will say, "Hi!" But we don't talk a lot. I was really honored that the first thing out of her mouth when they came to her with Horton was, "Can you get Jim Carey?" I feel really honored that she wants me to be a part of the legacy. I just feel wonderful that two of these projects have come my way. I'm such a fan of Dr. Seuss. It's a great thing.
Steve Carell: I've never spoken to her.
Question 6: Are either of you surprised by the amount of fame you have attained?
Steve Carell: In terms of pinching myself about success? All day, every day. I owe a lot to Jim, frankly, for any of my success. Because essentially the first movie I was ever in was Bruce Almighty. I never got auditions for movies, and it was one of the first I'd ever gotten.
Jim Carey: He stole the whole fucking movie.
Steve Carell: No. I remember...I said this to Jim a week or two ago. I remember watching Liar Liar and thinking, "That looks like the most fun you could possibly have." Just being on that set. And at the end, with the outtakes. I thought, "Man, that just looks like a party." In my wildest dreams, I didn't think I would ever be able to be a part of that. Then a couple years later, I was. So, yes. I'm still pinching myself every time.
Jim Carey: He did an amazing job, and he's done that ever since. It's incredible to watch him. It's hard to have a perspective on it from inside myself. I just kind of feel like I could be working in a factory again in a month, or something like that. Loading trucks. That is kind of where I started out. Honestly, I don't have any perspective on it. It's one thing to the next. It's trying to do work, and trying to have fun with what's in front of me. Even today I think to myself, "Ugh, it's a junket!" Then I have to go to that place of, "I'm gonna try to enjoy every person who's in front of me in that moment, and try to live that way. That's what I do." I don't really think about iconic anything. I just try to do work and have fun doing it. Hopefully that translates. I do watch other people, like Steve, and I can sit back and go, "Whoa, man, that guy's good." I'm much more impressed with other people. We've got an amazing cast in this. The people that this project gathered are kind of incredible. It's like a who's who of comedy across five generations. Who's who. Yeah. It's really exciting. Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, and Carol Burnett. I'm amazed by them, you know? I sat and I watched Knocked Up, and I went, "Wow. That's great work, man." These guys are doing incredible stuff. I wish I could be them. It's all about your perspective. It just feels good to be in it.
Question 7: Are there any other Dr. Suess stories that you would like to see brought to the big screen?
Jim Carey: The Steve Carell Story. I'm hoping they'll come to me with that one.
Steve Carell: I don't know. I'd love to do Green Eggs and Ham. I think I could do a lot with it.
Jim Carey: We could work in a box for Fox.
Steve Carell: It does sound ridiculous to even talk about it, doesn't it? But ultimately, you think about, "So you're doing Horton Hears a Who." It sounds sort of odd. You're in the movie version of Horton Hears a Who. Then you see it, and you say, "Of course." It completely makes sense. Maybe Green Eggs and Ham is a blockbuster of the future. You never know.
Jim Carey: That's an epic. That's an epic, for sure.
Question 8: The motto of the film is, "A Person is a person no matter how small." Do either of you have your own personal motto?
Jim Carey: Always turn your wheel in the direction of the skid. That's been my motto all along. That's really what I do.
Steve Carell: Be sure to use a washcloth? Because that's a good way to exfoliate.
Jim Carey: Brush your dentist twice a day, visit your toothbrush twice a year.
Question 9: How does Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who transcend its story for the younger viewers?
Steve Carell: As a five or six-year-old, you don't think about how things transcend anything. You just think about how it resonates. However much anything resonates in a five or six-year-old. This is a book that resonates with kids. They don't understand the metaphors, and the richness of it. At the same time, it does resonates. There's something very specific about the theme. I think even a little kid can understand it. It's that everyone deserves equal footing in life. I think that's just a very basic tenet of being a creature of this world.
Jim Carey: As far as kids go, the thing that attracts them to this is not the deeper concepts involved. It's really just the fact that Dr. Seuss's creativity was so incredible. He was such an original artist. If you give a kid a character that he's never seen before, in a world he's never seen before, they're able to completely lose themselves in an imaginary space. At the same time, they're getting all these wonderful lessons. My own personal experience? I just looked at it and went. "You know, I've always been drawn to things that are different." I felt odd as a child. With anything odd, I went, "Oh, those are my people. The Snitches without Stars. I dig those people." There's something very original about the whole thing. That's what draws kids in. Myself? I listened to the books on tape. I didn't really ever see the pictures.
Do you think the themes of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who resonate stronger in this post-9/11 world?
Jim Carey: There's a butterfly effect to everything we do. Even to raise your voice has an effect that goes far beyond the room you're raising your voice in. Everything has an effect that way. We've seen it politically through the last few decades. There was an odd thing about "Charlie Wilson's War". I looked at that movie and I went, "Didn't he create Osama bin Laden?" But they left that part out, you know? The fact is, every time we go and try to mess with things, and figure it out, and squash somebody, we create somebody else. The act of fighting these fears we have creates more fear. In turn, that creates more aggression.
Steve Carell: I think that's valid. It's always hard when you talk about a post-9/11 world, because I honestly think this: The theme of this movie would have resonated before that happened. Even had it never happened. But perhaps because of that, people's general awareness is higher. I think we can look at it that way without getting too deep or too heavy with it. Because after all, it's a family movie. It's fun, it's funny, it's exciting, it's silly. Within that, there is a very true and pure theme to it.
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who opens this Friday, March 14th, 2007.