Jim Carrey, Emily Browning and director Brad Silberling talk Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events!
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is obviously a vehicle for Jim Carrey to go crazy. He’s got characters in heavy makeup and the license to go wild, but the look of the film is equally the star. With dark, gothic and retro sets of houses, shanty towns, train stops and more, Carrey was in as much wonder of his environments as kids will be with his performance.
“When we saw playback and stuff like that, I just thought, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to see what this looks like in all its glory,’” Carrey said. “I still have that to look forward to. I’m going to go see it at the premiere, but I can’t wait to see what it looks like.”
Fortunately, director Brad Silberling created an environment where Carrey never had to be overwhelmed by the scenery he was trying to chew. “Brad is great on so many levels. He’s a really brilliant filmmaker but at the same time, he’s really amazing with people. Really super with people and it made me feel comfortable. One of those directors, when you go into a part and think, ‘Oh Gosh, what’s the entry into that thing going to be like? What’s this going to be like starting?’ For some reason, by the time you went to camera, he always had given you enough time and space and places to create.”
Silberling actually took some heat from his colleagues about the sets. “Cameron Crowe told me that, because he was waiting to get some of my stages, he was like, ‘Everyone’s calling it Lemony Piggy,’ so that was a problem,” Silberling said. “He came by to visit one day and he was like, ‘Dude, get off my stage.’ That was true, but it was true because the design concept, which I wanted for imagination, you go back to those experiences before the holidays when you were a kid watching The Wizard of Oz on the tube or even if your little one is watching Mary Poppins or even Night of the Hunter, and you look at really old fashioned stage pictures, designed all on stage, exteriors as well as interiors, just like what William Cameron Menzies did on Invaders From Mars. Take that idea - and the great part about it is it’s very exciting to build - it takes up a lot of space, and so that is what happened. We took up a lot of space there, and we also had to build a tank, an indoor tank, down in Downey at an old Boeing facility because four of the sets in the picture are all on water, and for control’s sake and again to keep this real, almost illustrated quality, we knew we had to build it.”
For the young actors, it helped to have real sets built at that scale. Emily Browning, who plays Violet Boudelaire, was expecting to work on green screens. “It was really great because when you got there, you didn’t really need to imagine the world because there were 360 degree sets and it was all really there,” Browning said. “So there weren’t as much special effects as you think, so you sort of didn’t really notice when there needed to be special effects which I think was really good because it helped a lot with when you’re acting to actually be in the world with the kids.”
The Boudelaire kids find themselves in many precarious situations thanks to Count Olaf, including stuck in a car on train tracks and dangling from a house hanging off a cliff. Browning said she and costar Liam Aiken did most of their own stunts.
“There wasn’t anything too extreme. It was really not too much. We didn’t actually jump from one half of the house to the other. We couldn’t do that, but there was a lot of stuff where we’re on the house with harnesses and it was on hydraulics and it was moving around. So yeah, most of the stuff was up. There were a couple things we didn’t do. I think the jump was probably all that they wouldn’t let us do. The only other time there were doubles was just like we were far away and you couldn’t tell it was us, they would use just a photo double because we were working all the time. So I guess they’d use the photo doubles in wide shots so we could get some school work in. But no, really we pretty much did everything.”
All through production and leading up to the release, studio executives feared the story of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events would be too dark and scary for children. It has many character deaths and a villain who is overtly cruel to kids. But everyone involved with production gives children credit for being able to handle edgier stories.
“I hate to speculate on how people are going to react to a piece of work, but I think they can give me up for a second, I think that they get that I’m playing a part,” Carrey said. “That it’s for the movie, and that I’m not a dastardly guy who murders children.
Browning, still only 16 herself and 15 when making the film, said young readers her age enjoy the books for respecting them enough not to coddle. “I don't know about all kids, but I’m sure some kids, including me are really getting sick of having kids movies where the kids are so cheesy and really up and happy all the time,” Browning said. “That’s what’s kind of cool about this film. It has the moral, I guess, of kids being able to stick together and overcome all this but you know that more bad stuff is going to happen. But the thing is you know that even though these kids are going to suffer pretty much their whole live, they’re going to be okay. You know that through all this terrible stuff happening, you know they’re going to be okay because they’re really tough. But I think it’s great because it shows kids and they have no adult allies. The adults are either horrible to them or they’re just not listening to them. So these kids are completely alone and I think it’s good for kids to see other kids being able to deal with things by themselves.”
Silberling used kids to make his case to the studio. He called a focus group of 10-13-year-old kids to ask them what they wanted to see in the movie. “I said, ‘Okay, I’m about to start this film, and I’m going to tell you about some of the choices I’m making. You guys are hardcore readers, you’ll tell me now. One thing like I know you don’t want to see is a baby hanging from a cage.’ And they would scream, ‘No! You have to!’ I would go through all of the points that I knew would be the most hot button issues. Count Olaf is actually going to slap Klaus? You can’t do that in the movie. ‘You have to!’ So they were great. You had these kids talking about the danger of whitewashing the story. Now, that said, it doesn’t mean that financiers aren’t going to still be nervous, but boy, it was the next best thing to sort of creating a shield.”
That took care of the source material, but of course any Jim Carrey movie is created on the fly despite its basis. The comedian laughed at the suggestion that he “Carrarized” the Lemony Snicket books.
“Sanitize and Carrarize it,” Carrey asked. “This one was discovered by my manager’s son, the material, so Sam, who is 11 years old, was reading the books and said, ‘Jim has to play Count Olaf. It’s him.’ So that’s how that came about. Of course, as soon as I jumped onboard I said, ‘Okay, guys, I need the greatest creative minds in this room to Carrarize this thing.’ No, but obviously, I put my stamp on it. You only have yourself to draw on. So to me it was like tapping into the little megalomaniac inside me and just amp-ing it up. There was a lot of improvisation, there is a ton of stuff that’s not in the movie that is really funny, but that doesn’t further the story. I face that a lot actually. I have to kill babies. They call it killing babies in Hollywood, where the baby’s got to die. I didn’t really, actually kill a baby, let’s get that straight, it’s a figurative baby, a funny joke baby.”
Carrey’s costars rendered many good takes useless by cracking up at his improvisations. “It was easy to talk to him like in between takes and just chat and he’s a really cool, really, really nice guy but then it was difficult not to laugh when we were in the middle of a scene because he does heaps of improv and you don’t know what to expect,” Browning said. “You don’t know what’s coming. So it was really difficult to keep a straight face especially because he does a different thing in every take.”
Silberling added that Carrey’s skills were vital to selling the aliases Count Olaf uses to stalk the children. “I got to work with a schizophrenic, I mean in the best sense, where Jim is an unbelievable character actor. I think if I had hired somebody else, I might have had a fantastic Count Olaf, but I wouldn’t have had a Stefano or a Captain Sham. Jim is so inventive that what I got from his is again another person who’s not quite mature so he can think like a 14-year-old or a 13-year-old the way we all did when we were making the movie. But beyond that, we would find these characters together while we were making the movie we would do. It was this weird process where we would do make-up and hair and wardrobe tests for each of the characters, because he and I would sit and try to put a look together, but we still wouldn’t know a lot about the characters. I would sit and interview him on camera, this is well before we started to shoot the movie, and from that would come these incredible improvs that were coming. I’d say, ‘Well tell me about your idea for children’s education,’ and you would get something fantastic that would come back and it would be instinctive. When it was done, we took those improvisations and sat down and sat down with Jim and Bob Gordon, the writer, because there was beautiful work in there. It was very pure, it was character-based. It was like an acting class exercise, and we from that effectively edited together I think 80 percent of the dialogue in the movie from his characters. Now, with somebody else I wouldn’t have
been able to do that with, but I got to harness this incredible improv mind, but do so in a way that then you could write with it, and I wouldn’t have had that with somebody else.”
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events opens Friday.
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