Interview: "Horton Hears a Who!" Stars Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell
As headliners for one of the year's biggest family movies, "Horton Hears a Who!", funny guys Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell take on some of Dr. Seuss' most beloved characters, Horton the elephant and the Mayor of Whoville. Though Horton lives in the jungle, and never sees — only hears — the microscopic Who mayor, the characters share an excellent rapport. The chemistry's even more impressive since Carrey and Carrell recorded their lines separately.
Maybe they both just know how to make kids' comedy work: After all, both are fathers. Carrey's daughter, Jane, is 20, and Carrell's kids, Elisabeth Anne and John, are 8 and 4, respectively. There's little doubt the comedians' kids will enjoy seeing a childhood classic brought to life by their talented fathers.
Sitting down together for an interview, it's clear that their back-and-forth banter isn't just movie magic. Carrey and Carrell were hilarious together, talking about their new film.
Even though you find Dr. Seuss' books in the young reader section of the library or bookstore, what about Horton really transcends being a story just for young people?
Steve Carell: How does it transcend being a story for young people? You're being very heady right off the bat.
JC: It hurts! It hurts!
SC: I don't think as a 5- or 6-year-old you think of how something transcends as much as you think about how it resonates, however much anything resonates with 5- or 6-year-olds. This is a book that I think resonates with 5- or 6-year-olds. They don't understand the metaphors and the sort of richness to it but at the same time, there's something very specific about the theme that even a little kid can understand. That sense that everyone deserves an equal footing in life, that very basic tenet of being a creature of the world.
JC: That was a really good answer.
SC: Just say the same thing.
JC: As far as kids go, I think the thing that attracts them to ["Horton"] is not the deeper concepts involved. It's just the fact that Seuss' creativity was so incredible. He was such an original. If you give a kid a character he's never seen before, in a world he's never seen before, they're able to completely lose themselves in an imaginary space and yet still getting all these wonderful lessons. In my experience, I've always been drawn to anything different. I always felt odd as child. With anything odd, I thought, "Oh, those are my people. The Sneeches without stars, I dig those people."
What made you think about you being odd?
JC: I guess my father was strange. He was funny and strange and I looked at him and went, "Wow, everyone is looking at my dad and laughing at my dad and I want to be that." So I would lock myself in my room while kids were outside playing and I [would devise] ways to be different.
This is a question from a kindergarten class in Pennsylvania. First, Jim, how do you become an elephant?
JC: I thought of peanuts, of peanuts on my breath, having that sweet smell of peanuts on my breath. I wanted to be the kind of elephant who didn't realize he was enormous and bulky. He was light as a feather, as he puts it, a dancer. In his head, he's not bigger than anybody else. 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 else.
Now, Steve, how do you become a Who?
SC: Have the kids in class imagine their world being a place where nothing goes wrong. Ever. Everyone is always happy, everyone always gets along, everything is always good and the sun is always shining. And then have them imagine something goes wrong and how they'd would react to that. That's what being a Who is like in this story. This perfect world in which nothing ever goes wrong is suddenly turned upside down.
You're both amazing physical comedians. How are you limited when you have to do everything with your voice?
SC: I think there's a freedom within the limitations. When you are given a structure and you can do anything within that structure, there's something freeing to that. When you're able to do anything, anytime, anywhere, sometimes you just don't know where to focus. In this film, the heavy lifting is done by the animators. We provide as much as we can vocally but then you see where they've taken it and it's remarkable.
JC: That's the great thing about this. You're surrounded by artists who are just as creative or more so than you are. I love being handled by nerds. (Carrell laughs.) It's fantastic, man. Just to spew something out and have someone put wings on it.
Was there a time in your life when you actually felt like a speck?
JC: I know I'm a speck. There's no question about it. I'm an interesting speck. But I've always thought in those terms. How can you look at the sky at night and not feel like a speck?
SC: If I think about it too much my mind will explode. We're all so so tiny in the big picture, we're infinitesimal.
JC: I always thought there were worlds within worlds within worlds. I always thought that somewhere on my right arm in a cell there's some kind of world happening where people are saying "Oh I hope we don't destroy ourselves! He could swing that right arm, hit it against a tree and we're gone!"
SC: That's why we're paralyzed. After doing this movie, I can hardly move because I'm afraid I'll be crushing tiny universes wherever I go. Even in your laughter and the saliva coming out of your mouth, you are killing worlds. If there's one thing people can take away from this movie…
JC: It's Armageddon in my pants right now!
Do you pinch yourself about your success?
SC: All day, every day. I owe a lot to Jim for any of my success. Essentially the first movie I was in was "Bruce Almighty." I never got auditions for movies and it was the first I'd ever gotten…
JC: Stole the whole movie.
SC: (Laughing) 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 set. Watching the end, the outtakes, I thought, "Man, that just looks like a party" and in my wildest dreams 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.
JC: He did an incredible job.
What about you Jim, as someone who's become an icon?
JC: Well, myself, it's hard to have a perspective on it from inside myself. I just think, I could be working at a factory again in a month loading trucks, which was where I started out. So I don't have a perspective on it. It's just one thing to the next. Just trying to do work and enjoying what's in front of me.
I do watch other people, like Steve, and think, "Whoa, man, that guy is good." I'm much more impressed with other people. We've got an amazing cast in this. The people this project gathered is kind of incredible. It's like a "Who's Who of Comedy" across five generations. Seth Rogen. Jonah Hill. Carol Burnett. So I'm amazed by them. I watched "Knocked Up" and thought "Wow, that's great work. These guys are doing incredible stuff. I wish I can be them." So it's all your perspective. It just feels good to be in it.
Are there any favorite Seuss stories you have a hankering to do?
SC: In terms of Dr. Seuss? I would love to do "Green Eggs and Ham." I think I could do a lot with it.
JC: We could work in a box for a fox.
SC: It does sound ridiculous to talk about it. But think about it, it sounds sort of odd to be in the movie version of "Horton Hears a Who!" But then you see it and say, "Of course!" So maybe "Green Eggs and Ham" is a blockbuster of the future.
JC: That's an epic.