Interview: Jim Carrey's Obsession With His Animal Co-Stars

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The Canadian actor launched his movie career with Ace Ventura Pet Detective and in MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS, he returns to his roots acting opposite animal co-stars, who are quickly becoming the coolest stars in Hollywood.  Jim Carrey recently admitted at a press conference for MR. POPPERS PENGUINS his love of the Artic inhabitants. “Penguins are a kind of an obsession with me. They are puppies, times ten!”  Good thing for Jim Carrey, the production decided on using live penguins versus CGI.

Deciding on Jim Carrey as the star of MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS was an easier decision for the film's producers. According to John Davis, producer of MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS, “For the first time in my life I had six major comedians to choose from.” But for director Mark Waters there was only one actor he wanted to see, Jim Carrey. “Luckily, Jim read the script, and was immediately excited about it. And he’s also a huge lover of penguins.”

The decision to use live penguins in the making of this film brought with it a whole set of challenges. First they had to cast the birds. John Davis contacted Bird’s & Animals Unlimited, Hollywood’s top animal trainers, and they in turn called upon Scott Drieschman, a respected penguin expert. Next a penguin habitat was built next to Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, New York and it included a living area, swimming pool, and training space and was constantly kept below 40 degrees. Once the filmmakers described what behaviors they wanted in the film it was decided that Gentoo penguins best fit the bill. They are the third largest penguin species and stand between nineteen to twenty-two inches tall.

Jim Carrey in Mr. Popper's Penguins movie

After the penguins were established in their new home the cast was invited to get acquainted. According to head trainer Larry Madrid, Jim Carrey was practically good with them. “Jim was willing to feed them fish. He’s really funny, and it was neat to see him interact with them in ‘his’ way. Jim was amazing with the penguins.” Producer John Davis agrees, “Jim bonded instantly with the penguins and they responded really well. Jim was walking around and the penguins were following him. He loves these penguins.”  Carla Gugino, who plays Mr. Popper’s ex-wife adores the penguins as well, “You cannot stand next to them and not smile. They’re just such little forces of joy. And they work for fish!”

To make the environment suitable for the birds during filming Mr. Popper’s penthouse apartment was built inside a refrigerated stage. In the scenes prior to the penguin’s arrival costumers had to use silk underwear under Jim Carrey’s suits to keep him from freezing. But once the penguins arrive and Mr. Popper opens all the windows, they could rely on winter clothing to keep him warm and turn the place into a winter wonderland. Jim admits, “The set was so cold I was fighting phenomena the entire time. And it wasn’t even about the health of the penguins, it was because there are Method!” “It was sort of selfish on their part,” interjects Carla, “But then it is called Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

Whenever a scene came about in the film that couldn’t be performed by the live birds the special effects team of VFX stepped in. By using a combination of CGI and animatronics their goal was to make the transitions look seamless. VFX producer Blondel Aidoo and supervisor Richard Hollander took tons of photos of live penguins doing what they do, “We studied the feathers of the penguins, which are actually amazing in the way the light hits them. To recreate all that in CG is quite a task.”

Now that Popper’s Penguins are the coolest birds in town, penguins are going to be hotter than ever and the cast and crew are already missing their avian friends. The penguins themselves grew to love the entire cast, “And still they don’t call,” complains Jim Carrey, “I don’t know what it is. I mean I gave them the number.”  Maybe the next time they are in town you can do lunch.

MR.POPPER'S PENGUINS opens June 17th.


Melanie Wilson  
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