THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE directed by Don Scardino, written by Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, with Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde and Jim Carrey. A Warner Bros. release. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (March 15). For venues and times, see listings.
LAS VEGAS - It's fascinating to watch Steve Carell and Jim Carrey together at the press conference for their new movie, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. They're almost the same age - Carrey is eight months older than Carell - but their paths to stardom were as different as their acting styles.
Carrey developed his voice as an impressionist and stand-up comic, breaking out on TV's In Living Color in 1990 and then in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber. Carell performed at Chicago's Second City and as a fake journalist on The Daily Show from 1999, building his film career more slowly while starring in seven seasons of The Office.
Burt Wonderstone casts them as rival magicians, but the metaphor doesn't carry over into the real world. At the Paris Hotel - which is glimpsed briefly in the movie - the two have a lovely rapport, picking up ideas and trading them back and forth. Carell is thoughtful and soft-spoken, while Carrey defaults to jester mode.
When someone asks what attracted them to the project, Carell responds first. "Actors and magicians are both performers, and they represent things that are not necessarily [what] they are."
Carrey picks up the ball.
"There's not a lot of difference between them," he says. "I think magicians are definitely more arrogant, and that's what bothered me about them growing up. They're kinda like, ‘Abracadabra! You're an idiot.' They don't let you in on the joke. With comedians you're always in on the joke, unless it's Andy Kaufman."
Carell and Steve Buscemi play old-school illusionists Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, whose long-running Vegas show is threatened by the arrival of Carrey's flashy, self-mutilating street magician, Steve Gray.
"My character definitely is one of those guys that you know would mess his hair up for three hours to look like he doesn't care," Carrey says. "He's coming at them, trying to undermine their confidence in their lives, pointing at them like they've been corrupted, and yet he's truly the corrupt one. He really wants what they have."
Carrey decided to further illustrate his character's vanity by making Gray almost frighteningly fit.
"I'd never taken my shirt off in a movie before," he jokes. "You know, I figured that was Matthew McConaughey's thing. [And] it's not a natural place to live, in that kind of shape. It looks great, it gets a lot of attention, but you have to eat, like, antimatter to stay in that kind of shape. It's not a happy place to be. I'm back now - I've got Mr. Cuddly back, and we're very, very happy."
A large chunk of the movie was shot on location in Las Vegas, which allowed the actors to adjust their performances to the ludicrous scale of the place.
"There is obviously a different vibe in Las Vegas," Carell allows. "Several times during the weeks we were here, I walked around in full costume through [the] casinos, and no one batted an eye - which led us to believe we were on the right track. On the poster it looks absolutely ridiculous, but it's not that ridiculous in the context of Las Vegas."
"I like being in the street in Vegas," Carrey says. "I have trouble being in the room. I don't know what happened to [the] architecture; I think they're getting us ready for space colonies or something. Nobody puts a window in that you can crack, so I'm literally drying out on a daily basis. I'm chewing my lips right now. Day three, I'm beef jerky."
Things were a little more temperate during pre-production, when the actors got to go through magic training.
"We worked for a few months beforehand with various professional magicians who tried to get us to a point where we could at least replicate [the moves]," Carell says. "These guys are so great at what they do - it's years and years of practice and natural ability. We hoped to get a point where it looked at least plausible. I thought Jim got really, really good with the fanning of the cards."
"It's the only thing I can do," Carrey says sheepishly.
Carell laughs. "Well, it looked great."