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Jim Carrey Trained With a CIA Torture Expert to Play This Role

He needed professional help to endure his makeup for How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Doing research for a movie role is one thing. Many actors will train, study, or even shadow professionals in another field to get into the headspace they want to be in to give their best performance. But few have found an acting job so challenging that they needed to consult with a torture expert who worked with the CIA. Embodying one of his most famous characters, Jim Carrey was put under an incredible amount of physical and mental stress. Read on to find out why 2000's How the Grinch Stole Christmas was an exercise in endurance and what the torture expert taught him to help him make it through filming.

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Carrey played the Grinch in the live-action feature film.

Ron Howard directed Carrey in the 2000 movie adaptation of the beloved 1957 book by Dr. Seuss. He starred alongside Taylor Momsen, Christine BaranskiMolly Shannon, and Jeffrey Tambor in a family comedy that expanded (and made a little darker and more grown-up) the source material. Until Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas came out, it was just the classic 1966 animated special that was in regular holiday rotation for fans.

One enduring piece of lore about the movie is that Carrey's other job at the time of casting led to a nontraditional audition. The actor was starring in the Andy Kaufman biopic Man in the Moon and wouldn't break character. He supposedly auditioned for the Grinch as if Kaufman were playing the green guy.

The makeup was intense.

Jim Carrey in How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Getty Images

Turning a cast of human actors into the Whos down in Whoville required a serious amount of hair, makeup, and prosthetics. But no one was buried under more of them than Carrey.

"There was about three-and-a-half hours of makeup, and another half for the suit, and then you just knocked on the coffin wall and said, 'I'm still alive!,'" he told Entertainment Tonight back in 2000. He added that it took "a good hour or so to scrape the stuff off [his] face." While Carrey raved about how much fun he was having playing the character, he acknowledged that the makeup was no picnic. He even said that he experienced "two weeks of absolute discomfort and kind of freaking out about it, thinking, I don't know how I'm going to get through this.'"

Rick Baker, the artist behind Grinch-ifying Carrey, ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Makeup for the film.

He had some help from the CIA.

Years later, Carrey was much more candid about the stress of the Grinch makeup, which he estimated he had to put on 100 times in the course of filming.

"Literally the makeup was like being buried alive every day," he said on a 2014 episode of The Graham Norton Show. "The first day was eight-and-a-half hours, and I went back and put my leg through the wall, and I told Ron Howard I couldn't do the movie."

At that point, the actor recounted, producer Brian Grazer stepped in to provide a solution. His suggestion was to "hire a gentleman who is trained to teach CIA operatives how to endure torture," Carrey said.

As for the advice the specialist offered, Carrey remembered a few tips: "He said, 'Eat everything you see. If you're freaking out and you start to spiral downwards, turn the television on. Change your pattern, have someone you know come up and smack you in the head, punch yourself in the leg, or smoke—smoke as much as you can.'" The star added that he had to use a long cigarette holder to do that, so the dyed yak hair that made up his costume wouldn't catch on fire.

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Howard also lent a hand.

Jim Carrey and Ron Howard in 2005
Lawrence Lucier/FilmMagic

Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, Baker said that the film's director took a turn in the full Grinch get-up to show solidarity with Carrey. "This is one of the few films where I didn't suggest that, but Ron I think actually came up with the idea," the makeup artist said. "[He] thought, Maybe it would be easier for Jim if he sees that I can do this too. He did for one day.

Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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