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Lord Jim

The rubber-faced actor's salary has improved by leaps and bounds, with no end in sight

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Jim Carrey has his own theory about the O.J. Simpson case.

"I think Frank Gifford did it," he says, literally placing his tongue inside his rubbery cheek and waggling it. "Kathy Lee drove him a little nuts, and besides, he was jealous of O.J.'s sideline commentary abilities." Carrey pauses, then frowns with the same fiercely intense mock seriousness that made his pet detective, Ace Ventura, a $72 million-grossing pop-culture phenomenon. "I dunno, though," he says finally. "It coulda been John Madden too — quite a temper there. You never know when one of those jocks is gonna go haywire."

As Carrey says this, he is chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, sprawled in a chair in a Hollywood photographer's studio. He gives out with an ear-to-ear, just-kidding grin that nearly distracts from the malicious mischief in his eyes. But if he seems a little hyper, it's most likely the first flush of showbiz power: Since the wildly unexpected success of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective last February, Carrey has made four film deals that may total as much as $34 million. Yet at 32, he radiates a boyishness that has always worked in his favor. As a regular on TV's In Living Color, in Ace, and in his just-opened human-cartoon, The Mask, he has been able to say and do outrageous things without coming off as a brainless jerk. Instead, he seems like a terribly earnest, intelligent fellow fascinated by the endless possibilities of jerkiness. No wonder the movie he's just finished filming is Dumb and Dumber (Speed's Jeff Daniels is his dumb costar; Carrey is the dumber), or that he jumped at the chance to play the addled Riddler in the forthcoming Batman Forever.

So when Carrey tells you he has recently purchased a big house in the same Brentwood neighborhood as the accused Simpson and locates his new digs as being "about a mile and a half from the bloody glove," you know he's just being normally incorrigible, doing a verbal version of the elastic-limbed slapstick shtick that made Ace a low-down hoot and makes The Mask the summer's most anarchic comedy. Nicolas Cage, a pal since the two met while making 1986's Peggy Sue Got Married, calls Carrey's prevailing mode "adventuresome behavior." Jeff Daniels says, "It's kind of like spending your life driving on a highway and suddenly you've entered the Indy 500: When he kicks into overdrive, you just go with him." Mask director Chuck Russell is more poetic, calling his star "a pinata of talent." And Lauren Holly — costar of Dumb and Dumber and TV's Picket Fences and Carrey's current sweet-patootie — offers this ringing endorsement of working with Carrey: "Well, I never felt in danger." She pauses. "But he puts himself in danger. He goes home kind of cut up and bruised."

In The Mask, Carrey is Stanley Ipkiss, a meek joe who finds an ancient wooden mask. When he puts it on his face, kapow! he turns into the Mask, an invincible, grinning, green hipster who favors yellow zoot suits, likes to tango, and describes himself with the catchword you're going to hear on a million kids' lips this summer: "S-s-s-s-s-smokin'!" Carrey's character, which is based on a Dark Horse Comics series, uses his supernatural powers to fight crime, though almost as an afterthought. For him, it's just another way to attract babes.

"One thing I think is really funny is a very weird guy who thinks he's totally cool," says Carrey. "That sort of demented, completely unjustified confidence is very likable, but it also makes you laugh. The mask is a guy like that, and Ace was like that. But that's really the only way they're alike. The Mask is a much bigger deal. In Ace, I'd show up in a Hawaiian shirt and sneakers and start filming. For The Mask, I had to be made up for four hours every day before we could begin to shoot."

You'd think that being encased in thick makeup and surrounded by eye-popping special effects, courtesy of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, would limit Carrey's own antic expressiveness, but "Russell knew it would be pointless to bury my face under green gunk. The idea was to make the audience unsure of where my crazy facial expressions leave off and the special effects begin."

Hollywood expects The Mask to be a big, maybe even a Gump-size hit, but Carrey's $450,000 paycheck (after getting a piddling-in-retrospect $350,000 for Ace) doesn't remotely reflect his incipient superstardom; it's his post-Ace activity that does. Reportedly, he is taking $7 million home to Brentwood for Dumb; at least $5 million for his supporting role in Batman Forever; another $5-10 million for the Ace Ventura sequel, expected to shoot this winter; another $5-7 million deal to appear in The Best Man. Carrey recently joked that he was thinking of changing his name to "Ka-ching! The sound of a cash register."

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