Bruce Nolan is trapped in human-interest hell. As a reporter for a local Buffalo TV-news program, he always gets stuck with the fluff -- forced to wear a hairnet to cover the baking of the city's biggest cookie -- all the while dreaming of one day sitting in the anchor's chair. ''He's like, 'I can't be this silly guy, I want to be Harry Reasoner!''' Jim Carrey says with a laugh. ''But he's overlooking the fact that he has this spark and ability to make people happy, and that's a great thing.'' Hmmm...that sounds a little bit familiar. ''Yeah, that's taken from my life,'' the actor admits, hinting at his flirtation with dramatic acting. ''I've been in that place where the one thing you don't get negates everything you've gotten.''
So speaketh the star of ''Bruce Almighty,'' a comedy about a man who's made temporarily all-powerful when God takes a break and decides to hand him the reins. For Carrey, the film marks a return to form after the disastrous change of pace that was ''The Majestic.'' And for costar Jennifer Aniston, it just might signal the ideal way to ratchet up a big-screen career that finally got some credibility with last year's indie ''The Good Girl.'' ''I was beyond thrilled,'' says Aniston of the opportunity. ''Who doesn't want to volley with Jim Carrey?''
Carrey will admit that ''Bruce Almighty'' could not have come at a better time. He and director Tom Shadyac (who directed the star in ''Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'' and ''Liar Liar'') and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk had kicked around the project for a few years. But according to Shadyac, they didn't have a window to focus on it until February 2002, two months after ''The Majestic'' tanked. ''I was probably in some turmoil, though I can't say exactly what it was,'' Carrey says. ''You know, doubting, not being happy with what I have....'' He just saw something in the script that made him say, ''Oh, my God. YEAH.''
As written, Bruce Nolan's long-suffering girlfriend Grace was, Aniston suggests, not quite human. ''She was very 'Oh, gee, honey' at first. She just needed to have some character pumped through her blood,'' the actress recalls. ''You know, you always go through that, because usually the girl is never fleshed out, especially in a Jim Carrey movie.''
After some script revisions, Aniston got a bead on Grace quickly, as she did with ''The Good Girl'''s Justine. Which is not a trait shared by the actress' husband. ''I usually agonize over something for a few weeks after I've taken the part: How to play it? How to do it?'' says Brad Pitt. ''She just does it off the cuff. She's good. She just gets it.''
''Bruce Almighty'' boasts a new crop of Carrey catchphrases, like ''It's good'' and ''B-E-A-U-tiful,'' that might not read on paper but will be repeated ad nauseam as audiences exit theaters. ''That's all Jim,'' says Shadyac. ''He's very conscious of what he's doing with those phrases.... You know it's got a chance when the crew starts repeating it. You'll see your [director of photography] on day 20 and ask, 'How's work?' And he goes, it's goood.'''
For Carrey, it's just gooood to be back. ''It was really nice to do 'Bruce' because I hadn't done a comedy in a while,'' he says, with a sudden surge of enthusiasm. ''Just on a moment-to-moment basis, I was ecstatic, going, 'What's funny? What can we do now that's really nuts?''' For starters, how about having Bruce use his divine powers for the really important stuff? Like willing his dog to use the toilet -- and put the seat down. Bringing the moon in closer to make an evening more romantic (never mind the repercussions). And, of course, parting the red soup.