''It was easy for me to get a real hate on for those kids,'' says Jim Carrey of his pint-size costars. ''Especially the little ones. The monkeys. The monkeys were out of control, I swear to God. If you're not giving 'em an M&M or somethin' they're impossible.''
Nevertheless, rug rats are an unavoidable work hazard when you sign on to play the villain in an adaptation of a beloved children's-book series. And Daniel Handler's darkly comic ''Snicket'' novellas follow not one, or two, but three knee biters: miserable orphans Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny, who fall in and out of the care of inept guardians (like Meryl Streep's ultraphobic Aunt Josephine) and dodge Carrey's hawk-nosed Count Olaf. ''We ended up shooting seven months straight,'' says a weary-sounding Brad Silberling (''Moonlight Mile'') of his $100 million-plus movie. ''For the younger actors that's a lifetime. The last night of shooting I said to [the kids], 'Labor law requires we wrap you by 10, but there's nothing saying you can't stay afterwards,' so they pulled an all-nighter with the crew.''
The script, written by ''Men in Black II'''s Robert Gordon after an initial draft by Handler, telescopes the first three books in the series. Given the hilarious neo-gothic tone of the source material, the result could well fall in the great, spooky-goofy tradition of the ''Addams Family'' movies. The wild card is that no one really knows how deep an affection kids have for Handler's books, which are wildly popular but haven't whipped up the frenzy of ''Harry Potter'' or the critical acclaim of Philip Pullman's ''His Dark Materials'' trilogy. ''It doesn't matter. I love these books,'' says Carrey. ''They have this 'don't go in that closet' [vibe]. There's this great balance going on, because the narration gets very hopeful, but ultimately negative things happen. In comparison, audiences' lives will seem quite bright.'' So it's an uplifting story about the misery of three small children? ''Exactly. You walk out of the theater going 'Whew! I'm glad I'm not them!'''
WHAT'S AT STAKE Everyone is looking for the next ''Harry Potter.'' Paramount hopes they've found it in ''Snicket.''