Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Dumb And Dumber'
High on the list of moviegoing guilty pleasures is the Farrelly Brothers' 1994 hit Dumb and Dumber, the last of three films that year (after Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask) that catapulted Jim Carrey into the stratosphere of movie stardom. Along for the ride came respected actor Jeff Daniels; he had already been making movies for more than a decade, but opened a new dimension in his career with his portrayal of Lloyd Christmas's sweet, dim-witted sidekick, Harry Dunne.
With a rookie director, a modest budget, and a co-star whose agents were begging him not to take the part in the first place, Dumb and Dumber could have been a recipe for chaos. Instead, it became a hit for the ages. Here's how it all happened.
Although the Farrellys encouraged actors to try different things over multiple takes, thus developing the comedy organically, improv tended to be collaborative. But Jim Carrey (as Lloyd Christmas) found moments to sneak in some ideas all his own.
According to actor Victoria Rowell, who played FBI agent Beth Jordan, one such moment occurred in the scene where Christmas walks out of the lodge with a "Man Walks On The Moon" headline on the wall. The joke - Christmas is so dumb that this is the first time he's heard of the moon landing, and he excitedly says "No way!" - was unscripted. Rowell recalled:
There was a scene where we're at the bar, and the POV is now Jim walking out of the bar, the lodge. And as he walked out he stopped and he looked at this framed newspaper article - it was a prop, up on the wall - and he ad-libbed. It required great restraint, again, for everyone not to crack up laughing. It was just a genius moment. It was pure Jim Carrey.
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The ‘Big Gulp’ Guys Were Not Paid Extras
One of the odder bits of improv occurs when Christmas walks out of a convenience store and notices two men standing outside drinking Big Gulps. He cheerfully says, "Hey, guys! Oh, Big Gulps, huh? All right. Well, see ya later!" The men just look back at him, rather bemused.
Some have speculated that Carrey was trying to goad the guys into speaking because they were extras, and if they said anything, they would have to be paid more. But this theory is wrong, because the men weren't extras at all. They were just two guys hanging out by the location where the scene was filming. Drawing upon guerrilla-filmmaking instincts, director Peter Farrelly decided to put them in the scene.
“One line that was definitely ad-libbed is the Big Gulp line,” Farrelly wrote in a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread. “In fact, the two guys he was talking to weren’t even extras, they were just hanging out, watching us shoot and I decided to pull them in. They happened to have Big Gulps and Jim just ran with it. True story.”
Evidently, the guys weren't paid, but at least they achieved comedy immortality.
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A Week Into Filming, Jeff Daniels Realized He Was Still Auditioning
Jeff Daniels filmed the scooter scene with Jim Carrey on the very first day of filming, but for the rest of that week, Carrey was nowhere to be seen. Gradually, Daniels came to understand that although he'd been offered the part, he still had something to prove:
Jim didn't work the rest of the week. We went to the lodge, we did the chairlift on the pole with the tongue on the pole; we did the tongue sitting there getting pulled off; we did going into the ski lodge, crashing the skis. Jim's not working. Now we do the snowball in the head. Now we get to Thursday and Friday, and Jim hasn't worked yet. And I may be in Dumb and Dumber, but I'm not stupid. The audition is still going on.
Fortunately, Daniels's work in those early scenes persuaded everyone that he was the right man for the job. The following week, he got the final seal of approval:
[I] go into makeup Monday morning... Jim walks into the makeup trailer, pats me on the shoulder, leans in, and says, "Just keep doing what you're doing. They love you." [...] Jim Carrey's a friend to this day.
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Jim Carrey Wanted An Actor, Not A Comedian, As His Co-Star
Although Dumb and Dumber is a comedy, it's also a buddy movie. Jim Carrey understood that - or, less charitably, he didn't want to be upstaged - so he pushed for a dramatic actor to play the role of Harry Dunne.
Jeff Daniels, the dramatic actor who got the part, explained it to Lola Ogunnaikeon on People TV's Couch Surfing:
Look who I get to react to... Jim is a comedic genius.... [He] wanted an actor. There were comedians that wanted it, and he wanted an actor that would make him listen, 'cause he knew it was ping-pong, it was back-and-forth. And so I just let him lead, and Harry Dunne was like on a half-second delay to whatever Lloyd would do.
Jeff Daniels had a distinguished career through the 1980s and early '90s, with roles in mostly dramatic films like Ragtime, Terms of Endearment, and Gettysburg (though he also veered into comedy with The Purple Rose of Cairo). A broad comedy like Dumb and Dumber seemed like a real change of course for Daniels, and his agents were not on board with it.
He recounted their reaction in a career retrospective video he did for Vanity Fair:
The night before I was supposed to fly out [to start shooting], my agents in LA and New York got on the phone. "Okay, this is a crisis meeting. This is an intervention. You're not gonna do this movie. Twelve-year-old boys are gonna see it, and that's it, and... Jeff, I hate to tell you this, Jim Carrey is a big star, he's a big comedian, and you're gonna get wiped off the screen."
Daniels stood his ground, pointing out that he had several funny scenes where Jim Carrey wasn't even onscreen. "I'm gonna do this movie," he replied, "and if it's a mistake, it's mine. But I want to do comedy. 'Cause this serious actor sh*t is just not working for me."
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Jeff Daniels Called It 'A Strategic Career Move'
Dumb and Dumber was a big departure for Jeff Daniels, who had previously been known mainly for dramatic films like Terms of Endearment and Gettysburg. He very consciously lobbied for the part of Harry Dunne, because he wanted to expand his resume. As he told GQ:
Dumb and Dumber was a strategic career move because I knew I could do comedy and, up to that point - Purple Rose of Cairo, Something Wild, I'd kind of shown I could do it, but I wasn't a comedian, so therefore I wasn't allowed to do big comedy movies....
This was, "No, I can do comedy. Let me stand next to Jim Carrey, one of the best at it." He had had Ace Ventura, had been out, and been a hit, and he had already just shot Mask. Hollywood knew that Jim was about to explode.
"Dumb and Dumber was my attempt to establish range," Daniels told People TV. "[I]f I can do Gettysburg or Speed, and I can do Dumb and Dumber, for a guy who lives in Michigan, there are jobs in between there."
The gamble paid off. He was later approached by Clint Eastwood, who cast him in a mystery/thriller movie. Daniels recalled:
Years later, Clint Eastwood hires me for Blood Work. And he said, "If you can do Two Days in the Valley" - which was a drama - "and Dumb and Dumber, you can do this."