By Karen S. Schneider
June 24, 1996 12:00 PM

Carrey’s moods may range far from hilarity

FORGET THE $20 MILLION PAY-check. What really pleased Jim Carrey was the bus the nice people at Columbia Pictures assigned to him during filming of The Cable Guy in L.A. last year—complete with king-size bed, satellite TV, heated indoor pool. Okay, no pool, but there could have been one, easy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little room in the back with a Jacuzzi in it,” says NewsRadio’s Andy Dick, who does a cameo as a maitre d’ in the comedy that opened nationwide on June 14. “It was like driving around a living room. It was space-age. It was so massive it was ridiculous.” It was, in other words, just what the man blasting rock tunes in the makeup chair ordered. “Jim was happy,” says Dick. “Who wouldn’t be—being him?”

Who indeed? In the two years since Ace Ventura: Pet Detective turned him into a major star, Carrey has been given more than any mortal man has a right to hope for: fame, fortune, a Great Dane named George who provides companionship and security, and a smokin’ 1966 Ford Thunderbird. For the moment, at least, he also seems to have his love life under control. At last week’s L.A. premiere of The Cable Guy, a dark comedy about a demented cable installer who ends up stalking a client (Matthew Broderick), Carrey was once again beaming beside actress Lauren Holly, back on his arm after a three-month breakup. “They have terrific chemistry,” says Dumb and Dumber director Peter Farrelly, who watched the two fall in love over squirt-gun high jinks two years ago on the D&D set. “I always assumed they’d end up together.”

Whatever the long-term odds on togetherness may be, the jury on Carrey’s latest screen venture is still out. After he wowed Hollywood by starring in five hit films in a row, the pressure on him to deliver a sixth is high; so far, the enthusiasm among those who have seen it was low. (See page 19 for review.) Then again, highbrows hated Ace Ventura: Pet Detective too. Jeff Mueller, who as producer completed The Cable Guy for a relatively low $45 million or so, insists Carrey is a bargain at $20 million. “With Sylvester Stallone or any of the other big action guys, you have to have bells and whistles that can cost a lot,” says Mueller. “Carrey is like a human special effect. He is the bell and whistle.”

He is also a man of many moods—mirth only one of them. The list of things that can get Carrey down (besides, one assumes, a box-office flop) is lengthy: personal criticism, too much attention, too little attention, household chores (read, taking out the garbage), the tint of his new haircut. “I dyed my hair black just before starting The Cable Guy and immediately got completely in the doldrums,” he says in this month’s Movieline magazine. “I couldn’t lift myself out of it, because every time I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like myself.” Notes director Joel Schumacher, who guided Carrey to a critically lauded performance as the Riddler in last year’s Batman Forever: “There is definitely a dark side to Jim.”

One he has in large part earned. As any student of the man behind the mask knows, Carrey was the youngest of four children born to Percy and Kathleen Carrey in the Toronto suburb of Newmarket, Ont. His real hometown, though, is Hard Times. The family album tells tales of manic depression (his father’s), kidney problems (his mother’s) and poverty (after Percy lost his job as an accountant, the family was homeless for a time and lived out of a van). Jim was acutely lonely. “He was put down so much by other kids because of the circumstances of his family,” says English teacher David Creighton, who taught Carrey at Aldershot High School in Burlington, Ont., before the bright, quiet student dropped out during his first year—never to resume his education—to help his parents earn money. “It was so sad. He’d put together these funny routines to make the kids laugh so he’d be accepted.”

Outside of those routines, his life hasn’t often been funny. In 1991, before his star fully emerged, his mother died of kidney failure. He ended his seven-year marriage to aspiring actress Melissa Womer Carrey soon after the release of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. And just before he began filming Batman Forever in 1994, his father, to whom he was close, died unexpectedly. (“Of loneliness,” Carrey told Newsweek magazine.) “Jim doesn’t wear his inner conflict on his sleeve,” says Farrel-ly. “He’ll just tell you some hysterically funny stories that make you laugh for five hours—and then later you realize they have an underlying sadness.”

Perhaps because of the licks he has taken, Carrey isn’t swept away by his. big shot status, and is apparently as astonished as anyone else by the sheer extravagance of his newfound success.’ “I’ve seen comedians who make $100,000, and the next week they come in with a bodyguard and a limousine,” says Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory, a popular L.A. comedy club. “When Jim comes, he just parks his car and comes in—no entourage.” Last summer, while negotiating his fee for The Cable Guy with Columbia via speakerphone from his home, he insisted that his agent, his attorney and his two managers do their deal-making wearing white Ace Ventura bathrobes—lest they take themselves too seriously. Says Carrey’s pal and Cable Guy producer Judd Apatow: “He always calls me after one of his movies opens and he’s looked at the grosses, and he says, ‘Isn’t this ridiculous?’ Jim never forgets where he comes from.”

The fact is, Carrey is too enamored of showbiz to risk blowing a good gig. Yes, he can be a maddening perfectionist. “He will not rest until a scene is perfect,” says Cable Guy costar Matthew Broderick. “Sometimes that meant doing a lot of takes.” But otherwise he rarely pulls rank or superstar snit-fits. “Even when other actors are threatened by him,” says director Schumacher, “the way Tommy Lee Jones was in Batman Forever—dismissive and condescending—Jim is gallant and respectful and cooperative.”

Those are not, of course, the first words that occur to ex-wife Melissa, 35, who told PEOPLE last year that their marriage was the first casualty of his success. Their divorce was not friendly. She wanted $7 million. He offered $500,000 plus $25,000 a month child support for their now 8-year-old daughter, Jane. Last August, Carrey came up with a figure not far from Melissa’s asking price. And now, she says, the rancor between them has cooled. “He’s a good father,” she says of Carrey, who sees Jane about once every other week. “Given that his priority is work and everything else comes second, he does pretty good.”

How good he will do by Holly remains to be seen. After breaking up in March, the two are a couple again but are not living together. “I’ve just been recently divorced and don’t want to build a nest,” Carrey told USA Today at the end of May. “I’m afraid of leaving satellite families everyplace.” In the meantime, says Apatow, there are CDs to buy (“Jim loves alternative rock”), a large dog to feed (“George eats a lot”) and of course, above all else, audiences to woo. “His aspirations were and still are simple and noble,” says Apatow of his friend, “to express himself and to make people laugh.”