December 29, 2004 06:00 AM

He’s back: Jim Carrey – in fine, rubber-faced form – lets loose for the holiday hit Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events as Count Olaf, the demented caretaker for three orphaned children. The performance is a perfect bookend for Carrey, 42, who earlier this year practiced determined restraint in the bittersweet romance (and Golden Globe-nominated) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The actor and dad (to daughter Jane, 17) recently talked about finding inspiration from his late father Percy, welcoming “little visitors” and avoiding the Hollywood party scene.

Lemony Snicket seems like it should relate to many people – the story of a strange relative.
Oh, yeah. (Laughs.) Some of us are the strange relative.

Did you identify with Count Olaf, or did you base him on anyone you know?
Well, the weird thing is that Olaf turned out looking a lot like my dad, which is really frightening to me. I usually try to put a little Dad in my roles so that it’s kind of a wink to my family when they see the movies. They saw the advance pictures from this film and they went, “Dude, now you’re starting to scare us,” because it really is like my dad.

How much of Olaf was pulled from family experiences?
I have the craziest family. It’s interesting, for years, I was the entertainment. It was almost a slavery situation where I would get a knock in the middle of the night and my parents would say, “Get your tap shoes on. There is company.” So I was always doing shows. I got that from my father. When I was a little kid I remember watching him just captivate the room and be so animated and everything. I thought, “Wow, that’s how you get over in the world.” So I was trying to be like him.

You are a father yourself. Do you ever plan to have more kids?
Well, sure. Children will always be welcomed if I get into a relationship that I want to do that in. I like the humans in any form. I like the little visitors. I think that it’s a great thing.

Did your father influence the way you do a lot of characters?
Yeah. My father was an amazing character. He was so funny, so creative and also he was my champion. When I did something creative, he didn’t go, “What are you doing that for?” It was like, “Oh, look at what Jim is doing. It’s something interesting and different.” He encouraged it. So yeah, he’s huge in my heart.

How does this film compare with your other recent movie, Eternal Sunshine?
Eternal Sunshine is a different kind of animal. It touched a nerve in me. It’s the idea that, at some point, most of us have felt, that feeling of someone kind of erasing them, like what they had together didn’t mean anything. That’s probably the most brutal thing.

What would you do if you weren’t an actor?
I definitely would be doing something with art. I was very much into art when I was a kid. If I was drawing or painting and someone asked me to do something I would lose my mind, literally.

In your spare time, do you go out a lot?
I have, but I’m such a boring guy. I like my home life. I like a couple of friends hanging out and stuff like that, but you can take The Standard (in Hollywood). I’m not really that guy that’s not my style.

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