"The Mask" remains a fan-favorite Jim Carrey comedy — but it could have been a very different movie. The project started life as an adaptation of an ultra-violent Dark Horse comic book in which the central character unleashes wave after wave of brutality on his enemies. Obviously New Line, the studio behind "The Mask," knew that approach wasn't going to work for their attempt to cross over into mainstream movies with the biggest budget project they'd yet produced. And so, the more sanitized version we all know and love was conceived.
Director Chuck Russell had always envisioned Carrey for the lead role. There was literally no one in Hollywood who could handle the physicality the part demanded. Playing the charming but down-on-his-luck pushover Stanley Ipkiss, Carrey's character would of course transform into the outlandish titular hero, whose dynamic antics were based on Tex Avery cartoons. But casting his love interest, Tina Carlyle, proved much more difficult.
Russell was intent on using an unknown actress to maintain an air of mystery for the character, but that turned out to be a big ask. After his original favorite for the role, Anna Nicole Smith, dropped out to do a bit part in "Naked Gun 33 1⁄3: The Final Insult," the "Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" director opened up the part to wide calls. According to casting director Fern Champion, hundreds of women came in to audition but it was Cameron Diaz who wowed everyone with her natural charisma and obvious chemistry with Jim Carrey. Once Russell convinced the then-Co-Chairman and Co-CEO of New Line, Bob Shaye, they finally had their cast. But that wasn't the end of the story. In fact, Russell and his team had to make some major changes to the script to accommodate Carrey and Diaz's chemistry.
Diaz And Carrey's Chemistry
In "The Mask," Ipkiss falls in love with Tina Carlyle, who's being controlled by mobster Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene). Eventually, Tina escapes from Tyrell's clutches and it's a classic Hollywood happy ending for her and Carrey's Stanley. But the original script wasn't written that way at all. Producer Bob Engelman told Forbes that the initial screenplay had Tina Carlyle as a "good girl who's actually bad" — the complete opposite of the bad girl who's actually good dynamic in the final film.
As Engelman explained: "People instantly fell in love with Cameron Diaz and never saw her as bad. Much of it had to be re-conceived and so, in the previewing process, we actually [had] 20 minutes [of introduction] before Jim entered the scene. We got rid of all that."
Russell, who had apparently pursued Vanessa Williams for the role of Tina Carlyle once Nicole Smith dropped out, was determined to get the right chemistry between his lead actors. Once it became clear that Williams was not an option, he embarked on his massive and protracted search for the right actor, holding out for exactly the right person before finding Diaz. Once he had her, Russell said he "taped half the movie with her" to prove to the studio that she was right for the role. As he told Forbes:
"In the very very early readings, Jim Carrey was better reading with Cameron, so that's what people don't realize. There is truly such a thing as chemistry."
That chemistry was enough to convince him and eventually the studio that she was the right actor for the role, and led to big changes to the movie, with Carlye's character becoming much more sympathetic and ultimately the big love interest in the film.
Jim Carrey Was The Key
Diaz, who had never done a movie, said in an interview on the set of the film that she'd been modeling for four years before doing "The Mask" but that, despite her lack of experience, she felt supported by Carrey's "stress-free" approach to the movie. The lead actor was under a lot of pressure having only been on TV sketch show "In Living Color" prior to "The Mask." His first big movie, "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," hadn't come out yet, so there was a lot of doubt about whether Carrey would prove successful in "The Mask's" starring role.
In retrospect, it's hard to imagine anyone doubting what is now considered a classic Jim Carrey performance. But at the time there was a lot of concern surrounding the production. Thankfully, test screenings reassured the filmmakers that Carrey was more than capable. Audiences reacted to early cuts with a clear love for the actor's cartoonish presence. Whereas Russell wanted to add more depth to the story, Engelman recalls that "the audience didn't care. They just wanted to get to the fun,"
That led the team to go back and add the toilet flush ending, where Tyrell gets flushed out of existence by Carrey's hero. They also marketed the film on Carrey's antics, which proved successful. The movie, made on a budget of $18 million, was a huge hit for New Line, bringing in $351 million at the global box office and helping to launch the movie careers of its two stars.
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