Jim Carrey is not doing well at all.
At the start of the novel “Memoirs and Misinformation,” we find Carrey, its protagonist, in the midst of an existential crisis, crushed by self-doubt and confined to his Los Angeles home, where he subsists on a diet of Netflix, YouTube and TMZ.
His successes as an actor, in projects both comedic and dramatic, are distant objects in the rearview mirror, and now he is fixated on his own inevitable demise and the eventual end of the universe.
So begins a satirical adventure in which Carrey plumbs the chasms of Hollywood’s self-obsessed culture. While he searches for meaning in his life and career, this Carrey is also trying to choose among starring roles in a Mao Zedong biopic and studio movies based on children’s toys; contending with catastrophic wildfires, an all-female cadre of eco-terrorists and a UFO invasion; and rubbing elbows with the likes of Nicolas Cage, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins.
The Jim Carrey of “Memoirs and Misinformation” also happens to share a name and several key biographical details with Jim Carrey, the ever-changing star of films like “The Mask,” “The Truman Show,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Sonic the Hedgehog,” who wrote the book with novelist Dana Vachon (“Mergers and Acquisitions”).
“Memoirs and Misinformation,” which Knopf released July 7, is a fictional narrative that relies on facts from the life of its celebrity co-author — and on his access to a world of maximum privilege and alienation — to tell a story that its creators believe is especially timely.
As Carrey explained in an interview earlier this month, “It’s the end of the world, and we have the perfect book for it.”
Speaking together over Zoom, Carrey and Vachon talked about the making of “Memoirs and Misinformation.”
Q: Did you ever consider writing a factual memoir of Jim’s life?
Carrey: There’s nothing, at this point in my artistic life, more boring than the idea of writing down the actual events of my life in some chronological order. Trying to expand my brand.
This is not that. It’s a labor of love that we couldn’t stop. It started out as a little volley back and forth, here and there, and in the last few years it was eight hours, 12 hours most days, just grinding together in a room. But even when we butted heads, we always came up with something more interesting than we had initially conceived.
Q: The protagonist of this novel is named Jim Carrey and he has lived a life very similar to yours. But who is he?
Carrey: Jim Carrey in this book is really a representative — he’s an avatar of anybody in my position. Of the artist, of the celebrity, of the star. That world and all its excesses and gluttony and self-focus and vanity. Some of it is very actual. You just won’t know which is which. But even the fictional qualities of the book reveal a truth.
Q: Dana, what was it like for you to get to know the real Jim, as opposed to the version of himself that he presents on screen?
Vachon: One of the first times he contacted me, he was watching the John Barrymore “Jekyll and Hyde,” which came to inform the story. He was telling me, “Watch Barrymore. Watch the economy of his face in this.” And I was like, oh, wow, Jim Carrey watches a lot of Netflix.
Q: Was there any point in your process that Jim said you’re taking things too far or we can’t go there?
Vachon: He’s the only person in his position who would be like, “I’m OK having a climactic combat scene where I just load ammo. I don’t need any confirmed kills. In fact, I don’t even need a gun.”
Carrey: I was talking to Nic Cage a couple days ago. I hadn’t told him anything about the book and then one day I sprung it on him, and he just said, (Nicolas Cage voice) “Jim, I’m so honored, man. You have no idea.” I said, I gave you all the best lines. (Cage voice) “It’s unheard of!” He’s so excited about it.
Q: Have you told the other celebrities you reference by name that they’re characters in the book?
Carrey: We’re sending everybody books with letters of explanation of what we’re doing.
Vachon: “Dear Gwyneth.”
Carrey: It’s satire and parody but also done with reverence. Most of the people in this book are people whom I admire greatly.
Q: Does that include the character you say will be referred to only as “Laser Jack Lightning”?
Carrey: That’s just us poking fun at the litigiousness of Hollywood. I know Tom Cruise. He may sock me, but hey, I’ll take the beating for a piece of art. I think he’s going to love it.
Q: The book very vividly depicts its protagonist’s intense frustration with Hollywood and his estrangement from his own work and accomplishments. Jim, how much does that represent your own true feelings?
Carrey: “The Truman Show” was not a mistake. I’m a guy that suddenly looked up one day and started seeing all the machinery and the lights falling from the sky. Every project is a little bit of me recreating myself, tearing the old self down and exploring something new. My whole career I’ve asked a lot of my audience, and they’ve allowed me to do these things. I think they expect that of me, in a certain way. They don’t expect convention.