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Jim Carrey on How His Childhood Fears Inspired His New Kids' Book 'How Roland Rolls'

How Roland Rolls Jim Carrey Inset - P 2013
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

The actor says remembering "being the clown of the family" in one room and privately "trying to figure out the universe" in his bedroom motivated him to write a story for children.

“Somewhere in the middle of the deep blue sea, a wave named Roland came to be.”

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These first lines of How Roland Rolls feel familiar enough, similar to countless other children's books -- two-line rhymes with a lively rhythm, paired with illustrations and printed on large pages. But as the title character -- Roland, the well-intentioned wave with a goofy face -- continues to “roll” through life’s hardships, encountering an enemy or drifting away from a friend, he soon faces what might be the end of his existence: crashing on the shore and ceasing to be. 

That’s when it’s clear that Jim Carrey’s hardcover for kids holds much more than what’s seen on the surface.

“The idea of expanded consciousness is something I’ve always been interested in, looking for and experiencing in my life,” Carrey tells The Hollywood Reporter of deconstructing the existentialism concept for his first children’s book. “And then, one of the things I’ve always wanted to talk about or deal with is the fact that kids have profound feelings and profound questions that people don’t give them credit for. They think about life and death and ‘What happens when something happens to Mom? What happens when something happens to me?’”

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Due out Sept. 24 and published by Some Kind of Garden Media, the book is dedicated to Carrey’s 3-year-old grandson, Jackson, and features "cinematic" illustrations by Rob Nason (Anastasia, Thumbelina) of Roland, Shimmer and the other waves in the ocean (plus an Ace Ventura-reminiscent surfer that occasionally appears), based on a set of goofy selfies Carrey sent over Skype. 

It will also be available as an ebook starting in November; this version brings printed graphic font effects and foldout pages to life with Carrey’s effervescent audio narration, and also includes clips of four songs that feature the actor singing with his daughter, Jane, produced by Paul Masvidal of Cynic and Æon Spoke. Full versions of the tracks are available on iTunes.

Carrey broke away from filming Dumb and Dumber To to chat with THR about his own childhood existentialism crisis and why How Roland Rolls is no substitute for organized religion’s explanations of death and the afterlife.

What made you want to tackle this idea in a children’s book?

Basically, I just go with whatever comes through the universe to me. The idea of expanded consciousness is something I’ve always been interested in, looking for and experiencing in my life. It was the day I thought about the ocean in a different way -- I was looking at the waves, seeing them all going in the same direction like us, losing their form when they hit the beach. And there was a time I went to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Canada, and they had an ice sculpture garden for their guests in the wintertime. I saw a giant bear, an eagle, a dragon, all sculpted out of ice --- all a different form [of water]. It occurred to me that it was the same thing, how consciousness works. It’s basically doing a dance to entertain itself by making all these different forms, but it’s all the same thing. It’s all one thing that makes everything; one energy that makes everything.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to talk about or deal with is the fact that kids have profound feelings and profound questions that people don’t give them credit for. They think about life and death and "What happens when something happens to Mom? What happens when something happens to me?" I believe those are questions that need to be answered for kids; all of these questions I really had a lot when I was a child. I was entertaining people in one room and being the clown of the family, and then in my bedroom, I was trying to figure out the universe. My job as a comedian and as an entertainer my whole life, I’ve always looked at it as to free people from concern. I call it the church of FFC: freedom from concern.

What fear does this book get rid of, then?

Fear of loss -- whether it’s death or stuff or status, any of that. The fear that you’re just a little tiny thing in a giant universe, when you’re everything. There’s a whole universe. Eckhart Tolle puts it beautifully in one statement -- he says, "You're the space in which things happen." And when you tap into that feeling, oh my gosh, it’s so uplifting, it’s so freeing. You’re no longer this little fearful thing in the middle of the universe.

You mentioned this fear first came to you as a kid?

My parents were heavy smokers. I remember locking myself in the bathroom and crying because I thought they were going to die. They banged on the door, telling me to come out. I don’t know if I got over that fear at that time; it was just kind of with me. My mom was not well; she was always sickly, ill, or depressed or whatever. I joke about it, but it was serious. I remember being seven years old and my mother at the dinner table saying things like "My brain is deteriorating at an incredible rate!" or "My angina’s acting up; I could go at any time!" Things like that would just shake me to the core. It’s terrifying, but that was her way of getting attention and getting love. She was a child of alcoholics and didn’t get what she needed.

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Is this fear something you ever consoled your daughter about when she was younger?

I don’t remember explaining it specifically. We’re cut from the same cloth that way; she kind of adopted my way of looking at things as time went on, so we vibe in the same place for sure. I just feel like I’ve always been -- I don’t want say completely free from fear, but I’m free from concerns about my mortality. I don’t care! (Laughs.) I thought I would fear finality of some sort, but I don’t concern myself with those things. I’ve said this and people have made fun of me for it, but I really believe eternity is not a measure of time; it’s a depth of this moment right now, and the best you can do in life is to capture this moment as easily as possible, right now. That’s what this book is about -- your real identity. I’m answering the ultimate questions in me in the simplest way possible of, who are we? The truth is, who aren’t we? What aren’t we? Everything is us. The world around you is a reflection of you.

As many organized religions have answers to these questions, do you see Roland as a complement or a substitution?

I think it’s the same message that a lot of religions and a lot of spirituality are saying; it’s just a simpler way to say it. And there’s a method to my madness: the best way to get to people is through their children, and the best way to get to children is through their parents. To me, it’s all about relief and understanding. Life is not something to worry about. We’re gonna be here forever, whatever form that takes; it’s totally fine.

Which of Rob Nason’s illustrations is your favorite?

We had a wonderful relationship over Skype -- we weren’t in the same place all the time, but we were passing little drawings and doodles all the time -- and the way he realized those ideas was astounding to me. They’re actually paintings and they’re absolutely beautiful! The panel of them crashing on the beach together is cinematic, and the one where "They didn’t feel different, just bigger somehow, like the fish were all swimming inside of them now." That picture of the fish swimming inside them is, I think, one of the most beautiful paintings. Gorgeous.

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Where did the idea for the "Roland face" come from?

Initially, I did a couple of panels­­­ myself to bring the character to life for me a year and a half ago. I wanted to use them to try to sell it to people and get it published. Fortunately, I wasn’t doing a film at the time, so I was able to really immerse myself as well. When Rob came on, he was able to look at those things to try to get him characterized.

Oddly enough, it sounds like such a silly little thing to have a children’s book, but it’s been a really profound experience for me. I think it’s something a little more than a children’s book. It’s a very big subject, and I’m hoping not only to make kids feel good and be part of that moment at the end of the day where adults share themselves with the kids they love, but I also want parents to go to bed feeling good about the world too.