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The Grinch
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (film still)

The bizarre story behind how the make-up on The Grinch drove everyone mad

It involves CIA torture endurance training and crew members going to therapy for stress

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a family favourite and a Christmas classic. Based on the beloved story by Dr Seuss, it starred Jim Carrey and a pre-Gossip Girl cherub-faced Taylor Momsen and brought us such iconic and endlessly quotable moments as “But what will I wear” and “6:30, dinner with me. I can’t cancel that again.”

But it sounds like it was a fucking nightmare to make.

Getting into costume for Carrey was not easy. The process involved facial prosthetics, being encased head-to-toe in green yak fur and enlarged contact lenses which the set’s fake snow kept getting into. Carrey described the process as “being buried alive every day” saying it took eight and a half hours in total, although head make-up artist Rick Baker has recalled it being more like two and a half hours. 

Increasingly frustrated with this daily endeavour, Carrey began taking it out on the crew. Make-up artist Kazuhiro Tsuji who worked under Baker remembered in an interview with Vulture how “mean” Carrey was to everybody. “After two weeks we only could finish three days’ worth of shooting schedule, because suddenly he would just disappear and when he came back, everything was ripped apart. We couldn’t shoot anything.”

On one particularly terrible day, Carrey lashed out at Tsuji. “In the make-up trailer he just suddenly stands up and looks in the mirror, and pointing on his chin, he goes, ‘This colour is different from what you did yesterday.’ I was using the same colour I used yesterday. He says, ‘Fix it.’ And okay, you know, I ‘fixed’ it. Every day was like that.”

Tsuji became so mentally exhausted that Baker and one of the producers allowed him to step away from the film for a while with the hope that Carrey would realise how valuable Tsuji was to the creation of the character. After a week away, Carrey and then director Ron Howard both called asking Tsuji to return, with Howard saying Carrey had sworn to change.

“I went back under one condition,” Tsuji said. “I was talking with my friends, and they all told me, ‘You should ask for a raise before you go back.’ I didn’t want to do that – kind of nasty. Then I got the idea: How about I ask them to help me to get a green card?” With letters of recommendation from the filmmakers and BAFTA and Oscars wins for Best Make-up under his belt, Tsuji’s application was approved, although following production he started seeing a therapist and realised how unhappy he was on a set. “If I had a choice, I would not be in this mental state all the time,” he remembers thinking. 

But meanwhile, Carrey himself was going through his own torture. Driven increasingly insane by the “horrifying” experience of being in the Grinch costume which he ultimately spent 92 days in, producer Brian Grazer brought in a man that trained CIA operatives how to endure torture to help him cope. 

According to Carrey, the advice he was given to him by this expert was: “eat everything you see. If you’re freaking out and you start to spiral downwards, turn the television on, change a pattern, have someone you know come up and smack you in the head, punch yourself in the leg or smoke as much as you possibly can.” Carrey took this advice to heart and picked up a two-pack a day habit to get through the ordeal. 

Carrey’s behaviour at the early stages of the production on Grinch might perhaps be traced back to the movie he filmed directly before, Man on the Moon, in which he played the late comedian Andy Kaufman. During the making of Man on the Moon, Carrey became “possessed” by the spirit of Kaufman. “It was psychotic at times. Jim Carrey didn't exist at that time,” he has since said.

While on set, Carrey would only respond to the name “Andy” and his increasingly manic antics including crashing a car, trespassing into Steven Spielberg’s office, and dumping drinks on people’s heads led producers to fear the production might be sued over the mental stress Carrey inflicted on the crew. During this time, Carrey would also take calls with Grinch director Ron Howard in character as Kaufman. “Andy actually affected The Grinch as well,” Carrey said at the Venice Film Festival premiere of documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond.