From creator Dave Holstein (Weeds, Raising Hope) and director/executive producer Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), the Showtime series Kidding follows Jeff (Jim Carrey, in a brilliant performance that’s his first series regular role in more than two decades), who’s also known as Mr. Pickles, an icon of children’s television. Although Mr. Pickles is supposed to be a beacon of kindness and wisdom for America’s youth, Jeff is finding it increasingly difficult to deal with his imploding personal life while his grief over a family tragedy causes a slow meltdown of his own sanity, in a way that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Oscar-winning French filmmaker Michel Gondry talked about what drew him to Kidding, his desire to team up again with Jim Carrey, after making Eternal Sunshine, the evolution of their working relationship, how he approached directing the rest of the cast, the biggest challenges in directing this show, and whether he’d return, if there’s a second season.
Collider: How did you come to this TV series? Was it the unusual nature of the material that got you involved, was it Jim Carrey, or was it something else entirely?
MICHEL GONDRY: It came through my agent. They told me there was this TV show with Jim attached, and I read the first two episodes. The concept of the host of the kid’s show has this wise image on TV, but his personal life is collapsing was really exciting.
This story has a very specific tone to it that’s also very tricky. Was that there, in the script?
GONDRY: It was there, yes. It’s a universe that I appreciate. I could create my universe within that, that looks natural for children. I was compelled to visualize this world.
Had you been looking for something to do with Jim Carrey again?
GONDRY: Yes, after Eternal Sunshine, we both were trying to find some material that could reunite us. That happened to be this. He gave me 100% trust, in my way to direct him. That was easy and strong, at the same time. When he would go off to do Jim Carrey, I could see right away that he was losing his character and I could tell him to come back without having any problem of ego. When an actor doesn’t trust the director, they get insecure and upset. I’m not saying he doesn’t have insecurities. He probably does. But at least with me, it was so much easier than Eternal Sunshine because he trusted me.
There’s been talk, over the years, of Jim Carrey being very method and staying in character. Did he do that with this?
GONDRY: No, I don’t believe in the method. Although Man on the Moon is great, but being Andy Kaufman for 24 hours must have been painful for the crew. That’s my opinion. I don’t want to tell you my secret with Jim, but I have a couple of them. I can tell, right away, when he’s right where he should be, and if he’s not, I know how to bring him there. In between the takes, he can do whatever he wants. That doesn’t change anything.
How did working with him, for the first time, on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind compare to working with him on Kidding?
GONDRY: I had to prove myself to him, and I had a style that he didn’t like. Especially with film, it was more challenging because I would restart the take without saying, “Cut!” I could see the actor getting more and more into their character, and at the end of the take, they’re way better than the beginning, so I would say, “Back to first position.” The only person allowed on the set was the prop guy because things move and he has to reset them, but there was no make-up, hair or costume. So, when you start again, you’re there already and the energy is much higher. I would do that two, three or four times, and it was tough because I didn’t say, “Action!,” but in the end, he realized that was for his own good. So, 14 years later, we did Kidding together, and he was game for anything and everything.
This series has such a terrific cast surrounding Jim Carrey, with Frank Langella, Judy Greer and Catherine Keener. What were they like to work with?
GONDRY: Each actor had to be directed differently. I could not give Frank Langella the type of direction that I would give to Jim ‘cause he would be insulted, so I had to find a language that was more sophisticated. And Judy Greer is just incredible. Some people, I realize that I don’t even tell them what to do. They just do it, and it’s great. Catherine Keener is very emotional, and sometimes I had to bring her emotion down. It’s a juggling act. It’s part of the job and it’s captivating.
What were the biggest challenges in doing this show, directing all of the episodes and having a show within the show?
GONDRY: One of the biggest challenges was to figure out how much we wanted to tell and how much we wanted the audience to guess. It was always different. Sometimes I would feel that, if we didn’t say enough, the audience would be lost. Other times, I would feel that if we would say too much, it would be heavy. It’s very difficult to know. You only know when you edit it. Also, to master the downfall of Jim’s character was a challenge. You have to see him as a nice, sweet character, and then move into somebody that is more deranged, we didn’t want him to be flat, in the beginning. We had to show that there were little gaps in his quiet personality that were insane, so we had to agree with Dave [Holstein] how much we wanted to show. We want the audience to feel like this guy is going to go somewhere that’s going to be weird, and then want to see where he’s going.
If this series continues, have you thought about whether you’d want to direct Season 2?
GONDRY: Yes, I’ve thought about it. I’d like to do another movie, so I don’t know. There are so many parameters. It’s long and it’s hard work, but there’s a very strong comradery.
Kidding airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.