Jim Carrey made a name for himself by appearing in funny films like Ace Ventura and The Mask, contorting his rubber face in a way that was always guaranteed to make you cackle. It was his history of being such a Hollywood funnyman that made audiences so shocked to see him give such a serious (and seriously amazing) dramatic performance in The Truman Show. Now, most fans can hardly imagine that film without Jim Carrey, but it turns out that this role very nearly went to Hollywood legend Robin Williams instead.
In case you’ve forgotten the premise, The Truman Show is a movie about a fictional reality show in which audiences have been following the titular character from the moment he is born. He leads a completely manufactured life, unknowingly living in an expansive film set that is filled with actors who are paid to be his friends, but things turn very existential once Truman realizes there is nothing real about his reality show. With all that being said, how did this famous Jim Carrey film almost star Robin Williams instead?
The movie was written by Andrew Niccol, and it was originally meant to be his directorial debut as well. Niccol had been considering actors like Robin Williams and even Gary Oldman for the role, but the movie’s large budget (it ended up being $60 million, but the studio thought it would be as high as $80 million) caused Paramount to select Peter Weir as director. Once Weir got in the big chair, he almost immediately decided to use Jim Carrey rather than Robin Williams for the title role.
Weirdly enough, Weir was so adamant about using Jim Carrey rather than Robin Williams for a very surprising reason: two months before receiving the script, he had seen the movie poster for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and he was struck by the silliness of the haircut, the birds, and the prospect of “someone new” in Hollywood. He later heard that Carrey was interested in the film, and he couldn’t shake “what a startling idea” and “what an interesting idea” it would be to take someone so silly and thrust him into the spotlight of something so serious.
And at that time, being taken seriously was something much more important to Jim Carrey than Robin Williams. By the time The Truman Show came out, Robin Williams had already demonstrated that he was more than a funny guy in everything from The Dead Poets Society to The Birdcage. Carrey, meanwhile, had only attempted to go more serious with the cringe comedy The Cable Guy, and he was understandably eager to flex his dramatic chops on the biggest stage possible, accepting the role at record speed and even agreeing to star in it for $12 million rather than his then-usual $20 million.
Ultimately, while we can hardly imagine The Truman Show without Jim Carrey, it’s fascinating to think how different such a movie would have been with Robin Williams. Had that happened, though, it’s likely Carrey’s later career would have been wildly different. We probably would never have seen him in excellent films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but if it would have kept up from the nightmare fuel of Carrey dressing as the Grinch, we might consider this a fair trade.