Has Jim Carrey Flipped Out?

The film funnyman is trying to rebound from a career slump with a new thriller — and a new spiritual path. Joel Stein peeks into the eternal weirdness of Jim Carrey's mind

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Giuliano Bekor for TIME

Jim Carrey, photographed in Los Angeles, January 2007

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"Sometimes when people spill about their spirituality, it's because it's a new discovery: 'Oh, my God, I'm born again,'" says Carrey's Number 23 co-star Virginia Madsen. "But this is something he really lives. Stand-up comics are usually kind of morose and dark people. But Jim is really funny. And he enjoys other people's sense of humor as well." Madsen said that between sets, he cracked people up with stories about when his family was homeless and living in a van. You have to be pretty funny to pull that off.

Schumacher figures that Carrey's happiness, particularly with girlfriend Playboy model cum gross-out comic Jenny McCarthy, allowed him to play a tortured obsessive-compulsive in The Number 23. "I've seen him really suffer in love. He wasn't ready to go to the places he goes in this movie back then," Schumacher says of the twice-divorced actor. "He was afraid that if he went to those dark places, his life would be misery the whole time he was making the movie. But now life is good for Jim. He could tear his heart down, then go home."

Carrey seems so happy (Painting! Ice-hockey lessons! Building a greenhouse so he can grow all his own food!) that he's pretty persuasive when he says his career's mini-meltdown last year was a blessing. After a couple of disappointing movies (although the widely panned Fun with Dick and Jane and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events each wound up slowly dragging in more than $100 million domestically), Carrey fired Nick Stevens of United Talent Agency, the agent who had guided him through his entire career. Then two movies--Used Guys with Ben Stiller and a comedy with Cameron Diaz--fell apart. And Ripley's Believe It or Not was also delayed. "I just can't put software out. I can't. I'll have a physical reaction," says Carrey. "I'll be three weeks away from a project, and the universe will take it away from me. That's what happened with Used Guys. My soul didn't want to be there." He says that he's not unwilling to do the sort of big comedy for which the studios will pay him tons, but he won't do it just for the paycheck, which is probably just as well, since it's clear he can no longer bring the crowd or command the fee he used to.

In fact, Carrey says if he doesn't work for a while, that's fine with him. "It used to be all show biz, and now it's just one flower in my flower bed," says the man who wrote himself a $10 million check as a show of confidence when he started his career. "I was very one-track-minded. I'd have to fake what I did for fun if someone asked. 'Well, I like to ride horses.' I said that to an interviewer once. I'll ride horses once or twice a year. If that." He assumes, in fact, that at some point he will retire from the entertainment business, so he can have a couple of decades outside of fame.

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