The first time Michel Gondry and Jim Carrey worked together, they wound up making one of the best films of the 21st century. (Some may go as far as saying that no other movie from the ’00s could touch it.) They stayed in contact in the years following Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, ultimately re-teaming to find a new project that could follow up that tear-jerking head trip. Fitting for Carrey’s sad clown side and Gondry’s craft-table surrealism, they landed on Kidding, a dramedy from Weeds alum Dave Holstein about Jeff Pickles (Carrey), the kindly host of a long-running children’s television show whose grasp on reality is shaken by a personal tragedy. Kidding premiered last night on Showtime; at this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, The A.V. Club spoke with Gondry about his creative connection with Carrey, the connections Kidding draws between the families we build and the families we’re born into, and favorite TV memories from his own childhood.
The A.V. Club: In terms of your working relationship, what do you feel like you bring out of Jim as an actor, and what does he bring out of you as a director?
Michel Gondry: Jim has a crazy surface—kind of like volcano of craziness—and inside it seems much calmer. When I work with him I pull the inside out: Much more quieter outside, and much more intense inside.
AVC: Carrey’s character in Kidding is a very emotionally repressed kind of guy. How do you represent that repression in the visuals or the mood of the show?
MG: There is where he lives—he lives in a sad, miserable apartment. Right there, you already have the true element that composes the tension of the story—knowing that he should be a millionaire, and why does he live in this very miserable condition? This contrast where you see Jim as an entertainer and when you see him outside of this world in real life, that’s how we treat it.
AVC: At the end of the pilot, we find out that these characters we’ve been following—Jeff and Seb and Deirdre—they’re a family. What kind of effect do you think that has on the show? Do you feel like it twists it a little bit?
MG: When you watched it, did you see it coming?
AVC: I did not, no. I was surprised by it.
MG: So what did you think, then?
AVC: I felt like maybe if I went back, I could maybe pick up some things. The way that Seb talks to Jeff is very paternal, the way that he and Deirdre interact is very brother and sister. They’ve got that real warmth there when they’re just kind of shooting the breeze on set.
MG: I really like this idea because, when you work with a small group, there is connection created and you project, like, sometimes my producer I imagine is my dad—I lost my dad 10 years ago, and sometimes I see him as my dad. Or this woman I work with, I see her as my mother, and I think we sort of generally—or maybe that’s me—recreate familial connection in people who are strangers. So you see that in the beginning of the episode and you just attribute that as a little business where people are attached to each other. And so it feels that we represent this relationship you have in your work environment with family relationship, so when you see that, it is exactly what it is. I tell you it’s nice, and it feels, “Oh yes of course that’s his dad!” And then you see the company in a new angle. Because they have been together—its like a little circus in a way, it’s the son, the daughter, the mom. I think that’s what Dave was after.
AVC: How involved are you with some of the puppetry in the show and some of the special effects? I’m thinking, like, when Jeff gets into the barrel, how much involvement did you have with that aspect of the show?
MG: It’s tough now, because I can’t remember exactly what was on paper. We knew that [Mr. Pickles] had this place where he lives in this little apartment, then he goes to the barrel and you follow this little animation, then you arrive into the world of the puppets. I think this was established—now, I sort of designed how to make it work, I didn’t really think too hard.
AVC: Did you watch much TV when you were a kid? Do you have any fond memories of children’s TV from France?
MG: Yeah, we had a lot of TV for kids. There was one with a real cat, a real dog—real animals. There were a lot from East Europe like Poland, Czech Republic. [Colargol], a little bear who couldn’t sing, but was animated. But we had very few hand puppets. It was not in our culture.
AVC: How do you think that compares to how kids’ TV in the U.S.? Kidding is very much grounded in the Mr. Rogers/Sesame Street tradition.
MG: I don’t know. To me, to see the animation as a thing working on its own [in stop-motion], it was a bit more magical. You didn’t see the person. But no, I like the American style as well.