BEVERLY HILLS, California — "The Passion of the Christ" may have met its match, at least as far as source material is concerned.
"Charlie Kaufman — every time a script comes from him, it's the new gospel," Jim Carrey said at Tuesday's premiere of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," another unique film written by "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation" screenwriter Kaufman.
Carrey, who stars in "Eternal Sunshine," was one of the many Hollywood elite who spent their stroll down the red carpet at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences singing the praises of Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, who debuted on the big screen with 2001's "Human Nature" but is best known for directing White Stripes and Björk videos (see "Video Auteur Michel Gondry Goes From White Stripes To 'Eternal Sunshine' "). Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst and beau Jake Gyllenhaal, Carrey mentor Rodney Dangerfield, fellow comedian Gary Shandling and director Cameron Crowe also caught Tuesday's screening.
"Michel Gondry is like this underground swell happening," Carrey said. "And you love to be part of him bursting out, 'cause he's going to be a really important filmmaker for a long time."
Kate Winslet, who plays Carrey's love interest in the movie, was equally excited when she got an offer to make the movie.
"If I could be graphic for a moment, you pretty much pee your pants," she explained of the casting. "I never thought I would work with Michel Gondry, who's from the world of incredible music videos. And Charlie's a genius, so I thought, 'I want a slice of that.' "
Mark Ruffalo, who (along with Wood) plays a lab technician who erases Carrey's bad memories of his relationship with Winslet, thought the same thing when he read the script.
"I basically had to beg," he said. "Those two together are very exciting. They're very irreverent about filmmaking."
Not that Kaufman and Gondry got all the attention at the premiere. A bald Carrey, always a show stealer, was also a hot topic, although not for the usual stunt-pulling or wisecracking. His performance in the movie is garnering rave reviews and is said to be his most different, or anti-Ace Ventura, yet.
"I always knew he had it in him; he's always been an amazing actor," Elijah Wood said. "To see what he went through to achieve this was pretty extraordinary. It isn't at all the Jim Carrey we're familiar with. Emotionally, it was difficult for him, putting him in that space, pathetic and heartbroken, and I know he called on a lot of personal experiences to be that, which is wonderful."
Dunst was also surprised and impressed. "He was very introverted, listening to his music, not the Jim Carrey you think of," she said. "It's a hard role."
The humble Gondry gave the credit to Carrey and Kaufman.
"When you take an actor of this level, you want them to commit to the project even if it's not a big Hollywood movie and that's what he did," the director said. "He was here for the story. Everyone loves Charlie's script."
The script was certainly what attracted Carrey to the role.
"It was an opportunity to show a different side and relax a little bit and let the audience come to me instead of going to them," Carrey said. "It's a romantic movie, but it's not romanticized.
"And who hasn't been erased at some point?" he added with that familiar grin.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" opens March 19.