27 Wild Details Behind The Making Of Jim Carrey’s Grinch Movie

A cherished Christmas movie for some and a crazy fever dream for others, 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas was an unexpected (and ambitious) project for Oscar-winning director Ron Howard to take on, especially when his last big project was Apollo 13. The biggest draw for the project was, of course, Jim Carrey, who had been the king of comedy in the ’90s. His involvement helped legitimize the idea and certainly made Universal feel comfortable throwing over $120 million its way. While it undoubtedly had its fair share of issues throughout production, The Grinch ended up being successful overall, earning $345 million.

It took a long time to bring The Grinch to live action. A likely reason for that could be the struggles and financial commitment necessary to bring Seuss’ worlds to life. Everything from creating Whoville to finding the perfect locations to film offered their own challenges, something that future adaptations avoided by going fully animated. It’s an undoubtedly wild viewing experience, but the chaos wasn’t limited to what the audience saw. In fact, there was plenty of drama throughout the production that is worth chronicling for fans (and non-fans) of the 2000 movie.

Updated on December 3rd, 2022 by Amanda Bruce: Thanks to streaming services, fans of holiday classics like The Grinch can enjoy watching, rewatching, or introducing a new generation to the movie in question. Jim Carrey’s version of The Grinch is available to stream on both HBO Max and Hulu, giving audiences a couple options for the movie during the holiday season. Those who love the movie might be surprised by just how much what into bringing it to life in the late 1990s.

The Grinch Made Taylor Momsen Want To Be A Musician

One of Taylor Momsen’s earliest roles was as Cindy Lou Who in The Grinch. Though she was up for the role of Hannah Montana in the Disney Channel series, it was Gossip Girl, where she played Jenny Humphrey, that made her a household name. She left that series to pursue her career in music full time, but she knew music was in her future long before that.

Momsen recorded the song “Where Are You Christmas?” for The Grinch soundtrack, and the experience of being in a recording studio is what solidified the idea of working in music for her. She loved the experience so much that acting just became a means to an end.

Audrey Geisel Had A Lot Of Stipulations For The Film Rights

The Grinch looking down at Whoville from Mount Crumpet in How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Dr. Seuss, real name Theodor Geisel, had refused to sell the film rights for his books. Following his death in 1991, the decision went to his widow, Audrey Geisel, and she put a lot of thought into just what needed to happen if any producers wanted to make a movie from one of her husband’s stories.

She was willing to auction off the rights to How The Grinch Stole Christmas, but producers had to be willing to give her 4% of the box-office gross, half of the merchandising revenue, and 70% of the profit from book tie-ins. That was all on top of the $5 million price tag for the material itself. In addition to the monetary concerns, Giesel also stipulated that the actor playing the role of the Grinch had to have the same level of status as an actor like Robin Williams or Jim Carrey. Carrey would end up getting the part.

Jim Carrey’s Magic Hands Ruined A Take

The Grinch on a sofa in his house

The “tablecloth scene” is a memorable one for Grinch fans. As he recounts his “busy” schedule, the Grinch recognizes a possible opening in his schedule and attempts to find an outfit to go out in. Deciding the tablecloth is an essential part of that outfit, he rips it clean off his table. However, according to Movie Mistakes, that wasn’t exactly how the scene was supposed to go. Initially, Carrey was meant to make a total mess, spilling every dish onto the ground.

To everyone’s surprise, he was a little better at the rip than expected, and when no dish fell, he was directed to clear the table however he wanted. As the clip shows, Carrey obliged.

Max Is Actually A Female Dog

Max stares at the Grinch in a santa costume

Max easily won many viewers’ hearts because of his naturally cute appearance and ability to somehow play the straight man to Carrey’s manic Grinch persona. Another little secret that shows off Max’s range is that Max isn’t actually a Max at all. According to Humane Hollywood, he’s a female dog named Kelley!

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Kelley was undoubtedly a major highlight of the Grinch. The little glances in response to some of Carrey’s lines prove she was a star. When it’s considered they almost chose to make the dog entirely CGI, it’s really easy to appreciate the practicality that came with just recruiting a very talented dog instead.

Eddie Murphy And Jack Nicholson Almost Played The Grinch

Eddie Murphy's character in Mr Church

It’s difficult to think that literally anyone else was considered for the Grinch role. After all, Jim Carrey took a rather understated character from a cartoon and turned him into something almost entirely his. Yet, when the studio was doing initial casting, Eddie Murphy and Jack Nicholson were the first names to come up, according to Vulture and ScreenCrush.

While it’s unclear how far in the casting process these two ended up, it’s understandable that they were considered. Both could’ve put their over-the-top performances into the role while mixing in their own quirks and creative choices. There’s an interesting “what-if” concept for each, but in the end, the Jim Carrey Grinch performance was simply irreplaceable.

Method Acting In Jim Carrey’s Audition

Jim Carey in front of a curtain in Man On The Moon

Once someone goes method, it’s hard to break out of it. It’s just like Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder said: “I don’t drop character until I’ve done the DVD commentary.” When casting for The Grinch was happening, Carrey was filming the infamous Man on the Moon. This was the movie where Carrey’s method-acting was so extreme that they made a documentary about it!

However, casting calls wait for no one. When he was asked to audition, Carrey remained in character. In an interview, Carrey credited this move as he stated it was what convinced Audrey Geisel that he could lose himself in characters, proving he was the right man for the role.

Jim Carrey Ad-libbed Many Of The Grinch’s Lines

Jim Carrey as the Grinch

This probably won’t shock anyone, but Jim Carrey was not shy about ad-libbing on The Grinch. Ron Howard wasn’t shy about letting the actor shine, which led to some of the film’s best lines. The lines Carrey delivers as the Grinch goes through his daily schedule were conjured up by him, according to TV Tropes, as was the table-clearing moment and so much more.

When wondering who to thank for the “6:30: dinner with myself. I can’t cancel that again” line, look no further than the Grinch himself. Constant ad-libs may be problematic for screenwriters and directors, but when it’s a comedic genius like Carrey, it’s easier to accept.

Tim Burton Almost Directed

Jim Carrey as the Riddler

How the Grinch Stole Christmas seems right up Tim Burton’s alley. A live-action adaptation of a classic cartoon? Just recruit Danny Elfman and Tim Burton would’ve been right at home. Burton met with executives and discussed his vision for the movie, which was supposedly darker in tone and would’ve closely resembled the original cartoon.

Alas, Burton had a scheduling conflict and wasn’t available, according to Cosmopolitan. Although Burton would’ve been a prime selection for the gig, Ron Howard’s achievements with the film shouldn’t go unappreciated. Quite frankly, anyone who was able to push through all the chaos of this production and come out the other side relatively unscathed is worthy of commendation.

Whoville Was Almost Entirely CGI

Whoville in The Grinch

During pre-production, the central location of Whoville was a big topic of discussion. How should it look? How will it be brought to life? Well, to start the proceedings, somebody might’ve raised their hand and said, “Do we have to build sets? Why can’t it just all be special effects?”

It’s hard to blame them for considering it. According to AWN, what became a daunting task of recreating the wildly imaginative world of Whoville from the original books could’ve been far simpler with the removal of practical effects. Thankfully, they stuck with a hybrid of practicality and digital, resulting in a real-life Whoville.

The Grinch’s Yellow Eyes Were Practical And Digital

The Grinch looks happy

While the Jim Carrey Grinch make-up team did an exceptional job disguising Jim Carrey behind prosthetics and make-up, it’s the yellow contact lenses that really solidify the whole package. It renders him unrecognizable, allowing the viewer to enjoy his performance and not get distracted by the “Jim Carrey” alarm in their head. The price for this effectiveness was a great deal of discomfort for Carrey, according to The Washington Times, with the eyes being the primary point of pain.

Carrey reached a breaking point multiple times, requiring the effects team to digitally paste them on in certain shots. That means the distinctive yellow eyes for the Grinch needed a combination of practical and digital effects for the movie to work.

A shocked Grinch wears traditional garb in How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Bringing the Grinch suit to life would be a difficult prospect. Neither the original book nor cartoon gave much for the costume department to work with. They knew he had to be green and have yellow eyes. According to GX104, ultimately, they decided that the live-action Grinch could be brought to life using only yak hair, a spandex suit underneath, and some creepy yellow contacts.

The yak hair would be dyed green and individually woven into the spandex suit. If that doesn’t sound too uncomfortable already, the yellow contact lenses proved to be just as effective on Carrey’s eye sensitivity. Unbelievably they were still able to take such a cartoonish character like the Grinch and bring him into live-action.

Tens Of Thousands Of Digital Trees Are In The Opening Shot

The Grinch with Santa’s sleigh

This is just another (and not the final) example of how hard the film’s effects team worked. The opening shot of How the Grinch Stole Christmas not only sets the mood and establishes the major locations, it also lets the audience know how desperately the effects team needed a raise. In order to fill up the entirety of this frame, the effects team provided tens of thousands of trees to help add some extra green to the shot.

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It’s a great shot to start the film with, but at what cost? With every new entry, there’s a reminder of how hard the design teams worked. Their effort was worth it.

Jim Carrey Spent 92 Days Wearing The Grinch Costume

The Grinch looks sadly at his reflection in How the Grinch Stole Christmas

While the task of putting the outfit on and dealing with its extreme discomfort levels is worthy of its own discussion, the sheer amount of times Carrey had to don the full Grinch get-up is bafflingly high. Since there were no scenes with Carrey out of make-up, every scene he shot required the green makeover. That meant over the course of a year-long shoot, the actor had to wear the suit 92 days out of the total.

Considering his comments on just how uncomfortable he was wearing the suit, it’s easy to understand why the whole thing was such a grueling process for Carrey.

The Director Wore The Grinch Outfit For One Day Of Shooting

Baby Grinch uses fire in a festive costume

It’s doubtful that Carrey’s misery about putting on the Grinch suit so often was lost on anyone in production, least of all director Ron Howard. He recognized the troublesome nature of the process and decided Carrey should know of his appreciation. During one day of production, Howard arrived to work at 3:30 in the morning, ready to get Grinch-ed up.

Eagerly awaiting Carrey’s response, he actually got an angry reaction as Carrey thought Howard was a stunt double who “looked nothing like him.” After getting the full explanation, Carrey acknowledged his appreciation of Howard’s sentiment. Of course, Carrey and Howard weren’t the only ones to sport the iconic Jim Carrey Grinch costumes, as actor Josh Ryan Evans played the 8-year-old Grinch in a few scenes.

Over 152K Pounds Of Marble Were Crushed To Make Snow

The Mayor and the Grinch at the holiday celebrations

Creating the Whoville set is a lot more than just building some fake houses and setting up some trees. They have to set the scene, fill the town with a sense of authenticity, and then cover all of it with a mountain’s worth of snow. Since real snow couldn’t really be used (since it would melt), the production team had to find a means of making it snow. The solution? Crushed marble.

How much? More than 75 tons of it. It’s doubtful anyone wants to know just how long it took to get that much “snow,” but at least it looked good!

Over 250 Hand-Knitted Outfits Were Made For The Film

The grinch cuts the turkey for Whoville

While each Who in Whoville largely has similar looks and facial designs, their individual outfits are impressively different (but not too different) from one another. This was achieved by Los Angeles-based sweater designer Suss Cousins, who along with two other knitters, made 250 original pieces of knitwear.

Cousins and Co. had to work quickly as well, needing to provide the sweaters after four months. They ended up pulling it off, making approximately 83 sweaters each – including 8 red sweaters for Jim Carrey. It’s an incredible feat since they were all hand-knitted.

40 Minutes Of The Movie Is Just Visual Effects

Cindy Lou in Whoville in The Grinch

How the Grinch Stole Christmas was obviously very effects-heavy. How heavy? For the final cut, the special effects team was responsible for filling up over forty minutes of the film’s screen time.

With a total of 104 minutes in its runtime, at least 40 of those are shots composed entirely through digital means. An intimidating task for any VFX artist, The Grinch‘s effects team had to bring their A-game, or else a great chunk of the film wouldn’t have worked at all. It’s not the best method for filmmaking, but considering that this was back in 2000, their ability to fill that space effectively shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Anthony Hopkins Recorded His Narration In One Day

Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford in Westworld

A bona fide professional through-and-through, Sir Anthony Hopkins was a perfect choice as the narrator. His calming voice provides a soothing means of exposition throughout the movie. That careful balance mixed with a considerable amount of lines may seem like it must’ve taken him a little while to record. In fact, he finished in a day.

Showing he can do this “acting” thing in his sleep, Hopkins’ time with The Grinch was incredibly short. In comparison to his actually-onscreen castmates, his experience on the film seems almost entirely zen. If only all acting jobs were as efficient as this.

A Total Of 1000+ Hours Went Into Applying Make-up

The Grinch and Cindy Lou face off in How The Grinch Stole Christmas

While the effects team has received their praise, it’s now time to give the makeup team some love. Over 1000+ total hours was spent applying make-up and prosthetics to all the Whos in Whoville and the Grinch. Credited as being the movie with the most makeup used overall (taking the title away from The Wizard Of Oz), The Grinch would’ve completely failed had it not been for this committed team who amazingly created the Christmas killjoy.

They didn’t simply get pats on the back either for their effort. The film’s single Academy Award was won for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, serving as a permanent reminder of their hard work.

Jim Carrey’s On-Set Difficulties

Jim Carrey on the verge of tears in The Truman Show

Dedicating several hours a day to putting on costumes, makeup, and prosthetics could make anyone cranky. However, once the team forces someone to continually do so and put them in a position that they aren’t prepared for, they may begin to lash out. According to an interview with IndieWire with head makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji, Carrey didn’t seem prepared for the intensity of the Grinch outfit.

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This, along with other personal struggles, led to Carrey having some outbursts that pushed Tsuji to leave temporarily. He then returned after Ron Howard requested it, with Carrey also promising to be more reasonable, allowing his performance to take over as he came up with some of the best Grinch quotes.

Production Halted Regularly Due To Carrey’s Random Disappearances

The Grinch and the mayor at a microphone

To add to the production struggles, Carrey had a bad tendency to disappear for multiple days at a time. These were completely random and never really explained, as Carrey would return and business would go on as planned.

As will be discussed in the next point, it appears that Carrey was going through some issues and these disappearances, while still unexplained, were a direct side effect of those struggles. Thankfully, it does seem he took on those problems and was able to resolve them.

The Cause Of Carrey’s Behavior During Production

Cindy Lou and the Grinch face off

A major cause that led to Carrey’s struggles during the making of The Grinch came from his addiction, as he admitted in an interview on the Graham Norton Show. He stated that this led to his priorities getting mixed up and that little else mattered outside of his “next batch.”

Thankfully, he discussed that he’s now living day-to-day with a clear head and is enjoying life. It’s sad to think of the much-beloved actor dealing with struggles like this, but good on him for working on himself.

The Grinch Outfit Took 8.5 Hours To Put On

The Grinch dresses up as santa

Many may not know that Carrey reacted so harshly during the starting days of production! The first time that the makeup team put the suit on him, it took about eight and a half hours. This led to Carrey kicking a hole in his trailer and everything starting off poorly.

Immediately after, they were able to cut down the time in half, making it take three hours to put on and one to take off. It was an improvement, but Carrey was far from at peace with the process. Though The Mask dealt with makeup and prosthetics, this went beyond anything Carrey dealt with before.

A CIA Expert Came To Help Carrey

The grinch hides in the Christmas tree

The struggles continued as Carrey just couldn’t find any kind of happy place during the transformation process. He described it as “like being buried alive” and told Howard that he couldn’t do the movie. This led to production bringing in a CIA expert who was able to teach Carrey ways to relax under duress.

This worked wonders for him as there were far fewer issues during the makeup application process. Carrey credits the training for a good amount of his zen mentality and apparently still utilizes the teachings today.

The Head Makeup Artist Needed Therapy After The Movie

The Mayor holds onto the Grinch in his Xmas sweater

It turns out that working on this film wasn’t the healthiest experience for everyone. While Carrey clearly had his own struggles, it was head makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji who got hit the hardest. Forced to face Carrey when he was struggling was tough enough, but it didn’t end there. He still had to maintain a consistent quality across a massive cast on a major project.

Tsuji was able to handle it all and finish the film, but some therapy was needed to recover. While he’s still gaining recognition for his work (earning a nomination for Darkest Hour), The Grinch is still a sore subject. After everything he went through, it’s understandable.

Cinematographer Donald Peterman Was Replaced By His Son

Donald Peterman on the Star Trek set with Leonard Nimoy

Donald Peterman was a cinematographer with a long career, known best for his work on Star Trek IV and Flashdance. He was also a consistent collaborator with Ron Howard, having worked with him three times prior to The Grinch. Unfortunately, the 2000 film was the last collaboration between the two.

After getting injured on the set of his previous film Mighty Joe Young, Peterman was in continuous pain and couldn’t function properly. According to the American Society of Cinematographers Magazine, it eventually got to be too much and Peterman had his son take up the position. He never ended up working again, unfortunately ending the career of the illustrious cinematographer.

Jim Carrey Teasing Ron Howard Made It Into The Final Cut

Cindy Lou and the Grinch in the Sleigh

A memorable snippet from the film came when the Grinch is preparing for the great Christmas heist and must train Max to pull the sleigh. To get Max into the right mindset, he behaves like a film director trying to influence an actor to fit the part. For the scene, which was not exactly scripted, Carrey decided to use a nearby director (and that director’s hat) as his influence.

Yes, Carrey decided to ad-lib a moment where he teases the very director who’s directing him. Thankfully, Ron Howard enjoyed the exchange so much, he left it in. As was the case with Howard throughout production, he was a good sport about it.

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