MEDIA: You've played outrageous characters before, but why is Count Olaf so different from anything you've ever done before?
JIM: He's closer to the real me. Yeah, Count Olaf...I got to tell you, it's pretty much a one-man show. And then there's other people in the movie, for sure, but it's really the Olaf story.
Can you describe that first day on the scene shooting with the kids and the director says, "Action"?
They gave me nothing! They gave me nothing! No...The first day with the kids...They were studying all day, so I was kicking back, mostly.
Count Olaf, is he Russian, German, Nordic, what is he?
I'm not sure, he doesn't know.
He's a megalomaniac, he's a sociopath--
He's pretty much anything you want him to be. I think he's the most versatile actor ever. And you can tell because you've got Meryl Streep in the movie, who wanted to be near to learn from him. She knew. She knew. She felt it. She felt the heat. She wanted to be near it.
Did you meet the author prior to the shoot when you signed on and were you familiar with the books?
I was, because my agent told me to read them, so I was familiar with them. Actually, my manager's son Sammy, he saw the books first and told his father, "Jim should play this character. This is totally up his alley. He's a total maniac. He's out of control."
Do you feel the general public is ready to accept a darker comedic side to your performances?
I think they're ready to line up and jump off a cliff, frankly! So, I think this will be a bright spot in their lives.
You play a very bad actor and a very bad man in the movie. Is there any bad actor or bad movie villain you may have channeled or used as an example of how to play your character?
Well, I do approach things sometimes from the animal. Who's the animal? What animal is this character? This guy is definitely some kind of bird of prey who steals eggs from nests. I also wanted to get the Orson Welles things down. I wanted to be classical in this movie, and it was an opportunity in a really silly way to be "classical."
Tell us about working with Meryl Streep, who played Aunt Josephine.
There are movies, and then there's an experience happening, a moment on film where people are dragged through the celluloid into a world that has never been accessed. And for me, every moment that I was on screen with Meryl, I was doing that. I'm not sure what she was doing, but I was definitely on, I was on it. I was on it. And I could feel it. I could feel when I walked away from the scene, she'd go, "Damn him! How do I do this?" I caught her one time, I walked by her trailer and she was, [singing] "I don't know how to loooove him." Okay, the first time I met Meryl, it was like jazz, you know, so fun, she's really cool, really awesome. She was wonderful. I mean, come on, it's crazy. It's like a watermark in any actor's career to work with Meryl Streep. And she's really nice and supportive. What other cliche actor thing can I say? I mean, I feel sorry for her because she's getting so many compliments, and she's always like, "Oh my gosh, oh no. I'm just working." She's very humble about it, just really fun to play with.
You compare your character to different animals. What about yourself? What animal do you see yourself as?
I'm a weird mating between a woolly mammoth and a small weasel. I have moments of "Weasel and Hyde" and then I have moments of "Bust through the wall? Are you kidding me?" I go back and forth. I'm many things. I'm a bird that soars ever gently.
Lemony Snicket's has a huge audience, so to what extent do you give thought to how much improvisation you could add to it, thereby making sure you stay true to the tone the original books had?
I knew that if we did it as a movie, it would have to have some tone of humor. I was trying to put a little bit of that in and yet still keep the danger. There was a lot of debate going on about how much should be in there, how much shouldn't. At one point there was a debate going on, seven different factions going, "Should we have a slap in the movie, should he slap him, should he not slap him?"
I've never seen a movie with so many props in my life. Everywhere you look--
They did everything they could to steal the focus from me. It was impossible!
Was there anything in the shoot you saw that made you say, "I've got to have that. That's coming home with me!"
There were many, many things. It's like eBay after a movie for me. "This, this, this. And the car! And those small actors."
What would really make Count Olaf happy?
Fame, glory, glory, focus, not just one slice, big slice, big huge slice. Take a slice of the focus pie. Put it over here for other people. Eat the rest. That's Olaf, in a nutshell.
If you could be nominated for only one film you've been in this year, which film would you want to get nominated for?
Well gosh, I can't speculate on all that. I just hope the films do well and I hope that everybody had a great time. That's important. I do think that, uh, there should be a special Oscar for Count Olaf.