Jim Carrey had a year unlike any other actor in 1994, in which he starred in three number one comedies: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask, which was sandwiched in between. In The Mask, the malleable actor—who had previously been best known for his work on Fox’s sketch hit In Living Color—tackled the role of bank teller Stanley Ipkiss, who finds an enchanted mask made by Norse god Loki that helps him unleash his id by becoming a maniacal, green-faced superhero who can alter reality for his own amusement.
The movie made $120 million in the U.S. alone and, to the anguish of parents everywhere, prompted kids to scream “Sssssmokin’!” at each other for months afterward. Check out some facts about the film and character Carrey once called “Fred Astaire on acid.”
1. The comic book The Mask was based on was much darker than the movie.
The Mask is based on a comic book concept by Mike Richardson and Mark Badger that originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents in 1987. (Comic creators Doug Mahnke, John Arcudi, and Chris Warner also worked on subsequent iterations of the character.) While the feature film wound up being a frenzied comedy, the source material was considerably less humorous. Instead of a mallet, the comic Stanley might whip out an axe and start chopping. That Mask was, in the words of screenwriter Mike Werb, “very dark … Stanley ends up killing hundreds of people.” With director Chuck Russell, the two reshaped the story so that Stanley is more mischievous than homicidal. (Richardson and Mark Verheiden also worked on drafts of the script.)
Werb based the character in part on his own childhood. “Stanley is me, sort of,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. “I was pretty much a loser geek in high school. I weighed 90 pounds and grew 6 inches, from 5 feet 4 [inches] to 5 feet 10 [inches], in one year. I have stretch marks on my knees for this! They called me ‘The Worm’ because it was close to my name; the kinder ones called me ‘The Whip.’ You don’t know how many times I wished I had the mask.”
2. The Mask was written for Jim Carrey.
At the time work was underway on The Mask, Carrey was still best known for his work on In Living Color and in a series of supporting roles in films like Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and Earth Girls Are Easy (1989). But Chuck Russell was very aware of the actor thanks to his time producing the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School. (Dangerfield and Carrey were friends.) Though New Line considered Rick Moranis and Robin Williams for the role, it was Carrey who emerged as the frontrunner.
“I wanted to use a comedian for a part in Back to School, but it was the part of a college professor and Jim was too young to play that,” Russell said in 1994. “We ended up using Sam Kinison. When I started scripting The Mask, I had Jim in mind even before I knew whether I could get him or not. When he read the first draft I worked on, he said, ‘It looks like it’s written for me.’ I said, ‘You’re absolutely correct.’ We were in sync from then on.”
3. Carrey may have saved the filmmakers $1 million in special effects costs.
Carrey signed on to The Mask before Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was released and turned the comic actor into a huge box office draw. That helped save New Line a little bit of cash: He was paid just $450,000 for the role, far less than the $7 million the studio gave him for Dumb and Dumber later that year.
Carrey also came with an additional bargain: According to Chuck Russell, the studio probably saved about $1 million in special effects expenses thanks to the actor’s elastic face, which helped Stanley Ipkiss become the effusive and cartoon-like Mask.
4. Effects artists at ILM had more fun on The Mask than on Jurassic Park.
The special effects artists at Industrial Light and Magic started working on the visuals for The Mask right after completing work on 1993’s groundbreaking Jurassic Park. The change was apparently exactly what they needed to avoid burnout. “After Jurassic Park, I was almost ready to pack it in,” ILM’s then-director of animation Steve Williams said. “But The Mask was completely refreshing … What we could do with the dinosaurs was limited by the laws of the natural world, but The Mask was textbook cartooning. We got really excited watching the dailies. It was a lot more fun spending a year watching Jim than it was spending two years seeing how accurately we could make the butt of a giant reptile jiggle.”
5. The dog in The Mask was motivated by Fig Newtons.
Carrey’s co-star in The Mask was Max, a 5-year-old Jack Russell terrier who plays Stanley’s dog, Milo. Max virtually steals the movie from Carrey during the climax when he dons the mask. To get the dog to hit his marks, his trainer plied him with Fig Newtons, a treat he had learned to love as a puppy.
6. The yellow suit in The Mask was based on one Carrey wore in real life.
As the Mask, Ipkiss is a sharp dresser and admirer of 1940s couture who favors a bright yellow zoot suit. The costume was actually inspired by a suit Carrey wore during his early years as a stand-up comedian in the 1980s. His mother reportedly made him a yellow polyester suit with tails on the premise that young men were wearing them. (Apparently, no one was, and Carrey felt slightly foolish.)
7. The Mask was Cameron Diaz’s first film.
Supermodel Anna Nicole Smith was one of several women Russell considered for the role of Tina, a singer who captures Stanley’s heart. Eventually, Russell settled on Cameron Diaz, a model who had yet to have any feature acting credits. “[She] was the only person for the part as far as I was concerned after her first reading,” Russell said. “And then I saw the chemistry with her and Jim. Eight callbacks later, including improvs with Jim, I finally convinced producers [to cast her].”
8. The “Cuban Pete” scene was almost cut from the movie.
From the beginning, it had been Russell’s intention to make The Mask a kind of covert musical, including a major dance number in which Ipkiss (as the Mask) performs “Cuban Pete,” a song that was first released in 1936 and later popularized by Desi Arnaz on the sitcom I Love Lucy. New Line was less certain about the scene and considered cutting it until a preview audience gave it an enthusiastic reception. The song stayed in and even became a modest Billboard hit under their Hot Dance Music category.
9. Carrey was supposed to appear in a Mask sequel.
When New Line signed Carrey to The Mask back in 1993, the deal included a provision for a sequel—one that looked likely given the film’s enormous success and Carrey’s box office appeal. He was to be paid up to $10 million for the follow-up.
It never materialized. Though Carrey has done few sequels in his career (1995’s Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, 2014’s Dumb and Dumber To, and 2022’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 among them) he has often expressed reluctance at returning to roles. New Line went ahead with a sequel anyway: 2005’s Son of the Mask, which starred Jamie Kennedy, made just $17 million.
In 2020, Carrey said he’d consider a Mask sequel if “some crazy visionary filmmaker” were involved.
10. The Mask could have met up with Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees.
Before Carrey lost interest in a sequel, New Line Cinema founder Robert Shaye was optimistic the character could not only spawn a series but potentially meet the studio’s other iconic antiheroes: Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th franchises. Russell, in fact, had directed 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
“Universal did that kind of thing, and we’re not blind to the possibilities,” Shaye told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. “If Universal could have Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein and the Wolf Man, maybe Stanley Ipkiss could meet up with Freddy and Jason.” That never happened, though Freddy and Jason did encounter each other in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason.