Carl Allen is in a rut. When he’s not turning down loan applications at the bank where he works, he is turning down invitations from his friends, watching television alone on his couch. He’s effectively become a “No Man.”
“I’ve been that guy,” says Jim Carrey, who stars as Carl. “I know a lot of people who are in that situation where they just avoid life. I live in the United States of Avoidance. To me, this is a movie about choosing to join life, and that’s what drew me to it. Sometimes saying no is saying yes to something else, to something greater that will come your way. And sometimes saying no to an invitation is saying yes to a couch and some potato chips. Just do what’s right for you,” advises Carrey. “But it’s usually not the things we say yes to that we regret; it’s when we say no that we look back and think, ‘Ah, I could have lived a little bit more.’”
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Carl’s life takes an unexpected and radical turn when he grudgingly attends a self-help seminar led by a “Yes” guru who urges his devotees to say yes more and transform their lives. The initially skeptical Carl agrees to try spontaneity by saying yes… to everything. “In the movie, Carl is a normal guy who just needs a jump start, and the Yes seminar provides that,” notes director Peyton Reed. “It throws him off course at first, but then it really gets him to take stock of himself and to invest in life again.”
Reed was immediately attracted to the story after reading the script based on the best-selling memoir by Danny Wallace. “I dug into the script and subsequently into Danny’s book, and I was really struck by the fact that Danny actually did embrace this philosophy for a period of time,” states Reed.
When Wallace was dumped by his girlfriend years ago, he decided he needed some time to “just sit around and be a boy and play video games, and not really do anything,” he recalls. “My mates were a little bit worried about me. They kept phoning up, leaving messages and texting me with various opportunities and invitations. And I was always saying ‘no.’”
A chance conversation on a London bus turned things around for Wallace and inspired his book. “Someone happened to mention to me, ‘You should say yes more.’ It was probably just a casual remark, but I thought that it was the best advice—like every self-help book in the world distilled into three words. And that launched my ‘yes-capades!’ I bought a car off a bloke at a party just because he said, ‘I don’t suppose you’re interested in buying a car, are you?’ I went to see a band called General Onion and His Shocking Castanets. Thanks to a cleverly-worded advertisement, I flew to Singapore for the weekend. Not really a weekend destination, you know?” he laughs, “but I had a great time. The way I see it, you’re as likely to meet the love of your life at a bad party as at a good one, but if you’ve said no, you’ll never know.”
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“I definitely liked the very positive spirit of the material,” Reed enthuses, “and the basic idea of someone really taking on life, but in our case, in a very random way. A guy like Carl getting into these situations is funny, and I knew that with Jim Carrey playing Carl the comic possibilities were endless. Jim’s physicality and delivery just take what’s funny to a whole different level.”
“I thought the concept was really cool,” says Carrey. “To sit back and imagine all the things you can get into if you say yes, is pretty fertile territory.”
Producer David Heyman, who discovered Wallace’s book and brought it to the studio, had become a big fan of the author after reading his first book, Join Me. Heyman’s take on Yes Man was no different. “The generosity of spirit that informs Danny and his work is something that really appeals to me,” the producer notes. “When I read Yes Man, I loved it. The idea that if you say yes—if you’re open to the possibilities that life throws before you—then great things will happen, was very intriguing.”
Immersed in the latest “Harry Potter” film at the time, Heyman contacted Richard Zanuck, hoping to interest the veteran filmmaker in joining forces to produce "Yes Man".
Zanuck had no hesitation about joining the project, and thought “casting Jim Carrey in this role couldn’t be better. There’s no one else who could really perform it like he does,” smiles Zanuck. “I said ‘yes’ to everything—the script, the cast. I just liked everything about it. It was fresh, it was new. It was life-affirming and funny.”
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He met with Reed and the two hit it off right away. “Dick Zanuck is responsible for so many of the movies that I watched as a kid, and which made me want to make movies,” says Reed. “From the original ‘Planet of the Apes,’ which he greenlit when he was running Fox, to ‘The Sting’ and ‘Jaws,’ both of which he produced, he’s just the man!”
“We had a wonderful meeting,” remembers Zanuck. “I admire his films, and he’s such a personable, talented guy. I think he has a very strong future ahead of him.”
Reed collaborated with screenwriters Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel and spent time with Jim Carrey during preproduction, fine-tuning the spirit of Wallace’s very British memoir into an American story set in Los Angeles. “I really wanted to create a tone in the film which was somewhere between what Jim does comedically and in his more serious work,” explains the director. “A tone that would allow his character to go on comic flights of fancy as only Jim can, but that’s a little more grounded, too.”
The Scottish-born author, humorist and television personality Danny Wallace had trouble keeping his feet on the ground when he was approached by the filmmakers about transforming his memoir into a film starring Jim Carrey. “I was thrilled when I received a phone call regarding turning my book into a Hollywood film. Clearly I was going to say ‘yes!’” Wallace grins. “I had been a fan of Jim Carrey’s work since ‘In Living Color.’ They all did a brilliant job of ‘Americanizing’ the story to bring it to a wider audience; the spirit has remained exactly intact.”
“What can you say?” offers Carrey. “There would be no ‘Yes Man’ without him. The man came up with a concept that’s right up my alley. I’m always looking for something that can be really hilarious but also has some aspect that you can chew on afterward. After seeing ‘Yes Man,’ the audience can go home and wonder, ‘How much do I say no? Should I say yes a little bit more?’”
Both Carrey and Reed say they are glad they said yes this time.
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“I had a blast working with Jim,” says Reed. “I’d never met him before but I really felt like we were two peas in a pod; our senses of humor are very similar. And because we spent time together during preproduction, by the time we began shooting, Jim and I really had a shorthand and a very clear idea of what we were after for the film, and of who the character of Carl was.”
Carrey concurs. “I know Peyton comes from an improv background, but still, literally, this was the first movie where I sat back on the set and let somebody make me laugh all the time. He just made me howl. There are certain things an actor’s gotta do at least once, and I think working with Peyton Reed is definitely one of them.”
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures