Make 'Em Laugh
Tom Shadyac loves to make people laugh—and even considers it a high calling.
Shadyac, director of such films as Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, was shorter than—and ignored by—many of his peers in elementary school, so he found another way to get their attention: Make 'em laugh.
The class clown grew up to be a joke writer for Bob Hope before moving into the world of making movies. And he hopes his latest, Evan Almighty, opening this Friday, brings a few more laughs to movie audiences as well.
But more than that, Shadyac, a Christian, also hopes that this sequel to 2003's Bruce Almighty delivers a message—that God not only loves us, but wants us to share that love with others and make a difference in the world.
That message comes across in Evan, in which Steve Carell plays a modern-day Noah—a U.S. Congressman who is asked by God (Morgan Freeman, reprising his role from Bruce) to build an ark. It is, like Bruce, both hilarious and thought provoking.
On a recent trip to LA, we sat down with Shadyac, 48, to talk about the new film, Hollywood's discovery of the "faith-based market," and the theology of laughter.
Why a sequel to Bruce Almighty?
Tom Shadyac: It's more like the next chapter in the God series than it is a sequel. We've thought about a trilogy for some time. We thought if Bruce worked out [it did, earning almost $500 million worldwide], that God could come and talk to someone else in other stories—just like he appears to Moses, to Abraham, to Paul. And to Noah.
Why not bring Jim Carrey back for this one? He was so good in Bruce.
Shadyac: Jim was hesitant because he felt he might be repeating himself playing the same character. And ultimately I think this was a much better way to go for both of us. He got to go and create new characters for himself, and we got to go spin this off into another direction, with a different tone and a wider audience.
Why do you think Bruce was such a hit?
Shadyac: First, it was funny. That's the main thing. Second, Bruce had kind of a universal experience—to feel powerless, like your life isn't what you want it to be. I think that really connected with people.
It sure connected with the Christian audience. Was that part of the plan?
Shadyac: No. We just wanted to tell a human story and hook people who had some of these questions, thoughts, and frustrations. We don't think in terms of segmenting the audience. We want our films to reach as many people as we can, to spread whatever entertainment and light we can. We were pleased that the movie was embraced by the Christian community, but we wanted it to be as wide reaching as possible.
Did you have the Christian audience more in mind when you were making Evan?
Shadyac: Nope. Madeleine L'Engle talks about this in her book Walking on Water—that you would think it would be our Christianity that affects our art, but it's more like our art affects our Christianity. We're storytellers, and by engaging in stories, you become more aware of the human condition, of the journey, of the challenges. And that affects our faith. So we don't target faith-based audiences, but we do think the faith-based audience will enjoy this film.
But that's not why you make the movie.
Shadyac. Right. I make movies because they move me in some way. Now that is always connected with who I am and where I'm standing. I wouldn't have made this movie had I not been able to connect with the themes and spiritual inferences in the movie.