James Tupper, the Nova Scotia-born star of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, calls his co-stars “ornery.” No, he’s not talking about Jim Carrey or Angela Lansbury. He’s referring to the movie’s aquatic, flightless actors.
“They kind of look like toddlers wearing a tuxedo with their chests sticking out in this really open, sweet way,” he says. “But when you get close to them, they will give you a nip.”
To accommodate the birds, the film’s set was kept at below zero. “You could see your breath all day long,” says Tupper. As for working with them he says, “they’re not great actors,” but performing opposite the Antarctic imports was less strange than acting without them.
Computer generated penguins were used for several scenes, which meant Tupper would have to emote to a mark on the wall.
“There would just be a dot on the wall and they would put the penguin in later. Sometimes the director would be back there saying, ‘Oh! Oh! I’m going to bite you!’ and act stuff out for you to react to but we all got this weird ‘acting to the dot’ effect.”
Tupper, best known for his work on television shows like Men In Trees (where he co-starred with his fiancée Anne Heche) and Grey’s Anatomy, says the penguins weren’t the set’s most intimidating presence. At first, anyway.
“It was a little bit intimidating when I first met him,” he says of Jim Carrey. “He slapped me on the back and was like, ‘Jim or James?’ I said, ‘You know what. I think you’ve probably got Jim covered. I’m going to stick with James.’”
That intimidation soon gave way to a lively collaboration.
“He’s really fun. It’s a playful set. He improvises a lot and generally has the crew chuckling most of the day.”
James, however, wasn’t the only member of his family impressed with Carrey. His nine-year-old son is also a fan.
“When we read the book Mr. Popper’s Penguins to him in bed he got so excited when he found out Jim Carrey was in it. He said, ‘Can you please get Jim Carrey to sign it?’ So I did. I took it to New York and he signed it and I brought it back and I said, ‘Would you like me to sign it too?’ No! Why! I said, ‘Cut me a break. I’m in the movie.’”