Figure skater Tara Lipinski has spent the last few years enjoying what she calls her “second career.” As half of an iconic announcing duo with fellow Olympian Johnny Weir, Lipinski has become one of the sport’s most visible ambassadors, pursuing her new vocation as a commentator with the same dedication that once won her a gold medal. And on top of her already busy schedule, she made time to shoot a multi-episode arc on Showtime’s Jim Carrey dramedy, Kidding, playing a version of herself who’s set to star in a touring, big-bucks-generating show called Pickles on Ice.
Kidding isn’t Lipinski’s first time acting on screen; back in the late ’90s and early ’00s, she appeared as herself on shows such as Arli$$ and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, in addition to playing fictional characters on the likes of Malcolm in the Middle. But the tragicomic story of a children’s TV host in the throes of grief is the most substantive role Lipinski has taken in some time, requiring her to tend to a pet bird named Tarakeet, passive-aggressively bully her younger sister Sara (which does not rhyme with Tara), and, on one memorable occasion, don a giant papier-mâché head with Jim Carrey’s face. It wouldn’t be a Michel Gondry production if there wasn’t some surreal imagery.
Speaking on the phone with The Ringer from Rome, where she was attending a friend’s wedding, Lipinski broke down Jim Carrey’s skating skills, preparing for the role, and acting inside a giant bobblehead. This interview has been condensed and edited.
I noticed there’s a 10-year gap in your IMDb page between Malcolm in the Middle and Superstore last year. Why the hiatus from acting? Why come back now?
The Superstore thing was a quick cameo, and there might be some things that pop up like that. I always think, “Oh, why not? That’ll be a fun experience.” But when I was younger, before I was commentating and really got into what I call my second career, I was still touring with Stars on Ice. My skating career was sort of winding down, but I still was on that wave of, a lot of times you’ll go to the Olympics and they’ll put you on a few cameos, and I did a ton for the next few years.
I always enjoyed doing comedy stuff. One time, they were like, “You should just audition for this or this or this,” and I had more time in my schedule. That’s when I did Malcolm in the Middle and Still Standing, and I didn’t actually play myself. I found that really challenging and fun to do. But obviously, I’d never taken it seriously as a career, because that isn’t my career. I would look at it now as, I’m just grateful that things sometimes align and a project like this would be thrown my way. I never thought something like this. You do a cameo, like on Superstore, and it’s quick, but [Kidding] was a couple episodes, and something that doesn’t come around all the time.
And this is more demanding.
Yeah, it’s not me just walking in and saying hi.
How did this cameo come together?
For me, it really came out of the blue. My agent just called me one day. He’s like, “This is amazing. We just got this offer. Read the script. Tell me what you think, if you’re feeling it.” I read the script. Obviously, Michel Gondry and Jim Carrey—it was just a surreal moment, like, “Really? I’m gonna be part of this?” It was definitely a daunting task for me to take on. I mean, that’s not my day job. To show up the very first day and come out of my trailer and just like, “Oh hey, Jim! So we’re gonna do a scene together, totally normal.” It was surreal, and just something that I couldn’t turn down.
In the original script, the character was written as Tara Lipinski?
Yes, it was written as Tara Lipinski—a very different, exaggerated version of myself. But yes.
So there was a lot riding on whether or not you said yes.
[Laughs.] I guess! I was talking with Dave [Holstein], and I asked him that—“So, from the beginning?” And he was like, “Yup.”
Did you do anything to prep?
I worked with an an acting coach. As much prep as I could possibly do between my actual day job. [But] I had to sort of, in a way, go with the flow and realize that this is gonna be such a cool memory to look back on. Doing something different is always fun and exciting and challenging. When I went to the premiere, I loved the show, and my husband’s a huge Michel Gondry fan. He’s a director. For both of us, it was like, “This is so cool. Why not?”
Jim Carrey has a massive legacy, of course. What was your personal relationship with his work before Kidding?
Yes! You grow up watching Jim Carrey. My husband and I, when we were talking about it, I was like, “This is so amazing.” The Mask—all these movies that bring back so many memories of when you’re younger, and all of a sudden you’re face-to-face with him doing some dramatic scene. It was really crazy.
I may get all the dates wrong, but in the ’90s or early 2000s, there was that string of Jim Carrey. Dumb and Dumber. Liar Liar. Ace Ventura. What was that one—my jet lag brain—Almighty?
Yes! I was a huge Jim Carrey fan back in the day and still am. Being able to get the chance to meet him and talk to him and, obviously, work with him, it’s a real moment watching this incredible, talented artist do his job. Every day I came in, and it was so exciting to watch, so inspiring. He’s just so darn good that that part of it was really fun. I feel like I got this sneak peek of Jim Carrey behind the scenes, in the making of a really cool character.
What was the actual experience of acting opposite him like?
He was really helpful and so nice. Obviously, showing up in that situation is not only surreal, but it’s imperative to not mess up. [Laughs.] Do not mess up Jim Carrey’s show! You have to pull this off somehow. I’m not very shy, so I would be asking a ton of questions. I wanted more information: “What about this?” “How do we do this?” Blah blah blah. He was just so generous and so helpful, and made the environment for me good, calm, fun. You’re always joking around and you’re always laughing. He made me feel really comfortable. For me, that was great, because then I could have a lot more fun with the character.
I’m guessing the character is … harsher than you are in real life.
When I read the script, I was laughing—the smoking, the exaggerated version of myself. I actually, to be honest, wanted to play something like that if I had the choice, more so than the regular, more basic, more genuine portrayal of myself. It was really fun to let go and be a different Tara Lipinski.
How heavy was that giant papier-mâché head?
That head’s amazing. [Laughs.] Between my outfit, with my suspenders and cardigan—it’s so funny. I remember the first day I put it on, it was a whole getup, a whole suit that I had to put on. And then that head. The first day it was a little heavy, and the breathing hole wasn’t so big, so we made the breathing hole a little bigger. Actually, you got used to it, oddly enough.
It’s part of that Michel Gondry strangeness.
He was so much fun to be able to work with. I find him so fascinating. He just comes in and he’s always happy. His vision of everything is so inspirational. He was also great with me, too, just making me feel like, “This is totally normal, that you’re just gonna act with Jim Carrey and I’m gonna direct it.” And I’d be like, “What is happening?”
As a professional, how was Jim Carrey’s skating?
He’s actually a good skater! We kind of bonded over that. He’s from Canada and he’s skated a lot and played hockey. He was so comfy on the ice, every time. We didn’t have any scenes on the ice together, but times overlapped, and we did get one day where we skated together, which was really fun. We were both looking forward to that. He was like a kid, ready to get out there on the ice every day. He was always like, “Do I have scene in a few minutes? I wanna take some laps!”
Are you looking into any more TV projects in the future?
At this point, I don’t think of it as I want to start acting or pursue that. I just want to take it as I always have in the last couple years, where if something comes up, then I’ll definitely do it. I’m just glad that I got through it, and hopefully I did an OK job!