But Carey’s genius was the very thing that kept him from ever having a chance at being a famous actor. Famous actors demand love. Carey loved to be hated. You look at him in a scene–take one of his two scenes in Kubrick‘s The Killing–and he’s just the most despicable bastard you ever saw. His enormous, baggy eyes roll up and away from whomever he’s talking to, like the person’s not even there, just a voice in his head; his jaw is locked like a rabies victim, teeth clenched in a Kirk Douglas burlesque as he spits out his lines in mumbly, beatnik rebop. “What’s wrong, mister?” asks the black parking-lot attendant. “You’re wrong, nigger!” Carey blasts. You don’t see Carey’s face when he delivers the epithet, but you feel the menace–you can’t wait for him to die, and you miss him when he’s gone.
Earlier in that same film, when Sterling Hayden‘s grit-tough Johnny offers him $5,000 to shoot a horse, Carey looks like he’s forever on the verge of drunkenly cracking up, calling Hayden “Pops,” and stroking a puppy in between firing off rounds from a shotgun. There’s something in Carey’s insouciance, his refusal to take the terms of a film seriously, that simultaneously takes you out of the film and beckons you into the actor. It’s not exactly being a ham (though it’s that, too); it’s more like a kind of super-realism, a heightened sense that what you’re seeing is acting, and that the acting–especially since Carey was almost always hired to play a psycho–is the opposite of pretend.