PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Jim Carrey outed his new movie "I Love You Phillip Morris" at the Sundance Film Festival this week, taking a risk in the gay romantic comedy by sharing passionate moments with co-star Ewan McGregor.
Based on a true story, Carrey plays cop-turned-conman Steven Russell, who falls in love with his cellmate Phillip Morris (McGregor) and escapes four times from the Texas jail where he is being held in a bid to be with his partner.
For Carrey, one of Hollywood's biggest box office draws in mainstream comedies such as "Liar, Liar" and "Bruce Almighty," taking the role in an independent film like "Philip Morris" could prove to be a real gamble.
Carrey, 47, risks losing the audiences that flock to his mainstream comedies such as "Yes Man," which has grossed about $100 million at U.S. box offices since its December release.
In the past, when he has starred in a movie that is not a broad comedy, it often flops.
Carrey's serious portrayal of late comedian Andy Kaufman in the 1999 drama "Man on the Moon" tanked at U.S. box offices with only $34 million and his 2007 horror movie "The Number 23" also stumbled with $35 million.
Yet, early reviews are good for "Phillip Morris" and, for their part, Carrey, McGregor and the directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa told reporters at a Monday news conference at Sundance, the top U.S. independent film festival, that the movie should not be pigeonholed.
"I don't think it's a gay movie," Carrey said. "It really is about the lengths we go to for acceptance and love."
While McGregor has played gay roles before, Carrey has not and the comic actor acknowledged a few initial fears.
"If I were to be really honest, there's a homophobic voice that rises up inside me and goes 'Gee this is kind of scary,'" he said.
"First of all, what will people think? And second of all, will I like it? Will I like kissing Ewan?" he added with a laugh.
McGregor said he and Carrey performed intimate scenes together on the first day of filming. He described it as "strangely usual. It's not terribly much of a big deal."
"Phillip Morris" producer Andrew Lazar said he was drawn to the love story of the movie and believed it had universal appeal.
"We've all been lovesick and I think anybody, whether you're gay or straight, can identify with that," he said.
So far, critics like what they see.
Showbusiness newspaper The Hollywood Reporter said "Carrey is at his nimble best" and Daily Variety said the movie will leave "audiences both laughing and stunned."
The Times of London gave the movie four out of five stars, describing it as an "extraordinary film that serves as a reminder of just how good Carrey can be when he's not tied into a generic Hollywood crowd-pleaser."
Still, the critics suggested the film could be a hard sell to broad audiences because of the gay storyline.
The "sexual bluntness of Carrey and Ewan McGregor's onscreen romance could limit the film's exposure," wrote Daily Variety.
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and John O'Callaghan