Long before Neil Patrick Harris took on the multiple identities of Count Olaf in the 2017 Netflix series A Series of Unfortunate Events, Jim Carrey portrayed the theatrical villain in the 2004 film adaptation of Daniel Handler’s (Lemony Snicket’s) tale. Neither Count Olaf could be described as fatherly nor benevolent, but the two do vary widely due to their vastly different portrayals.
Harris has won the hearts of audiences with his sinister Olaf sneer and spot-on disguises, while Carrey retains a steadfast fan following of ’90s kids who loved seeing their favorite books brought to life. While we can all argue all day about whose version is superior, the fact remains that everyone will still retain a favorite Count Olaf based on certain characteristics each actor brought to the table (right onto a plate of puttanesca).
10 Bumbling Ineptitude Vs. Cunning Villain
One of the biggest differences between Carrey’s Count Olaf and Harris’s bad guy guardian is that Carrey’s Olaf is a far worse actor. The character isn’t supposed to be very talented, and Harris manages to pull that off as well, but he does it in a way that’s much craftier, making Olaf seem more likely to fool the adults with his dastardly schemes.
It’s hard to believe, even with their ridiculous ties to adulthood, that the grown-ups fall for Carrey’s shenanigans with his obvious lies and lousy accents, but Harris strikes a balance between clumsy actor and just-believable performances.
9 Neil Patrick Harris Is Actually Scary
In order for a villain to seem menacing at all, they have to present some kind of element of fear. The evil that permeates Harris’ character is so much more palpable than the milder, slapstick performance that Jim Carrey gave. Although Carrey is wildly entertaining, he can also be annoying at times to the point of over-playing Count Olaf.
From his dinosaur impressions to his deliberate obtuseness, Carrey’s Olaf seems almost too idiotic to fear. Harris’s Olaf, while still funny and ridiculous in a way that adults should immediately notice, feels more like an actual obstacle for the Baudelaire children.
8 Carrey’s Gestures And Body Are More Like A Children’s Book Villain
Despite the fact that Harris is the scarier Count Olaf, Carrey has those winding, curling joints and gait that make him appear made for childhood villainy. It’s not like Harris doesn’t have the definitive bad guy stance or hand gestures, as his are brilliant.
Carrey’s are just so flowing and graceful that he looks much more like a children’s book character than a living actor in a live action performance. When Olaf steeples his fingers or slowly glides his limbs outward, it’s so delightfully exaggerated that it’s not hard to see why he was chosen for the role in the first place.
7 Carrey’s Olaf Feels A Lot Like The Grinch
Jim Carrey is so adept at playing cartoonish villains that his characters become an extension of the actor. In the case of Count Olaf, the character is so animated and pronounced that it matches Carrey’s work as the titular character in 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The Grinch and Olaf exhibit so many of the same narcissistic, greedy behaviors that at times they seem like one and the same person, even if one has a much greener tuft of hair than the other. In some ways this works, but in others it feels like just another children’s character as Jim Carrey.
6 Neil Patrick Harris Disappears In The Role
Neil Patrick Harris, on the other hand, has no other roles that come close to this one, and he truly transforms into Count Olaf until, despite the hefty marketing push, we forget that he was ever Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother or even Dr. Doogie Howser.
In some scenes, he’s even hard to recognize, whereas Jim Carrey always looks like Jim Carrey, no matter which of Count Olaf’s disguises he’s wearing. From Captain Sham to Shirley T. Sinoit-Pécer, he actually fools us into thinking he’s someone else. No wonder Klaus, Violet and Sunny’s guardians are always convinced.
5 Harris Has A Bigger Walk-In Closet Than Carrey
Neil Patrick Harris obviously enjoyed many more costumes in the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events than Jim Carrey did for one simple reason: he played Count Olaf for many more hours than Carrey.
With the opportunity to play Count Olaf as many more different characters in three seasons of the show, Harris was able to portray people like Gunther, Coach Genghis, Detective Dupin and many other personas. He’s even able to be each character for two episodes in many cases, which gives him much more time to develop each look and personality than Jim Carrey had in a single movie.
4 Both Men Nail The Olaf Look
From his monobrow and shiny eyes to his tall, thin body, Count Olaf could easily be either Jim Carrey or Neil Patrick Harris. Both men truly make Daniel Handler’s character come alive, portraying everything from his terrible hygiene to his eye tattoo. The work of the wardrobe departments in both the Netflix series and the film was tremendous, keeping with both Olaf’s own fashion preferences and the mood of the story itself.
From Stephano to Mattathias Medicalschool, both men are also able to demonstrate what Olaf’s aliases should look and sound like, even if their portrayals of the kidnapping count are different.
3 Neither Men Really Sound Like Book-Olaf
Daniel Handler describes Count Olaf’s voice as wheezy in the book series, but neither Jim Carrey nor Neil Patrick Harris truly comes off as wheezy in their respective portraits of the odious villain.
Jim Carrey comes closest, delivering some of his lines with a lower, sometimes breathy voice, and the Captain Sham character definitely appeared wheezier than Olaf in general, but both actors, known for their clear enunciation and impeccable delivery, didn’t convey the character’s voice in the same manner the author had visualized. Neil Patrick Harris admits that he couldn’t do a wheezy voice without sounding ancient, so he went with a low, menacing tone instead.
2 Harris Gives A Song And A Dance
Neil Patrick Harris is well-known for his vocal stylings, so why shouldn’t he show off a bit as Count Olaf? Harris brought some musical ability to the character that may not have been canon in the Lemony Snicket books but certainly suited Count Olaf well.
As an actor, accomplished or not, it makes sense for Olaf to possess at least some vocal capabilities, not to mention dancing talents. His musical numbers aren’t disjointed but woven into the series to match its foreboding yet farcical tone, which really adds another layer that just wasn’t available in the Carrey film adaptation of the series.
1 Creepy Vs. Kooky
The argument could be made that both Harris and Carrey are creepy counts, but most agree that Harris is far more sinister while Carrey tends to lean toward the goofy side. While both appeared to be ominous threats toward the children, Harris brought the book better to life with a much more dangerous persona.
Neither is necessarily worse or better, since the austere mood of the series does require a humorous element and both men provide, albeit differently.