Jim & Andy, Andy & Jim: When Carrey Became Kaufman

by Elisabeth Sereda September 6, 2017
Jim Careyu at the 2017 Venice Film Festival

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During the making of Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon in 1998, rumors abounded about his lead actor’s downright weird behavior. Jim Carrey had lobbied hard for the part of comedian Andy Kaufman despite Forman’s misgivings and was now creating what is commonly known in Hollywood as a “difficult set”.

How crazy it really was – and the reasons behind it – was shown last night at the Venice Festival. Carrey had given permission to a documentary crew to film behind the scenes during the shooting of the Forman movie. For almost 20 years, this footage had lingered in his safe. He finally thought the time was right to release it and gave director Chris Smith permission to edit the footage. The result is a wild ride and rare look at how the actor became his character, stayed in his character and made Jim Carrey vanish for almost a year. The title in itself is crazy: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton

Although the director edited the beginning in a way where he too often let Carrey talk over clips that would have benefitted from standing on their own, it is this interview and the extremely introspective way in which the actor thinks and feels about that time in his career, that weave the scenes together that are all at once hilarious, uncomfortable and heartbreaking.

The star said: “It was psychotic, Jim Carrey didn’t exist at that time.” Psychotic is probably the best medical term to describe the insanity that went on the set. There is a lot of head-shaking, eye-rolling, and sheer shock from co-stars Danny DeVito, Paul Giamatti and Gery Becker. Not surprisingly, Courtney Love seemed to be the only one who considered all of her scene partner’s shenanigans normal. The fact is that Carrey took method acting to a new level and he now admits that it took over his life in an unhealthy way, and bled into other projects during that time: “Andy actually affected The Grinch as well.” That is evident in a scene where director Ron Howard has a 2-hour conversation on the phone with his How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Leading man, except that he is not speaking with Carrey but negotiating with Andy Kaufman.

Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman

Scene from Jim & Andy: Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman during the filming of Man on the Moon.

venice film festival

 

It was writer/director Spike Jonze who had been hounding Carrey for years to let him put together a documentary. As Jonze told Variety: “I wanted to make something with it since he first told me about it. One of the things Chris did so brilliantly was to weave together the multiple storylines, the perspectives of Andy’s life, the making of the film, and Carrey’s life as an entertainer, an artist, and a human being.” Jonze serves as producer on the doc.

In Venice Carrey said: “The true author of the project is Andy and his genius, the fact that he committed so completely to what he did, really made that possible and made it essential for me to lose myself. I don’t feel like I made the film at all. I feel like Andy made the film. I feel like my personality was something that I thought was everything to me at the beginning of this incredible journey I’m on. Doing characters for the films, especially with Andy, the realization starts to hit you after a while that even you are playing the character as a character,” he said and explained how he wanted to turn that around: “This experience as well, kind of draws some realizations, especially that there’s a character that is playing me my whole life.”

He cited his role in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to his realization that he really did not want to try to fit in: “This role was my bid to destroy Hollywood, not be a part of it. To make fun of the leading man”. Or to be more precise: “Most of us are wearing a mask and when somebody’s authentic, it becomes very difficult for everyone else to wear a mask.” He continued to delve deeper into the spiritual background that he applies to his profession, his role and – he says – really is the same for everyone on the planet: “There’s an energy that has been given a label and a bunch of ideas about their heritage and about their nationality and all those things that are supposed to be anchors to a boat that doesn’t exist. We spend our lives running around looking for anchors. 'Oh, I’m Italian, that’s who I am.' The fact is you don’t exist. You’re nothing but ideas. We take all those ideas and cobble them together and make sort of a personality charm bracelet, an ID bracelet we wear in life. But that’s not who we are because we’re nothing. And it’s such a relief.”

It was also a relief to see an actor openly admit to the insanity he and his profession often bring to projects. The documentary will next be shown at the Toronto festival.