Jim Carrey strode the Lido this week for Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story Of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring A Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention Of Tony Clifton. The behind-the-scenes look at the making of Milos Forman’s 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon is backed by Vice Films and directed by Chris Smith. It’s won praise here at the Venice Film Festival and is a fascinating, and at times disturbing, view into the acting process.
Carrey remained in character(s) during the entire shoot of Man On The Moon, and this inside look demonstrates his commitment as well as the frustrations of those around him who were trying to get a movie made.
Carrey spoke to the press this week and I later sat with him to talk about the all-consuming Kaufman/Clifton experience and why he felt he had no choice but to go full-bore Method, as well as how the process resulted in an “ultimate mind-f**k.”
The making-of footage was shot by Kaufman’s last girlfriend Lynn Margulies and his partner in crime Bob Zmuda. At the time, Carrey/Kaufman argued that the usual electronic press kit would be too contrived, so they opted to do it documentary-style.
The actor says now, “Because Andy was in control of this entire project and Tony Clifton, I wasn’t really making the decisions.” Being so immersed in Kaufman was a decision Carrey feels he didn’t really make either. Kaufman “was a walking circus so there was no ‘We start when you say action’ going on, it was when he opened his eyes in the morning — it was on and the game was afoot.” Carrey also told me it was a question of “a feeling of honoring someone to the point of not feeling worthy to be the person playing that character — he needs to do it himself.”
He called the experience of living inside those Kaufman-created personas “definitely another level of commitment. It was psychotic at times.”
It was also part of a discovery: “The experience of being Andy and Tony so intensely was part of my spiritual journey and part of my journey to a realization of wholeness and letting go of the self and the ‘I’ idea.”
During Man On The Moon, the actor dropped the characters only for a Sean Penn set visit and “sometimes on the weekend” to spend time with his daughter. “There were always traces of Tony and Andy in there, but she was used to that,” Carrey told me.
But when it came time to share notes with Ron Howard on How The Grinch Stole Christmas, ‘Carrey’ was nowhere to be found. So, “Ron got a call from Andy Kaufman to say that Jim wasn’t available, and Ron jumped right in and Andy gave the notes for the Grinch script,” Carrey recalled.
Universal was the studio on both The Grinch and Man On The Moon. When Carrey and the behind-the-scenes crew wanted to release the making-of footage in the late ’90s, Uni said no. Carrey explained he was told there was concern it would make him “look bad.” The actor today says he understood the studio’s position: “They had a huge investment to protect.”
He elaborated, “There were things that happened on the set, like Tony Clifton isn’t coming in today because he feels his transportation is sub-par and they had to deal with him showing up three hours late after going to the car lots in North Hollywood and calling in for them to purchase a vehicle over the phone, otherwise he wasn’t going to show up. And yet we came in under budget and on time.”
In Jim & Andy, we see Forman’s frustration as well as that of co-stars Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch and others. I asked Carrey if he understood at the time how difficult it must have been for everyone else to have dealt with his actorly devotion. “Absolutely,” he said, adding, “How difficult it must have been for people to deal with Andy.”
I asked Smith what he left out and he quipped, “about 97 hours.”
Coming down from the experience, Carrey told me, “was such a readjustment to find myself again. It took me a month to remember what I believed.” That led to the question: “How real is the character of Jim if I can forget what’s meaningful to him? It’s the ultimate mind-f**k as you realize that you’re a character.”
Carrey says he might like to direct at some point, but for now his dance card is filling up. He’s exec producing Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here which he believes “is going to have more life.” A final Season 2 renewal decision hadn’t been made last month, although writers were called back to work on story ideas. He’s also talking to Showtime about another series he might exec produce. He may star in some new television as well as lining up a couple of movies for 2018.
And, he’s writing a novel he calls “vastly more literary than you might expect.” Painting and sculpting are further taking up his time. That’s “kind of my first love in a way.”
Jim & Andy next heads to Toronto where it screens in TIFF Docs.