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Carrey over the moon
By BRUCE KIRKLAND - Toronto Sun
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Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman

HOLLYWOOD -- Some people believe that Andy Kaufman is still alive, just like Elvis. At the very least, the legendary comic is getting the last laugh from beyond the grave.

Consider the fuss being generated over the new Milos Forman movie Man On The Moon, starring Jim Carrey as Kaufman. The movie is set for release on Wednesday and has already spun into a surreal, Kaufmanesque controversy.

Carrey, who was recently involved (or not) in staging a ridiculous and violent media stunt two weeks ago with Kaufman's former partner-in-crime and best friend Bob Zmuda, claims that Kaufman came back from the dead to live inside his body while he was playing him: "He came back to do the movie."

Lynne Margulies, Kaufman's girlfriend when the legendary comic/ performance artist died of a rare cancer in 1984 -- and who is played in the film by rocker Courtney Love -- thinks Carrey channelled her lover into his acting. "It was him, Andy."

Danny DeVito, Man On The Moon co-producer and co-star, just figures that Carrey gives a stunning performance as Kaufman, the man DeVito knew from his days on TV's Taxi.

Any way you cut it -- and there are plenty of people who think that what Carrey himself calls his "selective schizophrenia" is a total crock or a too-too-clever Kaufman-like stunt -- Hollywood is talking about an Oscar nomination for the plastic-faced Canadian comic.

"I think it's the best work of his life so far," enthuses DeVito of Carrey. "But it's the tip of the iceberg, because I really think the guy's a talented man. I'm honoured that I got to make the movie and I'm glad it turned out so well and that I have Jim playing this part. This is a hell of a performance."

DeVito agrees that Carrey got 'jobbed' by Hollywood when he failed to get an Oscar nomination for The Truman Show. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed, I'm knocking wood," DeVito says of the possibilities for Man On The Moon. "If all's right in the universe, it's his year. Things are not always fair, but the work is there. He deserves it."

If DeVito has a vested interest -- his Jersey Films productions company spent five years developing Man On The Moon -- then Robin Williams is an independent voice. And he admires Carrey's ability to turn his comic talents into serious drama, he tells me in an interview in San Francisco.

"He did it with The Truman Show and he did it with this," Williams says. "Playing Andy is like trying to bottle mercury. So he should (get an Oscar nomination). He seems like he put his heart and soul into it."

If Carrey is successful, it will enrich his career, just as playing serious roles helped Williams himself and led to his Oscar for Good Will Hunting. "It just helps give you more room to move," Williams says. "Every time you change perceptions of what you can do, it just gives you another choice."

Even if Carrey was stunting when The Kaufmanesque Incident happened at his Hollywood press conference, no one is disputing that "heart and soul" comment by Williams.

DeVito, who plays Kaufman's agent George Shapiro in the film, says it started with Carrey's devotion to the memory of Kaufman, the legendary 1970s and '80s performance artist who created characters as diverse as the gentle Latka Gravas and the impossibly acerbic and rude lounge lizard Tony Clifton.

"How lucky am I to have Jim Carrey idolize Andy Kaufman?" DeVito asks rhetorically. "Idolize him! He owns his bongos -- which is a symbolic gesture.

"Then he went into this part whole-heartedly. He totally immersed himself into Andy with research, studying him. And he went to the set every day either as Andy or as Tony Clifton. When he went as Andy, it was a joy. As a producer, as a fellow actor-artist, I just loved every second of it.

"Tony was a little bit more difficult, a little tougher to deal with, especially as a producer. Because he would come a little inebriated, late, and he smelled bad, like he had on the cheapest perfume and limburger cheese. He smelled so bad your eyes watered when you went near him."

Forman says he never saw Carrey show up as Carrey on set during the filming of Man On The Moon. It was always Carrey in character. Performing as Andy, or Latka, Carrey charmed the filmmakers. Performing as Tony Clifton, Carrey drove the filmmakers nuts.

Among many stunts, Carrey as Clifton rubbed limburger cheese on the suits and hands of visiting Universal Pictures studio executives and disrupted things much as Clifton would when Kaufman appeared as the character. He drove a car into a wall. He railed against Forman and his co-stars. Carrey says he had no choice.

"It consumed me," he says of playing the role.

Which is why -- he claims -- he won't allow himself to be consumed by thinking about Oscar, not just yet anyway.

"Well, you know, the experience itself was so incredible that still, to this day, I sit around going: 'This is something that is never going to happen in this way again.' It was an odyssey for everybody and it really was like Andy was around. It was such a thrill -- the whole project."

Pressed further on the Oscar issue, Carrey adds: "The experience was so incredible that if something like that (an Oscar nomination) happened, I'd have a heart attack or something. I would be ungrateful to sit here and expect something else to come along. But it would be a wonderful thing, no question about it."

Carrey says he has never and will never again prepare for a film role the way he did for Man On The Moon. He spent months on research, talking endlessly to Kaufman's family and friends. He watched hundreds of hours of video and read everything available. He spent hours locked up in rooms in houses where Kaufman lived, even his childhood home where he re-created Kaufman's skits -- solo.

"This movie was an opportunity for me to completely lose myself," Carrey says, who jokes that the only real parallel between Kaufman and him is that they are both "anatomically exact."

Playing Kaufman meant giving up himself, however. "I really didn't exist for three months. I went to bed as him and it was very strange and wonderful. I woke up in the morning and jumped into his shoes."

What the movie does not do is explain why and how Kaufman created his performance art and lived his life.

"I don't think that he needs an explanation," Carrey claims. "If you explain Andy Kaufman, you've killed him.

"That's the triumph of his life, I think, that he beat death because he can't be explained and no one knows if it's for real or not. In that way, he's immortal. If I ever did win an Oscar (for Man On The Moon), I'd wish he would come up and grab it out of my hands."

As for letting Kaufman inhabit his body during the making of the film, Carrey gets weird, admitting that: "Lines are blurred. That's the thing with this thing. It's like a wild animal or something. You think you've got control of it and then it heads for the barn." Carrey claims he was scared during filming and still is.

"I mean, you get sucked into this thing and it's hard to know what is real or what isn't real anymore."

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