December 19, 1999
Possessed by Kaufman
By LOUIS B. HOBSON - Calgary Sun
HOLLYWOOD -- Jim Carrey is in need of an exorcism.
His latest role as eccentric funnyman Andy Kaufman in Milos Forman's Man On The Moon completely consumed Carrey.
"Andy came back from the dead to do this movie. I felt like I was channelling him. It was as if he was in my body and that was not always comfortable for either of us," recalls Carrey.
Kaufman, who is probably best known as the wide-eyed mechanic Latka Gravas on TV's Taxi, died of lung cancer in 1984.
Danny DeVito, who starred with Kaufman on Taxi, has worked for five years with Forman to bring Kaufman's astonishing story to the screen.
"When Andy was on the set of Taxi, it was a joy. The problem was Andy had his alter ego, lounge singer Tony Clifton, who turned our set into a nightmare whenever he visited," re-calls DeVito.
Although most people knew that Clifton was just Kaufman in outrageous makeup, they were not allowed to acknowledge this. They had to treat him as a separate entity.
"Tony was just one of the ways Andy communicated with the world. He had selective schizophrenia. He chose to have many personalities."
Having researched Kaufman's life, Carrey believes: "Andy opened his eyes each morning and the circus began. He was so committed to his performance art and the personas he created for himself that he didn't care whether people liked him or hated him. He just wanted them to react to him and they did.
"He was so committed that people thought he was insane."
Carrey spent hundreds of hours talking with people who knew Kaufman, including Kaufman's father.
"Andy's dad was very forthcoming. He gave me endless reams of video footage. I went to his house and closeted myself in his old room. I even made up little shows for the wallpaper like he did," Carrey says.
DeVito says that while they was filming Man On The Moon, Carrey became Kaufman.
"Jim Carrey only came to our set once or twice and, on those days, he was very subdued. The rest of the time it was Andy who came to work. For me, it was a revelation. Jim knew instinctively the kind of things Andy did. One day he came to the set driving an ice cream truck. He made all of us sing songs before he'd give us an ice cream."
Carrey admits he lived as Kaufman 24 hours a day for four months.
"I went to bed as Andy. I woke up in the morning as Andy. It was a strange and wonderful experience.
"I had to let Andy come back. I honestly think he wanted to come back through me. We were both born on January 17 and anatomically we're extremely close. He probably felt comfortable in my body.
"I appreciate what Andy did as a comedian, but I don't want to be him forever. However, while I was making the movie, the lines got blurred."
DeVito insists Carrey's rather eccentric approach to the role didn't worry his fellow-actors.
"I worked with Andy for five years. I can tell you that through Jim, Andy came back for four months.
"Still, we never feared for Jim's sanity.... We knew he could get rid of Andy any time wanted to."
Even after Carrey had finished filming Man On The Moon, he continued to emulate Kaufman's antics.
Carrey appeared at the MTV Awards in disguise peppering his speech with a string of expletives.
At the recent press junket for Man On The Moon, Carrey got into a wild wrestling match with Kaufman's former writing partner Bob Zmuda, who was disguised as Tony Clifton.
Carrey insists his verbal and physical jousting with Zmuda was not staged, as all of Kaufman's outlandish public stunts eventually proved to be.
"The difference between Andy and I is that I always tell people when it's a joke and when it isn't. Andy may not have always known what was real and what wasn't but I do."
What is most real for Carrey at the moment is his bachelorhood.
Carrey divorced his wife Melissa Womer to marry Lauren Holly, the actress he met on Dumb and Dumber. It was a stormy second marriage that has also ended in divorce.
He won't confirm that he is dating Renee Zellweger, but insists he will not get married a third time. "God, no. No, never again. Twice is enough."