Jim & Andy... and Tony.
So the other day I watched two Netflix documentaries in one afternoon. I wrote about Nobody Speak already but later on I watched one that I had been looking forward to for a while, Jim & Andy.
The documentary is framed with recent interviews with Jim Carrey about his time playing Andy Kaufman and archival, behind the scenes footage of Jim making Man on the Moon in 1999.
For those who don’t know the film, Man on the Moon is a biopic about the life of the late actor and comedian Andy Kaufman. Kaufman was notorious for being hard to work with but comedically genius, even if people didn’t ‘get’ him at the time. It is a fantastic film and I’ve been a fan since I first saw it. I always believed that the reason it was so good and seemed so accurate was that a lot of the supporting cast were played by the real people who worked with Andy in the late seventies and eighties. Those who were played by other actors had the benefit of being around the real people as most of them were involved behind the scenes.
I wasn’t aware of just how much Jim Carrey had to do with making it quite easy to believe they were making a movie about Kaufman WITH Kaufman.
Jim Carrey might well have lost his mind somewhere along the lines, it quite possibly began with the making of Man on the Moon, the interviews that were conducted for the documentary aren’t exactly flattering at all times and he bounces between being a disheveled actor who has had enough and just wants to live peacefully and as someone who has cracked and believes that the Truman Show is more real that it is. I don’t get the feeling that its in a conceited way, he doesn’t believe that he is the star of the show and everything is happening around him, he believes that we as a human race - as a planet, are the show for something out there in the great beyond.
The archival footage is most fascinating. Jim commissioned it himself and it was shot by Andy Kaufman’s ex-girlfriend. It is virtually all unseen footage as he has had it locked away since ’99.
In taking on the role Jim took method acting to a whole new level, he became Andy. He would refuse to be called anything but, would wake up and go to set as Andy, eat lunch as Andy, disrupt sound checks and other actors scenes as Andy, start actual legitimate fights as Andy, go home and even apparently dream as Andy.
I hadn’t realised until this documentary that Man on the Moon was directed by Milos Forman, the director of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, no small movie and Jack Nicholson reportedly isn’t exactly the easiest person to direct. You see very early on the trouble he has with Carrey as Andy. He just has no control over him, he’s less an actor playing a role than a force of nature just blowing through. Cast members such as Danny DeVito have a slightly easier time adjusting, he was playing himself and had been a close friend and co-star of Kaufman’s so while it was surreal for him at first he seems to adjust as “he’s just like him… it’s like Andy is back.” Paul Giamatti seemed to have a slightly harder time adjusting while playing Bob Zmuda, Kaufman’s right hand man and co-writer, he gives an amazing performance in the movie but behind the scenes he just looked some what frightened and disturbed by the whole ordeal.
There was a famous time in Kaufman’s career that culminated in a wrestling match with Jerry Lawler, in real life the two became friends and had apparently worked the whole thing out as a bit, presumably as Kaufman could in fact ‘turn it off’ when he needed to and was working on material. For Man on the Moon they managed to get Lawler involved with to recreate the scenes but instead of being able to talk to Jim Carrey and work out the scenes all he got was a very in character Andy Kaufman, the only Kaufman most people had ever seen. That version didn’t like Jerry Lawler, didn’t respect him and did everything he could to undermine and get under his skin. It worked. There is behind the scenes footage and I believe footage in the final film where Lawler is genuinely gunning for Carrey. He couldn’t get his head around the process and did not seem to enjoy it at all.
Andy Kaufman had a famous character that he (along with Zmuda when they needed to be in the same place at the same time) would play called Tony Clifton. Tony was a complete asshole. He was a womanising, loud mouthed, overweight, smelly, chain smoking, liquor drinking lounge singer who had nothing but contempt and insults for everyone around him. When it came to Jim playing Andy playing Tony, the middleman literally went away and, yup Jim became Tony too.
He was drive a different car to set those days, more often than not crashing it into the side of a trailer or the sound stage as he was already inebriated and would have a bag over his head until the makeup department, who quickly grew to despise him, had finished their work. There is a scene in the documentary where ‘Tony’ highjacks a buggy and drives over to the Amblin offices because he drunkenly wants to talk to Spielberg about the shark.
Thats just the kind of guy Tony Clifton was… despite never really existing.
During the production Jim Carrey had been invited to the Playboy mansion by Hugh Hefner, the producers had tried to explain the situation, that Jim wasn’t really around at the moment and that he was Tony Clifton. Playboy didn’t care, they just wanted the big stars there and thought it was just another whacky Jim Carrey bit. In there minds they were thinking, hey if we can get a performance as well, great!
Carrey, as Andy, had become very close with the real Bob Zmuda and would fuck with Zmuda in much the same way that Andy would, but they had formed a similar bond. So on the night of the Playboy party in walks Tony Clifton, he’s meeting, he’s greeting, shaking hands taking pictures, chatting up the girls and being a bit of a menace, but it was all laughed off by staff and security including Heff himself, as they all just believed it was Jim Carrey doing a bit in character. Theres shots of other starts there in disbelief about just how far Jim is taking it. This goes on for over an hour… and then Jim Carrey walks in. Hollywood star, nice new suit, slick hair, not playing a character at all. Immediately Tony Clifton is grabbed by security and, kicking and screaming, kicked out through a back door so that as few people see him as possible. Everyone is shocked. Turns out that it had been Zmuda the whole time doing a bit that he and Kaufman would do at times when people were trying to prove that Kaufman was Clifton. Genius.
There is a really touching moment in the doc where Milos is begging ‘Andy’ if he can please tell Jim that he would like to talk to him. It takes a lot of effort but he eventually agrees that he’ll pass on the message. In the interview Carrey recalls that when he spoke to Milos on the phone that evening he broke down and said he has never worked with anyone as difficult to direct as Andy and Tony and he doesn’t know how he can finish the movie. Jim recalls, very sweetly, how he suggested that maybe they fire those two guys and that he’s a very good impressionist and maybe he can just do impressions of them to get the movie finished. Milos apparently declined and said “no, we shouldn’t do that, I just wanted to speak to Jim for a while.”
I think that sums up how people felt about the production. He was insufferable to work with, but then so was Andy. The way he just 100% became that guy was what was needed to do not just the movie but the man justice.
I have always like Man on the Moon, but paired with this documentary I really think the two together form an absolute masterpiece. One wouldn’t exist without the other, they’re kind of like the Andy and Tony to each other, but thats what makes them both special. I cannot recommend to you enough that you go and check out the documentary on Netflix. I’ve talked about a lot but there is so much more in there as well.
Thanks for reading, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night.
The fishtanks needed a good clean this evening, I binned all the haggard old plants in there... now the freshly cleaned filter is just doing its thing.
Still need that haircut. Care to place bets when it'll happen?