- The Netflix documentary “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” is a behind-the-scenes look at Jim Carrey’s journey to become Andy Kaufman in the movie “Man on the Moon.”
- Carrey was in character as Kaufman for the entire four-month shoot both on screen and off.
- “Jim & Andy” director Chris Smith spent eight months editing the 100 hours of footage for the movie and two days interviewing Carrey about the experience.
It’s fitting that Spike Jonze would call documentary filmmaker Chris Smith to take on the task of sorting through 100 hours of footage of Jim Carrey, being in character as Andy Kaufman, throughout the filming of the 1999 movie “Man on the Moon.”
Smith has made a career looking at unique people and their passions. The movie that put him on the map was “American Movie,” which came out the same year as “Man on the Moon.” It gives an inside look at the often hilarious journey of an aspiring filmmaker named Mark Borchardt, as he tries to make a low budget horror movie. Then there’s the last movie Smith made, 2009’s “Collapse,” in which he profiles the controversial theories of police officer-turned-reporter Michael Ruppert.
After years of Jonze trying to convince his friend Carrey to show him some of the footage of him as Kaufman behind-the-scenes on “Man on the Moon,” he recently finally got a glimpse and was blown away.
That led to Jonze getting Vice, where he is the creative director, involved in producing it, and Smith to be the director in early 2016.
“Spike just called out of the blue and explained what the project was and I think to his credit it was really his enthusiasm that made it happen,” Smith told Business Insider over the phone this week. “I don’t know if I would have seen the potential the way that he did.”
Smith admitted he didn’t really know Jonze personally before the call, outside of running into him at events over the years, and through mutual friends. And he certainly didn’t run in the same circles as Carrey, as the director had taken a break from filmmaking the last five years, and spent most of his time on a farm in England. But the three got on the phone and after some chatting agreed that they all wanted team up to tell this story.
The role Carrey trained his whole life to play
At the time of shooting “Man on the Moon,” Carrey was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He had one of most successful years any actor in Hollywood has ever had, with huge hits “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “The Mask,” and “Dumb and Dumber” all opening in 1994. It instantly made Carrey an A-lister and led to roles in “Batman Forever,” “The Cable Guy,” and “Liar Liar.”
Turning to more serious fare by the end of the 1990s, like “The Truman Show,” Carrey saw Kaufman as the role he’d been training his whole life to play. And he went all in. For the entire “Man on the Moon” shoot Carrey was in his Kaufman character on and off set. And it was all captured on a digital camera that followed him.
Those moments included Carrey walking around as Kaufman’s most famous character, Latka, from the TV show “Taxi;” harassing professional wrestler Jerry Lawler when he came to set to film the scenes depicting Kaufman’s feud with him in the early ’80s, when Kaufman would wrestle women; and being Kaufman’s vulgar alter ego Tony Clifton, who when Carrey was portraying him, would show up drunk on set. One time Carrey showed up to work on the back of a motorcycle with a group of Hell’s Angels, and even went to the offices of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment one day, which is located on the Universal lot where “Man on the Moon” was made, and demanded to see the legendary director (Spielberg wasn’t there).
All this went on for the four-month shoot, while the movie’s director Milos Forman, and the cast that included Paul Giamatti and Danny DeVito (who worked with the real Kaufman on “Taxi”), looked on in shock.
After “Man on the Moon” wrapped, the footage of Carrey’s behind-the-scene antics, shot by Kaufman’s former girlfriend Lynne Margulies, went into the possession of Kaufman’s former writing partner Bob Zmuda. For over a decade the footage was just another Hollywood story brought up at parties.
Jonze wanted the legend to become available to all. He got Zmuda to licence the footage to them, and Smith was handed a digitised version of the dozens of MiniDV tapes the footage was on.
When Jim Carrey says he wants to do something, who is going to stop him?
“We ended up working on the material for a good eight months before we did the interview with Jim,” Smith said. “There was a lot of talk about us interviewing everyone that was involved [on ‘Man on the Moon’], but I was really interested in just Jim’s perspective and what the toll this film took on him mentally.”
Smith’s end result is the entertaining and touching documentary “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton,” which Netflix bought and will air beginning Friday.
The movie is not just a look at Carrey at his most bizarre, but also a look at how Carrey’s rags-to-riches life before making it big in Hollywood was the perfect training to take on the Kaufman persona.
As Smith had hoped, there’s only one current-day interview, and it’s Carrey, who recounts the experience with a clarity and vulnerability that amazed Smith.
“We shot with Jim for two days,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but there was so much because his insights were so far reaching. He articulates so well this idea of losing yourself for four months and wondering if you can really walk away from yourself and come back.”
Carrey admits in the movie that after playing Kaufman it took a while to for him to get back to being just Jim.
“That experience had a big impact on Jim,” Smith said, who was surprised when Carrey told him that he didn’t miss anything from making “Man on the Moon.”
“I think there’s oddly a lot of life lessons in this movie and I think one of them is just this idea of not holding onto things from the past but actually moving forward,” he said.
But why go through all of this? Did Smith feel he got from Carrey exactly why he went through all this to portray Kaufman?
“I personally think he really tried to do justice to Andy’s legacy and I think he really felt that this was the right way to do that,” Smith said. “When Jim Carrey says he wants to do something, who is going to stop him?”
“Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” is available now on Netflix.
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