It was already an exciting evening at MOMA on Tuesday night when Jim Carrey, Spike Jonze, and Chris Smith sat down for a Q&A following a screening of “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond.” Then Michael Stipe showed up, and the crowd went wild all over again.
The movie, directed by Smith and produced by Jonze, tracks Carrey’s extreme, method-like immersion into the role of Andy Kaufman on the set of Milos Forman’s “Man on the Moon.” The footage, which sat in Carrey’s personal archives for over a decade, finds Carrey baffling everyone on set (and beyond it). The project came together after Carrey sent the footage to Jonze, who brought Smith onboard.
“Spike said, ‘You know, I could do something with that, maybe,’” Carrey recalled. “But he was also calling to check if I was OK, which happens a lot with me, people calling to check if I’m OK.”
Jonze and Carrey have known each other a long time. In the early nineties, the filmmaker had yet to make his debut feature “Being John Malkovich” when he got a call about possibly directing “Ace Venture: When Nature Calls.”
“I was 24 and I had just been making music videos and I got sent to Jim Carrey’s house to talk about ‘Ace Ventura 2,'” the director recalled. “I had no idea what I was doing.” Carrey chimed in: “We could it again, you know.”
Another recent caller was Stipe, who Carrey said had reached out to him recently in the wake of Carrey’s other headlines, including a bizarre appearance on an E! red carpet during Fashion Week, and an ugly court case involving the family of his ex-girlfriend.
“Michael called me a couple of weeks ago me to see if I was alright,” said Carrey, after Jonze singled the songwriter-producer out in the crowd (he was seeing the movie, which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival for the second time). Then Jonze grabbed an extra chair, and Stipe joined the trio onstage to a rapturous reception.
After a round of hugs — Stipe produced both Smith’s “American Movie” and “Being John Malkovich” — Stipe talked about his own involvement with Kaufman, whose work inspired the now-iconic single “Man on the Moon” as well as “The Great Beyond.”
“I became familiar with Andy Kaufman when I was 15 years old and I saw him on TV. I don’t think I discovered Andy Kaufman until I figured out who I was and thought I was different,” Stipe said. “He was so off-putting, like this is so not what anyone has done before.” Stipe added that he turned “Moon,” from his 1992 album “Automatic for the People,” into a Kaufman tribute during the last two days of the album’s recording session. “He was such a novel artist, and I wanted to make him speak,” Stipe said.
Carrey added that Stipe played a crucial role in paving the way for Forman’s movie. “REM did two songs about one guy and both of them are classics,” Carrey said. “That says something about who Andy was, when artists of that stature will actually pay tribute. I feel so honored to be in the same breath as Andy Kaufman. It’s a world full of pinch-me moments. I’m pretty much black and blue at this point.”
Carrey wanted to release the footage years ago. “I wanted it out right away to precede the movie so people knew what happened with the film,” he said. “Universal was a bit nervous about that, with my persona. So I was resigned to watch it over and over and over again, naked in a chair, peeing into jars.” He felt he was going through a transitional moment when Jonze began working on shaping the footage into a documentary. “It was the dissolving of a certain belief in my persona,” he said. “I was going through the rapture…a moment where you realize you’re not a person in an enormous infinite space, you’re the enormous infinite space with a person inside of it. He caught me at that moment when I didn’t give a shit anymore and I was willing to let someone see what was going on.”
Carrey also addressed recent comments by Kate Winslet at a New York Film Festival event, where she said the one character of hers she would be willing to revisit was Clementine from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
“It was such a beautiful moment that film, and she’s an incredible artist,” Carrey said. “if you know her story, she created something absolutely stunning artistic and beautiful. She was this heavyset normal girl who made herself beautiful inside and out. She’s so sensitive, incredibly sensitive. It was the weirdest thing, because it was the first time I ever switched plans with someone. The plan with that film was that she played the Jim Carrey role and I played the Kate Winslet role. I became the withdrawn person who didn’t want to be seen and she became the outgoing, extrovert, this creative and colorful personality. That was a very strange thing to do.”
Asked which of his characters he would resurrect if given the chance, Carrey shifted to a non sequitur. “If I could time travel, I’d take [James] Comey back a few months and say, ‘OK, now really think this out,'” he said.
“Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond” premieres globally on Netflix November 17.