For two people whose paths never crossed, Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman have a fascinatingly strong connection. Some might even call it cosmic.
Carrey has famously idolized Kaufman, whose remarkable career included a stint on the first season of “Saturday Night Live,” the role of Latka Gravas on “Taxi” and a standing invitation to appear on “Late Night With David Letterman.” And because no eccentric career would be complete without a good feud, Kaufman also had a running bone to pick with pro-wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler.
Audiences first had this connection spelled out for them in 1999, when Carrey portrayed his idol in Universal Pictures’ “Man on the Moon,” a powerful retelling of Kaufman’s life — his rise to stardom in 1970s New York City, his fatal battle with lung cancer in the 1980s, and the veritable circus of highs and lows in between. Kaufman was well known as a comedian who told no jokes — instead, his life was performance art, whether through his iconic stint on “Taxi,” bizarre talk show appearances, or dangerous dabbles with wrestling. But it’s what audiences didn’t see that truly illustrates the bond these two men share.
Fortunately, that’s where “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond—Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton” comes in. The documentary, available to stream on Netflix beginning Friday, Nov. 17, combines hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of Man on the Moon — kept tightly under wraps for nearly two decades — with new, revealing interviews with Carrey. Director Chris Smith (“American Movie”) gets the actor to dig deep into his psyche to attempt to explain the connection he’s always felt to Kaufman, as well as how playing him affected his life moving forward.
Jim & Andy, which premiered earlier this year at the Venice International Film Festival to critical acclaim, reveals the incredible lengths Carrey went to embody Kaufman on screen. At times, Carrey’s fierce commitment to the role makes it feel less like he’s portraying his idol, and more like he’s inviting Kaufman to inhabit his very being. One particularly disturbing shot finds “Man on the Moon” director Milos Forman practically begging Carrey — whom he calls “Andy,” because Carrey refused to break character on set — to “give me a chance to make a movie.” As Carrey explains in an interview, “Universal didn’t want the footage that we took behind the scenes to surface so that people wouldn’t think I was an asshole.”
But the documentary is much more than merely a fun peek behind the Hollywood curtain. It’s an enlightening — at times, disturbing — journey into the mind of a comedic genius, showing how someone who came before him could have such a profound impact on his past, present and future. “When the movie was over, I couldn’t tell who I was anymore,” Carrey admits. This is a consistent theme discussed throughout the documentary, the idea of getting lost in the very persona you create, or in Carrey’s case, a real-life persona he attempted (with considerable success) to reproduce.
And the parallels between the two are indeed striking. In addition to the obvious similarities — both actors were known for impersonating Elvis early in their respective careers, for example — they also shared a life-guiding philosophy, an unwillingness to cater to the public’s conventional perceptions, resulting in larger-than-life personas that the public simply couldn’t deny. It’s no surprise then that Carrey, on numerous occasions, refers to “knowing” Kaufman, despite never meeting him before his death in 1984.
Landing the role of his idol in “Man on the Moon” felt like the culmination of Carrey’s life’s work at the time, but as you’ll see in the documentary, it was also the beginning of a new chapter of self-discovery.
[Editors Note: This article is presented in partnership with Netflix’s original film “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Featuring A Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton”– streaming exclusively on Netflix starting November 17th]