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Tom Brook Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 08:55 GMT
Carrey's taxi to an Oscar
On-screen partners: Jim Carey and Courtney Love
By BBC News Online Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Jim Carrey is about to launch a major assault on the US box office with his haunting portrayal of the late American comic Andy Kaufman in a film called Man On The Moon.

Kaufman, who died from lung cancer in 1984 aged 35, was best known internationally for the incompetent Latka Gravas, the character he played on the popular TV sitcom Taxi. But he was more than just a comic actor.

Comic genius: Andy Kaufman
He was a performance artist who often staged elaborate pranks that entertained, confused and at times frustrated his fans.

He organised wrestling matches between himself and women, impersonated Elvis Presley and, most famously, created a hideous alter-ego called Tony Clifton, who reeked of foul-smelling cheese and abused virtually everyone in sight.

In Man On The Moon Jim Carrey proves that his acting talents extend far beyond the dramatic range he displayed last year in The Truman Show.

There is already talk that Carrey's strong acting will prompt Oscar voters to give him a nomination after being famously passed over for what was widely regarded as a tour de force in The Truman Show.

For his fellow cast members Carrey literally became Andy Kaufman during the Man On The Moon's four-month shoot.

Oscar buzz: Jim Carrey
Danny DeVito, who also stars in the film biography, knew Kaufman from their days together on Taxi.

He recalled: "Jim Carrey channelled Andy, that's how good he was. In Man on the Moon he truly gives the performance of his life.

"Actually, what Jim did for me was give me Andy back for four months while we were making the movie. That's how powerful it is."

DeVito, who plays Kaufman's manager, may be a little biased, because he's also a co-producer of the picture.

I never worked with Jim Carrey. I always worked either with Andy Kaufman or Tony Clifton.

Milos Forman

The cast and crew have strong memories of Jim Carrey on set - particularly the days when the actor assumed the role of Kaufman's mean-spirited lounge singer alter ego Tony Clifton.

Carrey virtually became Clifton, and refused to break character.

He disrupted the set, picked fights and at one point even got thrown out of the studio cafeteria.

Milos Forman, who directed Man On The Moon, said: "I never worked with Jim Carrey. I always worked either with Andy Kaufman or Tony Clifton .

Cultural icon

"To work with Andy Kaufman that was nice, he was a sweet guy although he also might be very stubborn. Tony Clifton was a nightmare, that was a total nightmare to work with Tony Clifton!"

In death, and now with the arrival of the movie, Andy Kaufman has become an exalted cultural icon. The music group REM, who provided the film's soundtrack, certainly rank as big Kaufman fans.

Big fan: REM's Michael Stipe
Their 1992 single Man On the Moon provided the movie title.

REM's Michael Stipe paid tribute to the late star at the film's premiere saying: "Kaufman somehow managed to combine the wonder of a nine-year-old child with the wisdom of an adult into a performance that was easily 15 years ahead of the curve."

Man On The Moon will appeal to legions of Carrey fans and Kaufman followers, but the film may find it harder to win an audience among younger filmgoers not familiar with the comic artist.

Also, despite some fine acting from Carrey and Courtney Love, who plays Kaufman's girlfriend, Forman has created a biography that lacks depth and psychological insight which may leave general audiences disappointed.

Forman chronicles with great effectiveness and hilarity Kaufman's adventures, but at the end he doesn't give us any greater understanding of the man than we had at the beginning.

Man On The Moon seems to have already triggered a Kaufmanesque spectacle in real life.

Insulted: Carey was attacked by a Kaufman lookalike
A person dressed as Tony Clifton angrily insulted Jim Carrey at a recent press conference where the actor was discussing the film.

The two ended up having a physical fight. It smacked of an Andy Kaufman prank.

Carrey denies it was a stunt. It's been reported that Kaufman's former collaborator Bob Zmuda may have been the Clifton impersonator.

Kaufman would no doubt be delighted that 15 years after his death his trademark tactics of creating a public spectacle and fostering confusion are still being embraced, both

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