The Craziest Things Jim Carrey Did While Method Acting As Andy Kaufman

jim carrey in jim & andy

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond -- Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton is out now on Netflix, and if you haven't watched it, you should leave work/school/the hospital and make some time. The doc, directed by Chris Smith, tells the behind-the-scenes story of Jim Carrey's method acting madness as he shot 1999's Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon.

At the height of his career, Kaufman was one of the most influential figures in comedy, blending reality with fiction to such an extent that when he died of a rare form of cancer at age 35, many fans thought it was just a dark joke. When Carrey won the chance to portray his idol in the Milos Forman-directed film, he decided to become Kaufman -- a process that was captured on camera for what was supposed to be bonus and promotional material. The results were, to use a technical term, batshit crazy.

Universal, the studio behind the film, suppressed the original footage for fear that it would make Carrey look "like an asshole." Today, the wild archival material finally shows how far Carrey went, and in Jim & Andy, we get to see an introspective Carrey reflect on the process. Below, some highlights for you to relive or to give you a reason to push play.

jim carrey in jim & andy

Carrey says Andy possessed him

In the documentary, the actor recalls lounging on a Malibu beach when he heard he got the part. After the news set in, he looked at the ocean, and thought, Where would Andy be? What would he be doing right now? Carrey reasoned his hero would be trying to communicate telepathically. So he tried too. Immediately, he says, 30 or so dolphins surfaced. And then Andy "showed up," tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Sit down. I'll be doin' my movie." "What happened afterwards," Carrey adds, "was out of my control."

Carrey made people call him Andy on set

The actor was so method he made people call him by his character's names -- whether he was portraying Kaufman or Kaufman's boorish alter ego, Tony Clifton -- and in the present-day interviews he refers to the characters he portrayed as if they weren't him. He was so unflinching as Tony he even bullied Man on the Moon director Milos Forman into groveling in front of him, and snubbed a studio head visiting set. Of Tony, Forman said: "I have never been intimidated by another man, and I am intimidated by Tony Clifton."

He wore a paper bag over his head while driving a car, which he crashed

Channeling Tony and yelling "I got it! I got it!" Carrey crashed a beautiful red convertible into a wall. He didn't "got it."

As Tony, Carrey invaded Steven Spielberg's production company to complain about Jaws

On the Universal lot, Carrey, dressed in full Tony costume, busted through the doors of Amblin and demanded to see Steven Spielberg. Why? "I would like to see the real shark," he said. "This shark is a phony shark!" Tony also claimed he wanted to dispense the advice that Spielberg's movies didn't have to be so crowd-pleasing. Sadly, Spielberg wasn't there.

jim carrey in jim & andy

The real Kaufman family embraced Jim

When Kaufman's brother, sister, and parents visited set, Carrey stayed in character. The family accepted him and interacted with him as Andy, not Jim. "He wasn’t being shticky when he was being Andy with us," Andy's younger sister, Carol Kaufman-Kerman toldNewsweek recently. "He was almost trying to give us a gift. He was giving us a gift." 

Kaufman's biological daughter, who never met him, tracked down and had a conversation with Carrey in character as Andy

As a young man in 1969, Kaufman and his then-partner gave up their out-of-wedlock child for adoption; it wasn't until years after his death that she learned who her father was. So she came to the set and had what Carrey described as an hourlong conversation spent "telling each other that they love each other."

Carrey got into an offset fight with his onscreen Dad (both in character)

Carrey wasn't the only one who often stayed in character once the cameras stopped rolling. One instance shows Gerry Becker, the actor who played Kaufman's dad in the movie, yelling at his "son" in a makeup trailer. Their verbal sparring is so realistic it makes one of the women nearby cry -- she says it reminds her of her own father. 

man on the moon
Universal Pictures

He spit on Jerry Lawler to incite an actual fight...

One of Kaufman's most memorable, longest running bits was his feud with professional wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler, who challenged Kaufman to a "real" wrestling match after Andy stirred up controversy by wrestling women. The whole thing -- which culminated in a neck-brace-wearing Kaufman screaming at Lawler after getting slapped during a commercial break on David Letterman's show -- was a setup. The two men were actually friends.

When Lawler came to play himself in the film, however, Carrey made no overtures of friendship, mercilessly taunting Lawler and his girlfriend in an effort to get Lawler to actually hurt him. The whole thing erupted while filming a wrestling scene that called for The King to pile-drive Jim. With the insurance underwriters unwilling to allow Carrey to perform the stunt himself, and Carrey insisting on doing it to ensure authenticity, the actor took matters into his own hands: He spit on Lawler, and the wrestler started fighting with him in a very real way. 

...which became a news story and real-life feud

The incident sent Carrey to the hospital, though no one knew if he was actually hurt. Then, Carrey (Kaufman?) showed up in public wearing a neck brace, refusing to work with Lawler. The levels of meta-text became Mobius strip-esque, and at one point Carrey seems to break character while watching the news, exclaiming like a joyful child that this had become a real news story.  

jim & andy: the great beyond

He began drinking and smoking (sometimes heavily)

In his trailer, as Tony, after polishing off a pint-size bottle of Jack Daniel's, Carrey passes out and has to be carried outside by crew members. Carrey also picked up smoking, a habit he never had before the movie. When Smith asks if Tony was drinking on set, Carrey says: "I don't know. But he stunk to high heaven."

He does one of the darkest Jackie Kennedy impressions you'll see

As Tony, again with bag over head, Carrey sits in the back of a red convertible (the one he crashed) and says he's going to perform a quick impression: Jackie Kennedy. He then yelps and crawls over the backseat, muttering, "Aw, Christ," again and again. This is exactly the kind of stuff the studio didn't want people to see at the time.

jim carrey in jim & andy

He brought the Hell's Angels to the set

After you've pretty much pushed every conceivable button of every cast and crew member, how do you continue to make them uncomfortable? One way is to bring members of the Hell's Angels to the set without any explanation, and tell them to help themselves to craft services. 

Carrey pranked Hugh Hefner

Hef really wanted Carrey, who was at the top of his fame in the late '90s, to swing by the Playboy Mansion for one of his storied soirées. Carrey agreed, but only if he could come in character, dressed as Tony Clifton. He did. Or so Hef thought. That night, the Tony Clifton Hef was parading around was none other than Bob Zmuda, Kaufman's longtime writing partner. Hef thought he was in on the whole Carrey-as-Clifton joke -- until Carrey showed up out of character. Then the joke was on Hefner, who does not seem pleased and who orders Tony Clifton off the property. 

jim carrey on jim & andy

Carrey literally forgot what it was like to be "Jim Carrey" after movie was done

A theme that runs throughout Jim & Andy is how the desire to be famous twists identity, and, once fame is achieved, virtually obliterates it. The Jim Carrey who got the part of Andy Kaufman is not the Jim Carrey who won a Golden Globe for portraying Andy Kaufman, and the person he is now is far removed from both of those identities. It's a haunting note to end on, but one that Carrey seems to take as a comforting reality. 

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Sean Fitz-Gerald and Anthony Schneck are method actors at Thrillist. Follow them on Twitter: @srkfitzgerald and @AnthonySchneck.