Carrey lands Kaufman role

Knockout screentest wins part

In what became a most hotly contested competition among A-list actors, Jim Carrey was chosen Friday evening by director Milos Forman to play comic Andy Kaufman in “Man on the Moon,” the biopic for Jersey Films and Universal based on the script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Daily Variety, Feb. 2, 1998).

The decision was based on a filmed audition that several actors gave to show how they’d play Kaufman, the unusual comic who died of lung cancer at age 33 in 1984. The role was coveted by numerous actors but apparently came down to a contest between Carrey and Edward Norton, who was Oscar-nominated for “Primal Fear” and worked with Forman on “People Vs. Larry Flynt.”

Initially, the favorites consisted of Carrey, Norton, Nicolas Cage and John Cusack, with other stars such as Kevin Spacey, Gary Oldman and Hank Azaria also late entries. It’s unclear exactly who tested, but Cage declined, as apparently did Oldman.

Carrey badly wanted role

Though it’s unheard of for an actor accustomed to being begged to accept $20 million for his next slot to be required to audition for a role, Carrey badly wanted to play Kaufman and warmed to the task. So did Norton. Both tests were said to be great. But Carrey, an accomplished impressionist and a longtime fan of the quirky Kaufman, evidently became Kaufman in the tape, even using the late comic’s actual bongos.

Each of the actors had potential scheduling dilemmas, especially Norton, who is booked to star alongside Brad Pitt in the David Fincher-directed Fox 2000 drama “The Fight Club,” a film that will get under way not long before the Kaufman biopic.

But Carrey’s tape was considered strong enough to make it all a non-issue. Coupled with the early positive word-of-mouth about his performance in the Peter Weir-directed Paramount film “The Truman Show,” Carrey won the role. And given his undeniable pull at the box office, studio brass is more than pleased with Forman’s choice, sources said.

Paired with DeVito

Carrey will officially be offered the role today, sources said. He’ll co-star with Danny DeVito, Kaufman’s former “Taxi” co-star, who’s playing the comic’s manager, George Shapiro. DeVito is producing with Jersey partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher; Shapiro, his partner Howard West and Bob Zmuda will also be involved in producing capacities.

Now it’s up to Carrey’s reps at Gold-Miller and UTA to find room in his schedule for the film. He’s already booked to re-team with “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” director Steve Oedekerk for a Warner Bros. remake of “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.” But much of that film is animated, and won’t require as much screen time as a regular comic Carrey vehicle. A deal should be made shortly.

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