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Jim Carrey to play Andy Kaufman in 'Man on the Moon'

Jim Carrey to play Andy Kaufman in ‘Man on the Moon’

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Never mind the Oscars. Last week, an even more heated contest between at least five of Hollywood’s top actors went down. The prize: the lead role in director Milos Forman‘s Man on the Moon — the biopic of late comedian and Taxi star Andy Kaufman. To win the part, the contenders — Jim Carrey, Edward Norton, Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, and The Birdcage‘s Hank Azaria — did the unthinkable: They auditioned. (Even top dog Nicolas Cage was said to be interested in playing Kaufman, who died of lung cancer in 1984 at 35. Cage apparently refused to audition.)

And the winner…Jim Carrey, whose video blew away the competition’s. According to one source, the tapes were secured by confidentiality agreements. But EW has learned the contents of Carrey’s video, which was made in the living room of his Brentwood, Calif., home. Dressed in a campy, peach-colored tuxedo, Carrey launched into a stand-up routine that included some of Kaufman’s best-known characters, such as Foreign Man — the prototype for his role as Latka Gravas on Taxi (”Thank you veddy much”) — the bad-guy wrestler, and the Las Vegas lounge lizard Tony Clifton. According to another source, who is close to the production and viewed the tape, ”it was very gutsy. He was right on with his Tony Clifton impression.” That makes sense: ”Jim Carrey has had a love affair with Andy Kaufman for years,” says the source. ”Kaufman’s career influenced his in a major way.”

Other factors swaying Forman’s final casting decision: Carrey’s immense box office status and a private screening of Paramount’s The Truman Show, which was set up by Truman director Peter Weir. Due this June, it stars Carrey in a dramatic role as a man who discovers his whole life has been a running television series. Also, Carrey is expected to forgo his usual $20 million paycheck.

Man on the Moon, which is being scripted by The People vs. Larry Flynt scribes Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander and will costar longtime Kaufman pal Danny DeVito, is expected to go before the cameras in July.

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