July 2002 By Philip Berk
In person Mike Myers is cute as a button, cuddly and adorable.
His latest Austin Powers movie Goldmember entered the record books by grossing over $75 million its first weekend.
The movie had been eagerly anticipated and thanks to the participation of some of the biggest names in the industry who make unbilled appearances in it, it’s not likely to disappoint anyone.
Obviously it was his cuddly charm that convinced them to do these cameos.
Is that true? I ask him.
“I wish it were, but it’s nothing of the sort. I can’t account for why everyone showed up, but I was very happy that they did. We actually wrote the actual movie star’s name right into the script for our own amusement, to sort of say, wouldn’t it be funny if they actually showed up. And what’s so amazing is, all of them showed up. It was kind of like Field of Dreams. If you write it, they will come. It was an amazing experience, and it was like that all the way. We would request locations, ask if we could shoot in certain spots, and they would say, ‘Well we don’t do that,’ and then we’d get a call back that they changed their mind. Every time we shot outdoors, we would arrive and it was raining. We would set up the cameras, and right before the first shot, the clouds would part and it’d get sunny. It was kind of an amazing protection from the source. They all showed up. Of course Steven Spielberg made some of those calls on my behalf which is also a form of divine protection as well. That was lovely.”
Spielberg of course owes Mike a large debt for Shrek.
As he explains, he went far beyond the call of duty for an actor doing a voice-over for an animated movie.
“Originally Chris Farley was going to be Shrek, and when he passed away I got involved. I originally did it with a Canadian accent, but then I turned to them and said, ‘I can do better,’ and they said great. And anyone that can listen to someone when they say I can do better earns my undying admiration. And then Steven Spielberg, Sir Steven wrote me a long, lovely letter thanking me for caring, and when people do that, I will walk through fire for them.”
Is it true he’s being paid $10 million for the sequel?
“I will neither confirm nor deny my salary,” he slyly responds.
Of course when he was in hot water last year for reneging on a $20 million commitment to Brian Grazer (Imagine and Universal) to make Sprockets, it was Steven who bailed him out.
As a result Mike is getting ready to start Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat with the producer and director of Sprockets, the film which he not only wrote but didn’t think was funny enough to make.
Another surprise for me is the absence of his wife’s name (Robin Ruzan) on the credits.
Surely she warranted, at the very least, an Executive Producer credit!
Three years ago he called her his muse.
“She’s much more talented than I am.” he told me. “She does most of the writing. I make coffee. My wife is a master of what she calls the mishpocha arts. Do you know what I mean? She knows people. I call her a human engineering, sodium pentathol in human form. She just puts people at their ease. You meet Robin and within minutes you’re confessing crimes. I’ve seen it happen. We’re at a bus stop and somebody’s crying on my wife’s shoulder. It’s like. ‘I robbed a bank once.’ ‘How did you do that?’ She just understands people’s agendas. I’ll go, ‘God I think she hates me, and she does.’ ‘She doesn’t hate you. Go over and wish her happy birthday.’ I’m like, What! And then I go over and say Happy Birthday and she’ll go, ‘Oh thank you. It’s my birthday. I thought nobody would say happy birthday.’ She just knows on some level the way of the heart.”
And she’s also his best audience, and toughest critic.
So why no credit?
“Robin believes in a very healthy separation of church and state. And she likes it when I can just come home and be a guy even though she’s happy to help. She’s written a lot off stuff that I give my thoughts to, and I don’t take credit for that. It’s just great to have somebody who you love, who loves you, who has only your best interest at heart, and is not afraid to tell you that something’s not funny, which is the most helpful thing. But if you look carefully you’ll find she has a credit for writing a rap song for Mini Me And Dr. Evil.”
Speaking of separation of church and state — he’s Protestant of English-Scottish heritage and she’s Jewish of Russian-Polish heritage — has he ever figured out why they get along so well?
“I’d say it’s because we share an almost identical set of values. It’s amazing how much we are alike. We both believe people should be nice to each other. I wish people would get sillier. I think that silly is important. People should lighten up, and that would solve just about everything.”
Did they really meet at a hockey game where she caught a puck?
“It’s a complex story. I had gone to Chicago to watch the Toronto Maples play. I’m a big hockey fan, and I’ll travel to see my team. That night I caught a puck. The mathematical chances of doing that are slim to none. I also met Robin there, and trying to impress her, I told her I caught a puck. I didn’t think she liked me, but then three days later we met again and started going out. Three years later we go to a Maple Leaf game in Boston and she catches a puck. Soon after that we were married.”
What did his family think of him marrying a Jewish girl?
“Well, it’s funny. I have an aunt in Liverpool. I come from very poor Liverpool stock. I’ve had the fortune of being employed in movies, and therefore I’ve made more money than my entire gene pool. So when I took Robin to Liverpool to meet my family there, I didn’t know how they would react. I told her, ‘Look Robin, I’m very working class. I don’t know what they’re going to say. They might say things they don’t realize are anti-semitic, but please, they’re good people. They’re not so educated’ and all that.
“My Aunt Molly was the matriarch. She was 96 at the time, she was born in l901. ‘Robin,’ she asks, ‘where were you christened?’ And like, we’re all out for drinks. There are forty people from my family, all with my face, and I cringe, my stomach goes wham to the bottom.
“And Robin responds, ‘Well Aunt Molly, actually I’m Jewish,’ and she went, ‘Oh I love Jews. Every girl friend I’ve ever had was a Jew. They use to call me the Yiddishe shicksa.’ And she just gave Robin a big hug and a kiss and everybody was like, ‘Ooh she’s Jewish!’ And it was great. I almost cried because I grew up in Canada, and I didn’t know how they were going to react.
“It was a really wonderful experience. And it was the same with Robin’s family, although the joke there is I’ve been to a couple of funerals and for some reason a yarmulke won’t stay on my head. The big joke is, “His head rejects it.” But luckily when both our families get together they laugh themselves silly.”
Mike began his career with Chicago’s Second City. After that he tried his luck in England for two years, then returned to the States, where in l989 he was signed as a regular on Saturday Night Live.
His creation on that show, Wayne’s World, became a movie and a surprise hit when it grossed over $100 million in l992.
His subsequent movies however, Wayne’s World 2 and So I Married an Axe Murderer, didn’t fare as well.
Even Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was only a minor hit when it played in theatres.
But then on video it found a cult following, which encouraged the studio to go ahead with a sequel.
One look at the finished product convinced them they had a blockbuster,and they spent a fortune promoting it.
Their confidence paid off
In its first weekend Austin Powers, the Spy Who Shagged Me took in a record breaking $54 million, and ended up grossing over $300 million worldwide, which wasn’t bad for a film which cost 32 million!
For Goldmember, in which he plays three roles, he was reportedly paid $25 million.
Obviously audiences find him funny.
So where does his humor come from?
“My father. He was from Liverpool. And everybody’s funny in Liverpool. He would wake me and my brothers up in the middle of the night, and and we would watch Benny Hill, Monty Python, Peter Sellers. I had all that comedy indoctrination at an early age.
“He thought silly was undervalued, and he was a very silly man. It’s a very North American thing to ask people what they do for a living. He always hated that, and he used to say, ‘I’m not my job.’ He sold encyclopedias, but when people would ask what he does for a living, he used to make up different occupations. He was the ambassador to Guatemala, or he played bongo drums on the Mission Impossible theme. It was always different, and that sort of silliness influenced me greatly.”
The family emigrated from Scotland to Canada five years before Mike, the youngest of three boys, was born. His father died eleven years ago.
Mike still misses him.
“He was not only a good father, he was a good friend. He loved Michael Caine because like my father he has a working class accent. He was one of the first movie stars that had an authentic natural organic regional accent and that meant a lot to my father who just loved his movies.”
Was that why he cast Michael in this movie?
“Originally when I put together a composite of what Austin Powers would look like, one of the things I wanted was Michael Caine’s glasses from the Harry Palmer movies. So when I thought of him for the movie, I wrote him a very long begging, unctuous, assy-kissy letter, every word of which I meant, and thankfully he decided to do it.”
Myers’s rise from humble beginnings to superstardom hasn’t spoiled him one bit. He’s as unassuming as ever.
How influential does he think comedy is. Can it change the world?
“That’s a tough question. There was a very, very strong cabaret scene in Berlin, where Hitler was well parodied, but it didn’t do much to bring down his regime. The power of comedy is both overestimated and underestimated. I think silly as an art form is underrated. It’s very hard to be silly. If my father had written a book or a thesis of life it would have been in praise of silly. He had no time for people who came in the house that weren’t funny or had no sense of humor.”
Does censorship worry him?
“I think Lenny Bruce said it best. The greatest censorship is an audience not laughing. Why would you ever want a government agency involved. No comedian wants to be met with stone silence.”
Can he remember how he got the idea for Austin Powers?
“Actually, I was driving to a hockey practice, and I heard the song “The Look of Love” on the radio. I love that song. It implies a whole world of happiness of the sixties, of the swinger world. Then I got a chance to talk to its composer Burt Bacharach and he told me he had written that song to capture that era, which made me instantly start talking a certain way.
“When I got home I said to my wife, ‘You sexy baby, yeah man! What do you say tonight we go out and cut a rug?’ And she laughed and laughed and laughed and then went, ‘Okay stop, write it down.’ So I wrote it down, and that’s how it happened.”