Moriarty Chats With Mike Myers About THE LOVE GURU, SPROCKETS, SNL, And Gets Some On His Chin!
Published at: June 20, 2008, midnight CST by headgeek
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
I am a Mike Myers fan. Pure and simple. This is not an interview where I’m trying to shake Mike’s tree or corner him on something... this is me talking to a comic who I really dig and respect, and I admit... I gush like Quint in the early days of this site. This is damn near an episode of THE CHRIS FARLEY SHOW. It happens sometimes. It happened here. I’m ready to take my lumps. I’m going to go ahead and cop to the headline now before anyone calls me out on it in the talkback.
I am on record with my review, and in the face of Harry’s reaction elsewhere on the site this morning, I’ll say it again: I enjoy THE LOVE GURU. I think it’s silly and ridiculous and very funny. I am pleased to see Mike back on the big screen this summer, and when I talked to Paramount about doing this interview, I get the feeling I had to jump through a few hoops before it got scheduled. That’s fine. I know Myers doesn’t do a ton of press, and I have no expectation that I’m automatically on any list of people who are given one-on-one access.
In this case, it was a phone call, and one that took a bit of tricky schedule juggling on both ends before my office phone rang one morning last week.
MIKE MYERS: Hello?
MORIARTY: Hi, Mike. How are you?
Mike Myers: Good. How are you?
Moriarty: Excellent. It’s nice to finally speak to you. I’ve been hoping to do this since ’98, when I started at the site.
Mike Myers: ’98? Wow.
Moriarty: I’ve always enjoyed watching how you develop material over the years.
Mike Myers: Thank you.
Moriarty: It’s nice to see you bring a new character to the screen. Can we start with you describing the process of how the Guru Pitka came into being?
Mike Myers: Okay. Um, in 1991 my father passed away, and two things emerged for me creatively. One was Austin Powers, which was a tribute to all of the comedy that my British father, who had died, had sort of exposed me to and introduced me to when I was a kid. So it’s, you know, all the silly, “On the Buses,” Benny Hill, Python, the Goodies, Peter Sellers, I mean the list goes on and on. So I was really, really devastated when my father died. It’s a huge life event that has shaped me, you know. And at the same time I started just trying to read some positive and… and beautiful, I guess is the word, philosophy, to try and come to terms with his death. So, Austin Powers came out of his life, and this reading began to try and deal with his death. And one of the things I started to read was Deepak Chopra, and in reading that, uh, he’s… like Carl Sagan is to physics, Deepak is to philosophy. He pointed me in a whole bunch of directions. I read Gary Zukav, and I went on this amazing reading festival, and as I was talking to my friends about what I was reading, if it was anything that was kind of, you know, meaningful, I ended up talking in this voice, and so I’d be like “The only way out is in,” “Intimacy is into-me-I-see,” and people were like “Wow, that’s great. Listen, I’m feeling depressed. Can you call me?”
And, you know, “Sure!” I’d go, “You’re a very beautiful and kind spirit who is not permanently unique in your pain,” and all of the readings and all of the everythings came out. Then in 1994 I did this stage show with five characters, one of which was Austin Powers, for the first time, and the other one was the Guru Pitka for the first time. And it’s just been circling the airport and being developed ever since.
Moriarty: It’s um, I find it fascinating that you build your films in a way that’s sort of backwards from the way that a lot of comedy in Hollywood is written, where they start with a script or a premise, and then they hire someone to come in and interpret a character, whereas your films seem to very organically grow out of the broad central character and the worlds evolve around them. And it’s sort of a big thing to do with each new movie. Is that one of the reasons that you take your time between the projects?
Mike Myers: That’s a very astute and accurate reason why these things take a long time. When I first did, I did Wayne Campbell in Canada. Basically I’ve done him my whole life, kind of, based on living in the suburbs of Toronto. And when I had my chance on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE to do the character, I called it Wayne’s world, because I love what Steven Spielberg calls the immaculate universe, that surrounds the characters, and to me the creative process is a dialogue between everybody. So my prop guy, Eugene McCarthy comes in, and he’s not just a prop guy, he’s somebody who ends up being in the entire creative dialogue, he makes things better than they’re written. Marguerite Derricks, the choreographer, is the same. Jay Roach is just awesome at pulling the best ideas out of the people he works with and proffering the best ideas that he has. And it’s this magic swirl, this dialogue, all for the, you know, all for the cause of creating a world that makes sense unto itself, so that you can have that wonderful sense of being transported into a world for ninety minutes, and that is hopefully really funny. I mean I love comedy, I will always love comedy, and comedy movies that have a world have always delighted me.
Moriarty: I always thought the Pink Panther films set up a very clear world. It wasn’t just that Sellers was funny. Everybody in the film was allowed to be funny. Herbert Lom was probably never better than he was in those.
Mike Myers: Herbert Lom was hilarious. You know, that’s case in point for me. I mean I loved that movie, and I love the series. It’s… I think it’s just a fascinating experience that I’m insanely grateful I’ve had the chance to do. I can’t believe it’s gone on as long as it has. I can’t believe, you know, I’m like a guy from Toronto who wanted to do this. And I start from a place of just being grateful that I’m employed, and then my mind is blown, to being able to be a part of that dialogue.
Moriarty: Well like, for instance, I like the fact that Verne Troyer, who you worked so well with in the Austin Powers films, that you brought him back in this one. And, um, Verne’s a really different person this time out.
Mike Myers: Well, Jay Roach cast Verne Troyer. And he said “We have our Mini-Me,” and I went “Oh okay, awesome.” So I met him on set. And within five minutes of meeting him, I was like “Why did we make Mini-Me not talk?”
This guy’s hilarious. And he was cracking up the crew, and he’s just, he’s super-funny, and he’s got a really sweet edge to him, you know what I mean? He’s edgy, and I’ve had in the back of my mind, it’s been my goal to write a character for Verne where he gets to play a speaking character that has a point of view and has an edge to him. But having said that, in AUSTIN POWERS, Verne was able to do more with no words than many many actors with tons and tons of paragraphs of words.
Moriarty: Well I love that what could have been just kind of a throwaway nod to maybe the greatest bad movie of all-time, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, turned out instead to be something that became very complicated, that has its own life over the course of those two films.
Mike Myers: That’s cause Verne is part of the dialogue, you know what I mean? Verne comes in with great ideas, and everybody that I’ve worked with, you know Justin, I sent him the script, and he sent me back a whole bunch of ideas and a whole bunch of questions, and we’re all the richer for it. He’s great, Verne’s great, Jessica’s great, Romany’s great. It’s a very exciting process.
Pardon my voice. It’s just I’ve been talking non-stop for five days, so my voice has gone ten octaves lower than normal. Sorry.
Moriarty: Oh, no worries. Now Marco was one of Jay Roach’s assistant directors, correct?
Mike Myers: Correct, he was an assistant to the director.
Moriarty: Oh okay, so he was there for the Austin Powers process?
Mike Myers: He was there, he was part of the dialogue. He started in AUSTIN 1, did AUSTIN POWERS 2, AUSTIN POWERS 3, and he did the second unit as well, and then he did, he was assistant to Jay on MEET THE PARENTS and MEET THE FOCKERS, and he also did the second unit on that. So he’s been part of the process always.
Moriarty: Okay. So there was already a huge comfort level then, walking in with him?
Mike Myers: There’s a shorthand, you know what I mean? Um, you know, when you create the movie, and you’re a writer, your job is to… Lorne Michaels always said it’s kind of like steering a freighter, you know what I mean?
Mike Myers: Over time, cause freighters take so long, if you just touch the wheel a little bit to the right, over time instead of going to South America, you’re going to the horn of Africa, you know what I mean? And that’s kind of the process of it. It’s kind of a shaping thing. Del Close was one of my early teachers. He was a founding member of Second City.
Moriarty: Oh yeah.
Mike Myers: And he used to say that the two greatest things in collaboration are “yes” and “and,” to agree and to add. And this is the process, you know we all throw down, we all put into this collective pot, but we say yes, and then we and it. “Yes and, yes and.” And that’s how it all kind of gets into the same, where we’re all going in the same direction.
Moriarty: I’ve been on a number of sets, watching how people put sequences or moments together, and it’s always interesting, the different ways people create that environment when you’re on a set, because it is very hard I think, to be funny and kind of open yourself up to that invention when you’ve got the teamsters standing around, and you’ve got, you know, work going on and a camera six feet away. And so you’ve got to kind of be able to create an environment. And some people like to be able to play and invent there, some people like to play and invent before they get to the set and be very focused once they’re there. Do you allow for improvisation while you’re on set, or is it something in the rehearsal process, that you like to do it there and be very clear once you reach the filming process?
Mike Myers: Well, writing is improvising at the typewriter, and improvving on the set is writing on the set. It’s all one in the same. And then you edit it, and it completely changes then – you change the running order, you break a scene into three, it’s all, again Del Close says it’s a transformative process. He said it’s a transformative process where you have to have a soldier’s discipline, but you have to wear your character as lightly as a straw boater, and so you kind of have two modalities that are seemingly in contradiction, but actually work in tremendous harmony. So I try to write as tight a script as I can going in, but then once we’re there and we get a couple of good takes of the scripted version, uh – hold on one second.
Pardon me. Ugh, my throat is…
Moriarty: I could only imagine after the week of press.
Mike Myers: Yeah, and when you do the press line, you don’t have interviews, you have like “SO, YEAH, I ENJOYED…”
Moriarty: Quick shouting matches.
Mike Myers: So yeah, my voice reminds me of walking the red carpet. Um… you know, you have to, the given circumstances, like you get there and the set is ten times longer than you thought it was going to be, you write a little bit more to cover the walk over to that door, you know what I mean? It’s all that stuff that is an ongoing thing. And in the case of Romany, and Justin and Verne, they come up with ideas, so once we’ve got the scripted take, we do one for shits and giggles, and that’s… I’d say fifty percent of the time, the shits and giggles take gets used. But you need to have a basis of stuff you want done. You know, one of the challenges in filmmaking is the collection of objects and subjects and their preparation for photography. Then, from that point on, you can improvise away. It’s hard to improvise 25 fawns, for example. You need a fawn guy.
Moriarty: Now like I said, I’ve been sort of following your work, and things you developed, and things you were circling, and maybe involved in since I began at Ain’t It Cool, and one of the very first articles that I wrote was in anticipation of what looked like what was gonna be your next film at the time, SPROCKETS.
Mike Myers: Right.
Moriarty: And you wrote that with Mike McCullers…
Mike Myers: Correct.
Moriarty: …and I really enjoyed the script. I know that it was still early days when the draft that I read was worked on, um, but you’re one of the few people I’ve ever seen pull the plug on yourself because you felt it wasn’t ready. As opposed to somebody else saying “Okay, creative differences, we’re not gonna do this script that Mike wrote,” it was you. You wrote the script, and then you were the one that said “Well, I don’t feel like it’s ready.”
Mike Myers: Well, it – it wasn’t ready, I stand by that.
Moriarty: And that’s, I think that’s admirable that you actually have the belief in your own work that you really want to push it to a place that… cause I really enjoyed it. I would have shot that draft. And everyone else seemed ready to shoot that draft. And I felt like it spoke very highly of your drive to do something that you have to be passionate about.
Mike Myers: Well I was raised with very loving, interesting parents. My mom and dad instilled in me a tremendous work ethic, and because my dad sold encyclopedias and my mom worked in the office of a factory, it was instilled in me that when you go to see a movie it’s the ticket price, plus popcorn, plus Diet Coke, plus Milk Duds, plus babysitter, you know what I mean? It’s no small thing, and I take my entertainer’s responsibility very seriously. I believe that the people that agree to sit in the dark and not talk about themselves with strangers, and focus their attention on this rectangle that I’ve made, that you better make sure that every molecule is entertaining, because it’s a lot of money, and it’s a lot of investment of time. Um, in the case of… I would say the ratio of stuff that I begin to the stuff that gets made is probably twenty to one. I think that’s an average. Sometimes ten to one, you know, none of it is math or science or written down somewhere, but roughly I would say anywhere from ten to twenty to one. It’s the same when I did SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. I didn’t hand in every sketch I wrote. I wrote probably three to one, you know what I mean? And it’s a process. I’m an artist, I… I want it to be good. And by good, I mean something that I would want to see that makes me laugh.
Moriarty: Well you said that when you originally premiered the characters of Austin and the Guru Pitka, that it was an evening with several characters.
Mike Myers: Yep.
Moriarty: Are we gonna see any of those other characters at some point?
Mike Myers: I don’t know. I never know. I had something like Tristan and something like Bucky, the two characters that I did on the MTV Movie Awards. They were circling the airport, and then all of a sudden it just seemed like this was their home. That process, to me, remains mysterious. You know I’ve done this kind of work, I’ve been very lucky to get to do this work, there were no guarantees when I was up in Toronto wanting to do this work, there were no guarantees that it was going to turn out as great as it has, and, you know, it found a home. The birthing process to me is very mysterious. And that’s okay. Again, it’s just my training with Del Close, and Lorne Michaels. Lorne Michaels used to say “What is it now? What is it now? What is it now?” Cause it’s transformative, and some of these things just take time.
Moriarty: What really is kind of remarkable are the mentors that you’ve been lucky enough to sort of work with over the years. I mean Lorne is... one of the things that I’d eventually like to do is write a book about the influence that SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE has had on film. Because I don’t think any television show ever has had the same impact on motion pictures that SNL has.
Mike Myers: I think that’d be a great book, and I think that it would be a very smart book, and it’s true. I mean a lot of praise needs to go to Lorne Michaels. He, like Del Close, like a lot of the great thinkers – and I think he is a great thinker – that I’ve had the privilege of learning from and being near, he creates a glossary of terms for things that were previously just general malaise. So, you know, “second time blues,” “what is it now.” He has great aesthetics. He’s always said this, that no matter where you go, like if you used to take a dogsled up to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, to an air force base and there’s eight dudes there working on a missile silo, if you went all the way there and it took you fifteen days, you’d still have to show up with material. It’s not enough that you showed up.
I mean, and I was like “Oh, of course,” you know? That’s such a great way to put it. And these things get instilled in you. I have such great respect for him that I go “Wow. That’s a great idea.”
Moriarty: Well SNL especially, there’s such a pressure cooker sense of, you have a week, you are writing to different guest stars, you workshop, you mount the scripts, you get them up and by Saturday night it’s live or die. And there’s that direct feedback with both the dress rehearsal audiences and the actual on-air audiences. In film, obviously, that feedback works very differently because you have the test screening process, which is sort of the slow-motion version of that. And I know some filmmakers that love that process and really use it, and I know other filmmakers that sort of dread it. Where do you fall on it?
Mike Myers: Uh, you know I feel that the audience is my boss, so I feel like I have a review from my boss. And when it goes well, which it has on THE LOVE GURU, which I’m very happy about…
Moriarty: Oh, the audience I saw it with went nuts.
Mike Myers: They did?
Moriarty: They went nuts. It was great. And it’s fun to be in a packed house when that happens.
Mike Myers: That means my greatest joy ever. It’s… what that experience is, is magical. And I know the words are a little corny, but honestly I don’t know how else to say it, except that it’s magical, and unbelievably… you just have this feeling of gratitude that overcomes you. You just are like “Thank you, thank you, thank you, I love it, I love it, I love it.” So that, to me, is the first and foremost, to know all of the hard work and the attention to detail has paid off in a laugh. It’s unbelievably satisfying. I don’t think I’ll ever be blasé about that.
Moriarty: Well Mike, I want to thank you for taking the time today, and it’s really a thrill to talk to you, and good luck with it. I really enjoyed the picture, and I guess my one last question would be that, so often, we see Hollywood sort of imitate things that are successful at any given moment. And since you did Austin Powers, and you’ve been doing the Shrek films, and you haven’t been doing the original characters of your own, the comedy landscape has shifted somewhat. Was there ever a moment where anybody felt like silly comedy is… cause I love the fact that you embrace that innocence, and that sort of childlike nature of telling a joke. Just how fun it is to tell a joke and watch somebody respond is what I get out of Pitka so much, that he enjoys his interactions with people. Was there ever a sense that the comedy landscape was different enough that it was a question mark, what the Mike Myers brand of comedy would be like now?
Mike Myers: No.
Moriarty: Well, good!
Mike Myers: I never pay… you know, if I had to go into a laboratory and come up with the least commercial idea in the world, I would have the character be non-American, have bad teeth, be sort of strangely frisky. I would parody a movie franchise – in fact I was making a parody of a parody, so – a movie franchise that, at that time, was at its nadir. Of course now, after CASINO ROYALE, the James Bond series is vibrant, but I wouldn’t have done the English Carnaby Street ‘60s, I would have done the Volkswagen van Woodstock ‘60s.
Mike Myers: I just really think that this notion of predicting is wrong. If I had to choose a song at the time, there’s pressure on me to do Guns ‘N’ Roses on WAYNE’S WORLD, and I went with “Bohemian Rhapsody.” You just have to play your game and listen to yourself, and love what you do.
Moriarty: I love the callback in LOVE GURU.
Mike Myers: Ah, thank you.
Moriarty: And one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, cause I go to a lot of test screenings, or did at one point, and I think one of the best experiences I’ve ever had was the very first test screening for the first Austin Powers movie, which is fascinating because nobody in that audience seemed to know what it was before it started to unfold. I was kind of shocked that the film didn’t really catch fire in theaters, because I’d seen it with that group and seen it work on people that had no idea what they were about to watch, and really fell for it over the course of the movie.
Mike Myers: Right.
Moriarty: So I’m glad that you went back to Austin, that we saw the films you did with him, and I just hope we see more of Pitka or whatever else it is that you’re looking forward to doing in the future.
Mike Myers: Thank you very much.
Moriarty: Okay Mike, thank you very much.
Mike Myers: My pleasure. Bye-bye.
Gotta say, I enjoyed talking to him, and it was going well enough that if my time hadn’t been up, I would have been perfectly happy to keep talking with him. And no matter what Harry says, I saw it in a packed theater that seemed to have a great time with it. I’m not going to use my theater to say you WILL ENJOY IT, just as I think it would be ridiculous to take Harry’s experience to mean that YOU WON’T. It’s comedy; I rarely agree with Harry on comedy. There’s no accounting for what one person finds funny and another does not. I’d say if you like Myers in general, check out THE LOVE GURU for yourself. I think it’s a nice fit with his earlier work, and well worth the look.
Thanks to Tamar and Casey for putting this together, and to Ribbons for stepping in as transcription elf this time out.