M ike Myers often talks about his late father. Many of these stories are jolly reminiscences of a man called Eric who emigrated from England to Canada with his wife, sold encyclopedias and insurance, and lived in a house with three sons and endless laughter. But some of the stories are much sadder – of a father lost to Alzheimer's disease and a son robbed of the mirror in which he judged his own achievements.
The stories are crushing: There is Eric telling his wife that an old man is living upstairs and, when they get there, pointing at himself in the mirror; Eric running a bath with only hot water, getting into it and scalding himself so badly that he would spend one of his last years in a hospital burn unit.
Myers would sometimes tell such stories on the set of his latest movie, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, a sequel to the 1997 film he made as a tribute to the British humor his father so loved. And as he would tell these terrible, tragic tales, without tempering his love for his father or sidestepping the pain he feels at his loss, Myers would make everyone laugh. "It was so sad," his co-star Heather Graham recalls, "and you could tell it was a really hard thing for Mike when his dad died. But the way he told this one story, it was hysterical. It was heartbreaking, and if anyone else had told that story, you would be devastated. I don't know how he made that subject matter funny. The bath. And he was saying, 'Oh, he was poached!' And we were rolling on the ground. That his dad was burned in the bathtub, he made it into this hysterical story."
T here are tales you hear about Myers: that when he acts he is so self-possessed and self protective that he spends his time in an intense, almost Method-like haze. He is extraordinarily amused when I bring this up. "Oh, I love that!" he hoots. "Awesome. Wow. A Method comedian." He grabs a yellow note pad and writes it down. "I'm going to dine out on that."
So is it even slightly true?
"No. But I love it. I am the Brando of comedy, the De Niro of comedy. I can't wait to tell the missis."
Myers acknowledges that for years there has been niggling tittle-tattle suggesting that he can be an ogre on movie sets – an untruth, he says, that spreads virally each time it is repeated. He believes that it comes from two awkward days on the set of So I Married an Axe Murderer, the 1993 film he made after Wayne's World and just after his father's death. "I was heartbroken and not a happy person at the time," he says. "I didn't get along with the director, but just for two days. It was sixty great days and two bad days. It was an old-fashioned disagreement that got personal, and it became the story of that movie."
M yers is resistant to almost any generalizations about his acting career. He denies, for instance, that his remarkable performance as Studio 54 club owner Steve Rubell in the otherwise wobbly 54 was an attempt to prove his dramatic credentials. He says he did it in part because he had read that Rubell had said he wouldn't have let himself into Studio 54. Myers thought – and read what you will into Myers' psyche from this – that Rubell was somebody he could be. (In the film's most striking scene, Myers propositions a naive young bartender – "I want to suck your cock" – and then vomits on a bed covered with money. Myers remarks that his mother was supposed to visit the set that day, but he put her off.)
On the set of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, I get a few chances to judge Myers' demeanor for myself. In the sequel, which reverses the taking-the-Sixties-to-the-Nineties scenario of the first film, Dr. Evil steals Austin's mojo and Austin goes back to the Sixties to reclaim it. (Myers defines mojo as "libido, essence, right stuff, what the French call a certain I don't know what.") The concept of the mojo was quietly introduced in the first movie: Austin makes the fembots explode by some kind of crossmojonation. "It always made us laugh," says Jay Roach, the director of both Austin Powers films.
On my first visit, Myers is playing Austin, inside the Nineties version of the character's Carnaby Street bachelor pad. Between takes, there is music to keep up the mood. In this scene, he is flirting with a Russian agent, Miss Ivana Humpalot, played by Kristen Johnston of 3rd Rock From the Sun. He claps his hands to open the curtains.
"Where did you get the Clapper?" she asks.
We know where this is going. It is part of Myers' skill that it does indeed go there, but in a more eccentric and distorted way than we expect.
"November 1964," he replies with clipped, nostalgic precision. "The Dutch East Indies. Shore leave...penicillin. Miracle drug."
Today the real Myers is fighting off the flu. He sits in one of those director's chairs, presumably his own, though instead of his name it says SIR STINKY BOTTOM, VISCOUNT OF STINKVANIA IN THE BOTTOM-IC EMPIRE. Every now and again, to himself, almost like a mantra, he quietly says, "More tea, vicar?"
Before his scene – and one imagines that this is part of his process in becoming Austin – he lets out a long, strange, onomatopoeic ream of noises, some of which are something like ba-ba-woo-ba-be-woo and some of which are far too odd to be rendered in our regular, non-comedic alphabet. Before the next scene, he utters the phrase – and I think I've got this one fairly accurately – ah-ha-ha-ha-hee-hee-hah-hah-hahhh.
In the scenes themselves, he is indecently funny, and not in a simple, regulated way: He plays around with each take, pushing and pulling the language, the facial expressions and the gestures, often swerving in an entirely different comic direction. Frequently, at the end of a take, the crew and his co-star titter, but Myers rarely does. (It's the curse of a comedian: Either you find yourself funnier than everyone else does or less funny.)
Four days later, when I return, Myers has morphed into Dr. Evil, holding court in his lair, a mountainous retreat inside a volcano molded in the shape of his face. He appears on a trolley, being driven by a man identical to Dr. Evil in all ways except that he is a midget. Before I leave, he trades lines with a stand-in portraying a hefty, foulmouthed Scotsman called Fat Bastard, whom Myers will also play in the finished film.
Myers' pal Rob Lowe is here today, wearing an eye patch, playing the younger version of Robert Wagner's Number Two. During a scenery change, Lowe stands with Dr. Evil as Dr. Evil munches popcorn. I am too far away to hear what they are saying, but at one point they seem to have a protracted evil-laughing competition, with honors fairly even. "This," Lowe tells me when he wanders over, "is my alternative career. It's been happening since I did Saturday Night Live ten years ago." He joined Myers for a particularly good Sprockets skit. "I played a gay Parisian rent boy. Ever since then, Mike's been dragging me down with him."
Myers' head is actually shaved. Bald caps or latex coverings are, he explains, always useless just under the ear: They twist in a telltale way. (It is, of course, typical of Myers that he would demand such inconvenient verisimilitude in a film of absurd comic fantasy.) Between takes Myers drives a trolley around the set himself, like a kid. He wanders over to the camera crane and carefully examines the words printed large on its side: Swiss Crane. "I think it's sick," he says. "Are there no American cranes?"
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