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?”
T here are those who think that comedy should not be thought about, that it should remain instinctual and undiscussed, a fog of funniness that will evaporate under the sunlight of examination. Myers is not one of those. He relishes such discussion, particularly when he can draw the conversation toward one of his mentors, Del Close, the recently deceased founding member of Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe. “He was a comedy guru,” Myers says, “the Stanislavsky of improv. He would say things like, ‘If you treat the audience as poets and kings, they respond in kind.'”
Myers proceeds to talk about an essay called “Laughter” by Andre Bergson. “When you slip on a banana peel,” he says, “you are subject to both gravity and friction, and therefore you may die. And in the synapse of that realization, you laugh. That is his theory: that laughter is a defense mechanism against the realization of your own mortality. Now, is that anything I can use at four o’clock in the morning when I’m writing a sketch? I don’t know. Is it interesting to me? Infinitely.”
I tell him I will think of nothing else when I see The Spy Who Shagged Me.
“Yes,” Myers nods, “well, to the extent that Austin’s a shag machine and his software sees things with an enhanced libido, it actually does track that way. Did I arrive at that intellectually? No – I arrived at it by hearing the song ‘The Look of Love,’ the national anthem of libido, and thinking, ‘Where have all the swingers gone?'”
Nonetheless, this is Heather Graham’s description of meeting Myers for the first time to discuss The Spy Who Shagged Me: “He’s different than you would think. He’s pretty serious. He talked about the movie in a really intellectual way – it almost sounded like he was describing a Greek tragedy. He was using a lot of very complex words to describe stuff. I just thought it was funny that he was using a very classical structure to describe the different things that happen in the plot. He’s very religious about talking structure – he takes it very seriously.”
Myers responds that “the maybe-shouldn’t-be-spoken-of truth of what the movie is about is: You can let somebody take away your power or you can maintain your own power. I’m not having a seminar here. We’re going on a nice little journey and having a few laughs. But the journey is rooted in something. My belief is that no one can take away your mojo.”
O ne Saturday morning in April, I meet Myers at the Kit Kraft model shop in the Valley. Before the first Austin Powers film, Myers took a year off, and one of the passions he rediscovered is model soldiers. He likes to paint them as he watches war documentaries on the History Channel. He then passes them on to a friend’s son.
Right away? I inquire.
He flashes me a theatrically sheepish glance. “Maybe I play a little bit before,” he concedes.
Myers is pleased when he can find the occasional field gun with Canadian markings. “One of the rare models that acknowledges that Canada played a part in World War II,” he says tartly. “Juno Beach? Liberation of Holland? I guess we didn’t show up.”
At the cash register, Myers chats with the store assistant, who mentions that he knows someone who sets up big toy-soldier battles with as many as 50,000 pieces. “I only keep fifty at a time,” says Myers. “Then I give them to this kid.”
“Yeah,” says the store assistant. “Your maid’s kid.”
Afterward, Myers will worry that I may have walked away from this conversation with the wrong impression. “I don’t have a maid, by the way,” he feels the need to tell me. “It’s my cleaning lady. Comes once a week.”
Myers buys nine boxes of soldiers and a cutting tool for $67.95. He turns to me. “I’m happy right now,” he says, quite earnestly. And grins. “I’m a sexy, sexy man – what can I tell you?”
Sometimes, when Myers paints his toy soldiers – typically in front of the History Channel, his bemused wife, Robin, objecting, “You’ve seen that footage before,” and he retorting, “Does it have to be fresh footage?” – he paints them neither in the colors of the Nazis or the Allies. Instead he will paint them as Snotavians, the heroic army of his youth.
Myers has two older brothers, Peter and Paul, and it was Peter who invented the countries of Snotavia and Roughnicia and who induced Mike to join this fantasy world. “It was this mythical, almost-Tolkien universe that my brother created, and I, as the youngest brother in that ‘Hey, guys – wait up!’ way, had to accept,” he explains. “The Snotavians were the good guys. The shape of Snotavia was England upside down, and the capital was Otnorot, which is Toronto backward. Roughnicia was the aggressor. It was in the shape of the United States upside down.”
Would the Snotavians always win?
“Of course. Though they are numerically inferior, they had superior tactics and a just cause. The Roughnicians had overwhelming numbers and used sheer brutality.” Myers smiles and adds, with deadpan sarcasm, “It in no way reflected Britain’s struggle during 1940. Obviously it’s all I heard.”
Myers’ parents both played roles in the Second World War. His father was in the Royal Engineers. His mother, Alice, was in the Royal Air Force. “She was in Maidstone, Kent,” Myers says, “in an underground bunker, on the plotting table. She had a top security clearance.” His mother was also a trained actress. She met Eric when they were both doing amateur dramatics in Liverpool. Eric worked his way up from the shop floor at Dunlop’s, the tire company, taking night classes and moving into management. “A gargantuan, heroic feat in Liverpool in the Fifties,” Myers points out. “Akin to a private becoming a general.” His parents got married in 1955 and sailed to Canada the following year: On the wall in the room where he keeps his computer, Myers keeps a blown-up photograph of them boarding the boat. Myers’ mother says that she and Eric saw an ad in the newspaper – in those days, Canada, like many other countries, was keenly recruiting immigrants – and they just wanted adventure.
In Toronto, Eric sold the Encyclopedia Brittanica door to door (Mike Myers’ wedding band is his father’s Encyclopedia Brittanica Salesman of the Year ring from 1957). Later, Eric sold insurance for the Independent Order of Foresters. His wife worked at a bank, then as a data processor at a chemical company that made aerosol products. “So,” says Myers, “it was just us going, ‘Mom, don’t you see what you’re doing to the environment?’ and she goes, ‘Well, it hasn’t been proven,’ with that weird siege mentality that you now only see in big tobacco.”
There is a line in the play Equus, a thumbnail sketch of the father of the kid who blinds horses: “relentlessly self-improving working class.” When the eighteen-year-old Myers came across that, he thought the words were a perfect description of the environment his grandfather had created for his mother and which she had re-created for her family. “I’m very proud of that aspect of my family,” he says. “The belief that you can do better, that you’re your own keeper of your own station in life.” (“Not,” he is concerned to point out, “that you can extend the analogy that I have any tendency to blind horses.”) In all the large ways, it was a happy childhood: “My parents had a great marriage, and they kept a really happy house where comedy and a sense of humor about stuff was really important.”
Myers started acting at a young age. “Hideously young, yes,” he concedes. “I just wanted to, from my earliest memory.” He would put on shows for the local kids, making them laugh with a series of mimes and dancing along to a British-style TV variety show, The Pig and Whistle. At the age of eight, he was asked to jazz dance in a Datsun commercial. “I did about seventeen TV commercials,” he says. He would get notes to be let out of school – his father would take him to the auditions, and his mother would have useful theatrical advice: “Eyes and teeth, Michael! Play to the exit lights!” (“I didn’t listen,” he says. “I was just a little kid who went blah, blah, blah.”) His big ad, for which he was flown to Hollywood, was for Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, in which he played a kid in camp, chewing a piece of gum and loving it. It went something like this:
“Hey, Joey! What are you doing?”
“I’m just eating some gum.”
“It looks like you’ve graduated to the Big Stick.”
The ad got Myers noticed at school: “People would come up and say, ‘Hey, looks like you’ve graduated to the Big Stick!'”
For his older brothers, all of this had enormous comic potential. “My brothers taunted me mercilessly,” Myers says. “They deny it now, which is maddening to me.” Myers has suggested in the past that Peter and Paul made him drink urine, though he now dismisses this as hyperbole. “They did strip me naked and throw me into the hallway of our apartment building,” he says. “I was curled up in a ball by the elevator bank, and then I was taken in by the Indian lady next door: ‘What did those devils do to you?’ She kept me until my mom came home from work. She was a very small lady and I was her exact sari size; I wore a sari for three hours beside the bust of Seda, the many-handed one, eating papadams, waiting for my mum to come.”
Myers says that his brothers also farted on his head a lot. “They hold you down,” he explains. “I think it’s funny. I would not have done anything differently had I been the older brother, I’m telling you.” And after he cried during Yellow Submarine when “Nowhere Man” came on, they named him Sucky Baby. (Myers remains unapologetic about his tears: “I felt sad for him because he was on that record that was spinning round and round, and they were going to leave him.”)
How long did the name Sucky Baby last?
“Well into my twenties.”
M yers had no formal dramatic training whatsoever. “I think I was a little like the kid in Jerry Maguire,” he suggests, “who would just say stuff: ‘The human head weighs eight pounds, you know.'” His first dramatic role was in a Canadian TV drama with Donald Sutherland about the inventor of mobile blood transfusions. Myers played the kid who lived next door to him in Montreal. “They let me improvise with Sutherland,” he recalls. But Myers always wanted to act in, and write, comedies. “I liked how the house felt when a good comedy was on,” he says. “I liked the feeling of a room laughing. My dad was a big laugher.” His father would wake him up in the middle of the night to show him Peter Sellers comedies. (“His father almost looked like Peter Sellers,” notes Jay Roach, “and Mike obviously connects to Peter Sellers in his approach to his career.”)
When Myers was eleven, he decided that he wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. Around the same time, in 1974, the Myers family visited England, the country that he had been brought up to consider partly his homeland. He grew up with his parents’ hatred of his Canadian accent (the contentious word in the following example is sauce): “I’d say, ‘Dad, can I have some sarss?’ He’d go [incredulously], ‘Sarss? That’s how you’d like to say sorce?’ I’d go, ‘You’re the freak – this is my country; you’re the guest in this country, and it’s sarss.'”
Myers’ mother became a Canadian citizen, but his father never did. In some ways, Eric was very, very British: He refused to eat pineapple because the Hawaiians killed Captain Cook. “Bloody murdered him in his sleep,” he would say. (Dad likewise vetoed any showings of Hawaii Five-O at home: “Get it off! I’m not bloody watching that.”)
“I think my dad loved Canada more than he admitted,” Myers says, “but there was definitely a lot of England as Utopian state – the place that was really great that he was no longer at.” Like many immigrants, the Myers realized how much they liked their new country only after revisiting the old one. Mike’s parents had gone back earlier to christen his two brothers. (“I didn’t get christened,” Mike points out, “so I’m going to hell.”)
To Myers, England was a fascination and a puzzle. The phones sounded weird, the cars drove on the wrong side of the road: “I was thinking, ‘Oh, come on now – you’re just going out of your way to be different.'” Still, Myers smuggled a copy of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” back to Canada inside a Jimi Hendrix sleeve. “Get that bloody crap off!” instructed Eric when he caught his son listening to it. Mike began reading Kurt Vonnegut. “It was a bit like swearing in church,” he says. “It’s like he gave you permission to have unpopular thoughts: ‘My parents are idiots! Life sucks!'” Mike’s acting work eased off, partly because his face had erupted in familiar teenage ways. “Horrible acne,” he recalls. “Around the age of fifteen, it was very bad. I still have acne scars from it.”
There were, nonetheless, girls. He had his first truly romantic moment, in a tree fort, when he was twelve, and sex itself followed in his teens. “It was awesome,” he says. “It was a definite home-run situation. It was a Leafs-win-the-Stanley Cup situation. I felt matriculated.” The first person he told was his brother Paul.
On his last day of high school, in 1982, a skinny kid who looked much younger than nineteen, he went straight to audition for the Second City comedy ensemble in Toronto and was accepted. He stayed for two years, then went to England with a girlfriend and teamed up with an English comedian, Neil Mullarkey. The first time they appeared onstage, it was down the bill from an act called the Jockeys of Norfolk, which included Hugh Grant. “We did a thing where we pretended aliens had landed,” Myers says and fixes me with a stare. “It doesn’t bear a dry explanation.”
W e get into Myers’ sleek black car, and he insists that I buckle up. “I’m a seat-belt Nazi,” he says, “since Robin’s brother got killed in an accident.”
On the car stereo, he plays a selection of songs that may be on the Austin Powers soundtrack – songs by the Flaming Lips, Dimitri From Paris and They Might Be Giants, and a number he can’t identify. He mentions that they also have a new Madonna song called “Beautiful Stranger.” “It’s psychedelic,” he says. “The same guy who did ‘Ray of Light.'”
William Orbit, I say.
Myers starts laughing. “I don’t know,” he says. We continue up the hill. “I’ve known Madonna for a while.”
Since snogging her?
“Yeah,” he says. In 1990, Madonna stamped her approval on the Wayne’s World Saturday Night Live sketches by appearing with Myers in a fantasy sequence loosely based on her “Justify My Love” video that ended with them kissing deeply. “That was the first time I kissed anybody in a dramatic setting,” says Myers. “I was so uptight. I asked her how it’s done. She literally said, ‘If you slip me the tongue, I’ll kill you.’ It was so uncomfortable. I so didn’t dig it. Madonna is very nice, but I have a very entrenched and clear proxemic bubble. I’m not a hugger. I do not like to be hugged. I mean, I hug Robin, but my physical affection is in no way a devalued currency.”
The Myers reticence is confirmed by Elizabeth Hurley, who romped with him in the previous Austin movie and reappears briefly in this one. “I’m ludicrously tactile, and Mike isn’t at all,” says Hurley. “But because I was so obsessed with Austin, I used to torment Mike by squeezing, stroking and petting him at every opportunity. When I see Mike now, I still launch massive physical attacks on him, which send him fleeing for cover.” Heather Graham, the primary shagee in The Spy Who Shagged Me, concurs. “He was totally unflirtatious with me,” she says with a laugh. “The least flirtatious person I’ve ever met. And any romantic scene we had, he couldn’t wait to get off the set. He was kind of, ‘Let’s make the best of this.’ Very polite. He was so sweet. He is so in love with his wife – any other woman probably is just chopped liver to him.”
I saw a sex scene, of sorts, when he moved to the bed with Kristen Johnston. Jay Roach had to tell her not to grab Myers’ ass so explicitly. Johnston, dressed in black lingerie, harrumphed, “It’s too much? I’m basically naked. And touching his ass is too much?”
It was then that Myers chipped in. “Yes,” he said, “it’s too much.”
As Myers drives over the hill into Hollywood, I ask whether his band, Ming Tea (which includes Matthew Sweet and Jay Roach’s wife, Susanna Hoffs, a former Bangle), will reappear. He says that so far, all they have is an instrumental piece. No time. “I have ten or twelve song ideas circling the airport,” he says. At first he is reluctant to tell me anything else – “They’re so out of context; they’re like the soldiers” – but then he offers a little more. “One song’s called ‘Stinky Whore,'” he says. “See?”
Myers makes observations as he drives. At a driver in the next lane: “Holy shit! It’s a lady brushing her teeth.” At a piece of wasteland amid pricey real estate on Sunset Boulevard: “It’s such a weird city. There’s a vacant lot – it’s so random. Venice is the best production-designed city. This city is like the anti-Venice.” Myers tells me that he and his wife think of having children, but “it’s just a matter of what city we will live in. To say we hate it here would be bullshit, but I just do love New York a tremendous amount.”
So you have to sort out the geography before the biology?
“A little bit. Because then you’re planted. It’s Fort Myers.”
I ask him about being Canadian. “Canada is the existence of not being,” he reflects. “Not English, not American. It is the mathematics of not being. Subtle flavor. We’re more like celery as a flavor, know what I mean? For instance, I’ll look at someone and say, ‘Those are odd sunglasses – do you think they’re flattering?’ And my wife goes, in that pure American way, ‘She looks like a fucking bug.’ And that’s the great bluntness.”
Robin was also blunt about coaxing her husband to take a year off and settle down. Another spur was visiting the Lowe family at home in Los Angeles – Myers had been living out of a suitcase for two years – and noticing the back yard, the dogs, the kitchen. “I just turned to Robin and said, ‘I want to do this,'” he says. They moved into their Hollywood Hills house soon after.
We pull up at the hotel, where the car attendant says, “Baby – behave yourself! – we love it,” then advertises his previous show-business qualifications (“I was Wolf Boy, ’77 to ’79, ABC”). Myers, out of earshot – not displeased but perplexed – says, “That was random.”
Lunching at a patio table, Myers eagerly opens a box of Scottish Infantry 8th Army soldiers. He separates them and carefully clips the surplus elastic from each base with his new tool and stands them on the table. One – rejected – is of a man playing bagpipes. “They always get creamed,” Myers says. He smiles. “Sometimes I Polaroid them after I paint them. Am I frightening you?”
Do you think it damaged your psyche, having this militaristic mentality as a child?
“I don’t know. I don’t want to read obscure poetry and go into a bell tower with an AK-47, if that answers your question.”
But there are many people who think that kids shouldn’t grow up thinking war is fun.
A grin. “They should be killed, those people.”
So if you have kids, you’ll want them to get into war toys as young as possible?
“I can’t justify this on any politically correct level,” he says. “It’s just, these are the stories I grew up with, my dad talking about all the different people in his regiment. Robin always goes, ‘But you’re such a pacifist, you hate violence. . . . And yet you’re a hockey fan and you like the History Channel.'”
Myers orders a club sandwich and french fries. He eats only some of his food. Myers is hypoglycemic and needs to eat frequent, small meals. “It’s not a very manly affliction,” he says. “It’s just a tendency for me to have spells of low blood sugar where there’s disorientation and I lose peripheral vision. . . . It’s a predisposition for problems in the pancreas.”
Myers is wearing a NASA hat that he ordered from the agency’s Web site and that he takes on and off at unpredictable moments in our conversation. Underneath it, his hair is gingery brown. At the sides, where it is dyed, you can see the gray roots coming through. “My theory is: It’s gray, it stays,” he says. “Mostly because it rhymes.” He is also wearing an interesting necklace today: beaded, hanging low down his T-shirt and culminating in a crucified Jesus. Myers was given the necklace by his Jewish mother-in-law, who picked it up at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. “She said, ‘It’s got a picture of you-know-who on it.'” He saw it by his wallet this morning and he’d been thinking about his mother-in-law, so he put it on.
Do you feel different wearing it?
“Yes, I feel beautiful. I do. I feel very beautiful.”
Myers likes to carry items like this with him as keepsakes. During our last meeting, he suddenly produced a scuffed, bent photo of his late Aunt Molly from his pocket, cut out around her body. He explained that he used this particular Aunt Molly photo about three years ago, adding it to a Polaroid of himself and Robin with Paul and Linda McCartney for Aunt Molly’s birthday card. (Polaroid art is one of his hobbies.)
Today, a teenager named Cameron appears at our table, his mother standing by protectively. “Sorry, Mr. Myers,” Cameron interrupts. “I’m from London. I just wanted to meet you and say, ‘I’m not worthy.'”
“Oh, you’re very worthy,” Myers replies elegantly. “Nice to meet you.” He gets this stuff. The thing that irks him is when people ask, “Mike, when you did Saturday Night Live, did you just, like, get wasted and crack jokes?”
In 1986, when Myers was still in England, he began picking up intimations from his family that there was something wrong with his father. He returned home to Toronto for Christmas. When his father met him at the airport, Eric forgot where he had put the car, and on the way home he was tailgating in the most bizarre manner.
His father was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s on February 13th, 1987. “He was tremendously funny, really sharp,” Myers says, “and I guess this does qualify as irony, that he should die of Alzheimer’s. He had a great memory. Very witty, very quick.” And all that vanished. “You go through a double mourning,” Myers says. “I mean, it’s not dead and not alive – it is zombie. And you don’t know quite what to do. The funeral becomes quite anticlimactic.”
in 1989, Myers was hired by Saturday Night Live. He started at the bottom of the totem pole – he wrote his sketches sitting cross-legged by the elevator bank. Every week, Myers figured he’d get fired. But he did a Wayne’s World sketch on his fourth show and a Sprockets sketch on his sixth. His career boomed, but it didn’t mean much to him. “Things only became real when I would tell him,” Myers says of his dad. “And much of the work I was doing was for him, to make him proud, to make him happy. My dad was kind of like the cashier window at the casino. Things that would happen were just chips, but when I told my dad, it would turn into money. And that went away. . .”
Myers met his wife in 1987. There are widely disseminated stories about this meeting that are not true: He did not take a shot at her with a hockey puck, nor did he offer her a hockey puck with the words, “Do you want a puck?” He had been at the first hockey game of the season, where he caught the puck, and later that night he met her in a bar. But he could never introduce her to the pre-Alzheimer’s father he’d grown up with.
Myers flew home when he heard about his father’s accident in the bath. “It was horrible,” he says. “It was a horror show. The burn unit is just hideous. Hideous. People screaming and crying.” His father died on November 22nd, 1991. “In essence his personality had left his body a year before,” says Myers. “I don’t have a really good recollection of that time – it was horrible.”
Weeks later, the first Wayne’s World movie opened and he was a star. “I was numb to it all,” he recalls. That was what Myers refers to as his “What’s it all about, Alfie?” period. “You mean your father, who’s really funny and really cool and really smart, can lose his personality before your eyes, have a horrible accident in the bath, live the rest of his life in a burn unit and never get to see one bit of your success?” he says. “Mmm. All right. Let me rethink a few things, because that’s pretty shitty. I mean, not come to your wedding and never see your kids. That’s a lot of stuff to process.”
Myers says that he has now become more accepting. Until recently, his film company was called Eric’s Boy, but he has now changed it. He realized that the name somehow hogged his father. Eric, after all, had three boys. Also, “It was time to move on after a period of mourning for his death.” But not too far. His company’s new name is Gratitude. “Because,” he says, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I’m grateful for the experience of a very funny and silly and good person who was my father.”
Myers’ mother is still alive. “I always thought I was more like my dad,” he says, “but now I think I’m a lot like my mom. They were two peas in a pod. My dad could make jokes; my mom just said weird things that we all laughed at. By the way, my mom is in eccentric denial. She refuses to believe she is eccentric.”
Myers offers some prime evidence. It is his firm belief that his mother has no internal monologue. “My mom will say anything that pops into her head,” he explains. As his first example he offers the time they were driving and she announced, “You know, ants don’t like cucumbers…An ant could be starving and give them a cucumber, they wouldn’t thank you for it.” He shakes his head. “And then she has the audacity to be impatient with me. It would be like some kind of non-profane, low-grade form of Tourette’s my mum has. At times it’s wonderful. We were in Hawaii and it’s a beautiful sunset and everybody’s just taking it in. My wife is very in touch with sunsets, dogs, babies. Her big thing is that I talk too much. ‘It’s not a verbal experience right now,’ she’ll say to me. She’s very blunt – she’s from Queens. She’s the antithesis of my mother. So we’re in Hawaii – it’s heavenly – and my mother goes, ‘I wonder why Ian Fleming had so many baddie characters that were Chi-groes.’ I said, ‘What the hell’s a Chi-gro?’ And she said, ‘A Chinese Negro – his writings are lousy with them.’ And I go, ‘You are insane right now!'”
Myers smiles. “The acorn, I guess, does not fall very far from the tree.”
T here is much silliness in the humor of Mike Myers, and often a fair dose of the pathetic, too, and plenty of dumb sexual badinage, and there is also much sly intelligence. It is notable that, without ever seeming muted, his is a humor that is almost entirely free of cruelty.
As an instructive example, let’s examine one time almost seven years ago when it went wrong and when Myers apologized to Hillary Clinton. At the time, in the aftermath of Bill Clinton’s election, all the morning disc jockeys were being really unkind about Chelsea Clinton. On Saturday Night Live, Myers prepared a Wayne’s World sketch that discussed Chelsea and in which Wayne said, “While it is true that adolescence thus far has been unkind, we think she’s a future fox.”
“And my point was,” Myers says, “that I had horrible acne as a kid and I was very sensitive to what had been going on. She had the adolescent face, the kind of please-don’t-look-at-me face, and that was my adolescence.” Myers wrote the sketch on Wednesday; then, worried that it would be misinterpreted, he asked to have the joke taken out. The producers said, ‘If it gets a laugh in the dress rehearsal, it stays in.’ And it got a laugh.”
Myers’ fears were justified. By Monday morning, Wayne and Garth had become poster children for attacks on Chelsea. “And I was mortified,” he says, “because I’d actually come from the right place.” What is perhaps less usual is what he did next. He wrote a letter that morning to Mrs. Clinton, apologizing.
The letter wasn’t acknowledged. “Not officially,” Myers says, “but through channels it got back that [the apology] was appreciated and understood. I feel bad that the sketch was misinterpreted. It was a nightmare.”
M yers is a strange man to spend time with. He tells you a lot without showing any willingness to open himself up. Though his conversation is littered with jokes, he almost seems slightly put-off if you particularly laugh at them. He has the demeanor of a man who comes from a sweeter and kinder world than the one most of us live in and who in private tries to re-create that around him. One evening, a little frustrated, he launches into the following speed rap: “The root gratitude of it is that I love doing this stuff. It’s very cool that I get to do what I do. You know, I swear on my father’s grave, I could give a shit about the money. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I could happily live in a socialist utopia of ‘To each according to his needs and from each according to his abilities’ and just have me and Robin and an apartment that works. I make my Polaroids, I watch the History Channel, I read the hockey news, and me and my best friend, Dave Mackenzie, in Toronto – I get off the plane and get to my room, and we buy Swiss Chalet chicken, which is this Koo Koo Roo equivalent in Toronto, and we drink a couple of Molson Canadians and we’ll watch the Leaf game, and that is heavenly. . .”
Sometimes Myers talks to his father in dreams. It’s always his dad as he was in the Seventies. “It’s not Alzheimer’s dad. It’s not young dad,” he says. In these dreams, his father often mentions that he is dead.
“I had a great meditative state once,” he says. It was after his father’s personality had gone but before he was dead. Myers is cynical about these things, but it happened. He was guided through it: “You’re in a dark room, on the floor, with your head on a pillow. And you can meet anyone from the spirit world. Anybody.”
Myers wished to see his father, and his father was there, top-lit with a very strong light, his voice clear. Myers started to cry, asked all these questions. “And the answers I got were awesome,” Myers says. “I’m not going to tell you any of them.” It felt like he was talking for two hours, though the meditation lasted only thirty minutes. At one point he also spoke to Peter Sellers, who stood nine or ten paces behind his father and let Eric Myers act as interpreter.
“Can I just say something?” Myers adds. “I have no doubt that it was from me to me. Purely myself talking to myself.” And still the conversation was revelatory. He has tried to reach that state again. “Goddamnit, I have tried,” he says. But he has never managed to repeat it, and now he has given up. It was an experience with an uncanny postscript.
As Myers was led through the meditation, he was told to imagine a box. And inside the box he was told to imagine an image. He was told that if he needed an affirmation that what he had learned that day was valid, he would see that image in life. When Myers looked in the box, he saw a two-dimensional white horse. He didn’t think it up consciously – he just looked in the box and saw a white horse. Later he thought that maybe it was a pub in England at the top of his father’s old road.
His father died the following month. Myers made arrangements to go to England to scatter his father’s ashes, as his father had wished, on the Mersey River, in Liverpool. All through that season of Saturday Night Live, for seven months, he had walked the long way around to the entrance in Rockefeller Center and knocked on the Canadian flagpole. Three knocks, for luck. He’d pretend to be doing something else and knock surreptitiously – he didn’t want to look like a guy who knocks on a pole.
Myers hadn’t told anyone about this ritual. And for seven months he had noticed that there was a three-by-five card taped with gaffer tape to the back of the Canadian flagpole. He’d thought it was weird, but he had never thought to look at it. On the night of the Saturday Night Live finale, he was wondering about the whole logistics of spreading his father’s ashes and about whether he was doing the right thing. He was exhausted.
Leaving the party that night, he started to cry. He was being followed by paparazzi. He told Robin he wanted to go this special way and explained to her for the first time that he had been knocking three times on this flagpole. She told him he was insane. But she said OK. He had told her he was in a funk. “Maybe that will help you,” she said. He told her that he just wanted to know that all of this good stuff that has come his way, that his father knew about it.
Myers knocked three times and then said to Robin, “It’s still there.” He pointed to the card.
“You have to look at it,” she said. He resisted; she insisted.
It was a poem: “Under the stars they danced that Saturday night….” It was Saturday night. People were dancing. “…A white horse was their guide.”
A white horse. The card had been there for seven months – long before his meditation. “I made the choice,” he says, “to have that be comforting to me.”
The next day, Myers flew to England. The family took a small boat from the Liverpool docks. They spread the ashes, and his brother Paul sang “In My Life.” Myers will never forget the sound – ssssssssssss – of the ashes as they fell. Sea gulls followed the boat, and right after the ashes mixed into the water, it began to rain.
“It’s the best thing I ever did,” Myers says. “It’s the best thing I ever did.”
This story is from the June 10th, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone.