Mike Myers says it's easy being green in Shrek the Third , but his next film does love Canadian-style.
LOS ANGELES–So, whatever happened to Mike Myers? According to the Canadian-born actor, who has appeared in only four films in the past eight years, he's never been away. In the interview room of a Los Angeles hotel, Myers says that creating characters that resonate with audiences is never going to be the fastest way of making movies.
"I write everything I do," he says. "On average, it takes about 60 months from the first molecule of an idea to where it is in front of an audience. For someone who creates his own stuff, I am always well ahead of the curve. I take about three years. For instance, in two months I am starting to shoot The Love Guru. I took about a year developing the film, which is how long I took with the Austin Powers films. The Marx Brothers toured their films for six months. When I was on Saturday Night Live, I had the luxury of trying it out that week and seeing what was going to be what. When I was doing the Austin Powers films, I would tour the material for about a year, and then it took about a year and a half to write and a year to bring it to people, so it always takes at least three-and-a-half years."
Myers can afford to be creative. According to IMDb, he received $35 million for the Austin Powers series plus 21 percent of the gross earnings of the third installment Austin Powers in Goldmember, a film that made almost US$300 million worldwide when it was released in 2002. Not surprisingly, given his track record at the box office, he is often asked to work as an actor for hire. He says that although he has been tempted on occasion, he would rather stay focused on his own projects than give them up to go to work on someone else's film.
"It gets hard to turn things down after awhile because so many great scripts come my way. But when you have invested a year and a half in something, then it becomes a year and a half of molecules versus acting in a movie. I love making stuff. I draw and I play the ukulele as well. I get just as much excitement in figuring out 'Here Comes the Sun' on the ukulele and getting the shade right on a tree as I do from making a movie. I was well-indulged as a child by my relentlessly self-improving working-class parents to express myself. I enjoy that, so part of why I take so long too is I enjoy the process."
He took time out, however, to voice the title character in the Shrek films. In fact, the cartoon ogre has been the only contact audiences have had with Myers in the past four years. He did voice-overs for Shrek 2 in 2004 and will be heard, if not seen, on-screen on Friday (May 18), when Shrek the Third debuts. In the latest installment, Myers's character is asked to become king of Far Far Away when his father-in-law (John Cleese) falls ill. When he is told there is another heir to the throne, a teenager named Artie (Justin Timberlake), he goes off in search of him, realizing that if he can't persuade him to take the job, he will have to do it himself.
Myers says that it is not the money that keeps him coming back to the role (he was paid $10 million for his work on Shrek 2) but the opportunity to challenge himself. "The process is a strange process," he says. "But the films are extremely well-written, and I think this one is the best of the three. The writers and animators have done such a great job, and so it isn't so much the input I like as it is the challenge of trying to figure out what is going on, because you are not shown the entire script at any time. You record some of it and then go back a couple of months later, and so you don't get a sense of the totality. So my questions were, 'Where exactly am I in the film?', 'Am I anxious about being the king here?', or 'Do I like this Artie character?' So occasionally I would rephrase. But they are very respectful to me. I feel like I am on a great Stanley Cup team and I am the rookie. I take a few shifts and they are very respectful of me in terms of my input."
He says that he also came back a third time because he felt there was a new story to tell. "The audience has to have a reason why they come back to revisit the characters in a series of films. I think this film smartly honours the audience for investing in the first and second installments. They [the filmmakers] are such good entertainers that I really feel like I go to school every time I get involved. The first time we meet him he is a self-loathing ogre who doesn't feel he is worthy of love, and in the second one he doesn't think he is worthy of marriage. In this one he doesn't think he is worthy of being a father or a king, so it is a logical progression. You feel the weight of the first and second in the third, and you feel honoured to have watched the first two, and I can say that because I am a fan of the series."
Myers's fondness for being the creative force behind most of his movies has led to rumours that he can be difficult to work with. Asked if he needs to be in complete control of the projects he creates, he says that it is an impossible task on most films.
"I think the idea of control is crazy," he says. "If you are working with really talented people, it is like having a big freighter where it takes them 100 miles to turn around and the ratio of the rudder to the freighter is great. So the most you can do is try and steer a little bit here and there. But when we made the Austin Powers movies, [director] Jay Roach came in with a full storyboard, so all I could be was a comedic stunt coordinator."
By the time The Love Guru makes it to theatres, it will have taken longer to make than any film Myers has worked on previously. He says that it has a lot to do with the fact that he wanted the movie to reflect his love for broad comedy while also being a vehicle for a message.
"If I had a choice between Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove as delivery systems for the idea of impending nuclear war and the madness of that, I would always choose Strangelove. The Love Guru has more of a message than my previous movies, and so it has taken longer to make because I don't want it to be a situation where I am saying, 'I have suffered for my art and now it's your turn.' I want to make sure that it is a better and sharper comedy if it is going to be a delivery system for a message."
The "delivery system" is anchored by one of the more original plots in movie history. Myers is attempting to fuse together gurus, enlightenment, and one of his great passions: Canada's national pastime. "My character is a Canadian who is raised in an ashram in India and becomes a guru and helps a hockey player who has fallen off the rails win the Stanley Cup. You know, that old chestnut. We call it 'a number 14.'"