It's a good thing Verne Troyer's business card reads "The Biggest Little Man in Show Business." Ever since the opening last week of the blockbuster "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," the diminutive actor has become something of a cultural icon as Dr. Evil's 32-inch clone Mini-Me.
"It's crazy right now," says the 30-year-old actor over the phone from New York. Shortly after the movie opened, Troyer was "swamped" by a group of children who recognized him as he walked out of his Los Angeles hotel. Autograph hounds are hanging out at his New York hotel and following him around the Big Apple.
"They have so many photos and they want me to sign them all," Troyer says. "I'm, like, 'Sorry.' I have no problems with [signing autographs] for kids."
Whether he's battling Dr. Evil's son Scott (Seth Green) for the bad doctor's affections or joining the doctor (Mike Myers) in a rap number ("Just the Two of Us"), Troyer practically steals every scene he's in. "I appreciate it that people are saying it," Troyer says, "but my favorite character is Fat Bastard" (also played by Myers).
"Austin" director Jay Roach says he was awed by Troyer's talents. "He's not only an amazing stunt man and extremely agile, he can dance and he can act. He has a very expressive face and great comic timing."
Originally, Roach and "Austin" star Myers didn't believe they would be able to find a little person small enough to play Mini-Me and at one point even considered casting a child.
Then the film's casting directors talked to a friend who was a producer of a McDonald's video series in which Troyer played a dog. The producer suggested that the casting directors and Roach meet Troyer.
"When I came in, on the spot, it was, like, 'We have got Mini-Me,' " Troyer recalls. "It was totally awesome. I was such a big fan of the first one."
Roach admits he didn't know what Troyer was capable of doing. "I wasn't really paying attention to him as closely as I did with Mike [in scenes]," Roach says. "I would give him notes and tell him about the scenes, but it wasn't until the editing room that I saw how amazing he was because whenever I needed a reaction shot . . . I would go to Verne because he was doing the funniest, sharpest reactions."
And Troyer could more than hold his own improvising with Myers. "After being around him for a while you have to be up for anything," Roach says. One scene that wasn't scripted occurs when Dr. Evil asks Mini-Me if he's hungry. "The cat is in my lap and I go to nibble on the cat's ear," Troyer says. "That wasn't planned."
Troyer's favorite scene is when he attacks Austin on Dr. Evil's moon base. "It was so awesome having somebody of my stature beating up someone of his stature. I mean, what a great concept, and doing it along the lines of professional wrestling was the most fun for me."
The actor grew up in rural Michigan where he reports his average-sized parents didn't treat him any differently than his normal-sized older brother and younger sister. "I had to do everything they had to do," Troyer says of his siblings. "My brother used to wrestle in high school and college, so I grew up around that."
Troyer admits he was a budding Mini-Me as a kid. "I got disciplined just as much as they did, if not more," he says, laughing. "I was pretty bad when I was younger. [Mini-Me] is like my natural role. I was meant to play the part."
His first break into movies was as a stunt double for a 9-month-old baby in the 1994 slapstick comedy "Baby's Day Out." Since then he's played everything from a baby panda in "The Amazing Panda Adventure" to a pro wrestler in "My Giant" to Santa Claus in "Jingle All the Way" to a young gorilla in the current thriller "Instinct."
Though there's already talk of another "Austin Powers" comedy, Roach's goal is to create a vehicle for Troyer. "I have a couple of ideas where he could carry the whole film," Roach says.