YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


You Only Live Once

That's just one lesson Mike Myers learned from his father, who was the inspiration for Austin Powers and, more important, one man's approach to life.

May 02, 1999|JOHN M. GLIONNA | John M. Glionna is a Times staff writer

Mike Myers has this conflict over bacon.

The 35-year-old Canadian, a comedian-turned-actor and creator of such well-observed characters as heavy-metal slacker Wayne Campbell, Dieter the sexually confused West German talk-show host and the swinging, snaggle-toothed British secret agent known as Austin Powers, knows the stuff is bad for him.

Still, he can't help himself.

"I adore bacon, and I know it's supposedly horrible for you, but it's so darned tasty. I defy anybody to not find bacon tasty," says the slightly built Myers, sitting down outside a Hollywood movie studio commissary to a noon-hour meal of eight toasty strips, all washed down, of course, by an extra-large bottle of Perrier.

"But for me, bacon means something much more. Just the smell of the stuff brings back happy, happy sets of memories."

For Myers, the aroma evokes images of his late father, the eccentric British-born Encyclopaedia Britannica and insurance salesman with a sweetly warped sense of humor, whose idea of a perfect meal was a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich smothered in British HP steak sauce.

The father of three boys, Eric Myers was the arbiter of all that was funny in his family's suburban Toronto home. At night, often after midnight, he would wake his sleepy-eyed sons to come downstairs and watch the old spy movies and motley cast of British comedians on the tube--from James Bond and "The Avengers" to Monty Python and Peter Sellers.

Inspired by those memories, youngest son Mike Myers in 1997 introduced theater audiences to a cool-cat, bell-bottomed British spy with bad teeth and a big-time libido, the kind of naughty little character that would have made his father laugh out loud.

"Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" was a Polaroid snapshot of Myers' boyhood film influences, an insider's cinematic wink at those offbeat British comedies that flickered from the TV set inside his living room back in the 1970s.

Thanks to Myers' rubbery-faced comic presence, the daft espionage spoof achieved cult-like status, drawing raves not only from his target teenage and twentysomething audiences but also among more discerning middle-aged moviegoers. The film prompted even grown men to leer at their wives. "Yeah, baby!"

At a cost of just $16 million, the film took in a surprising $54 million in theaters, with another very groovy $44 million in video rentals. Almost overnight, it popularized a retro-rich Austin Powers vocabulary that includes such one-liners as "Oh, behave!," "Saucy!" and various forms of "shag," a 1960s British euphemism for having sex.

Myers says he dedicated the movie to his father, who died in 1991 after a battle with Alzheimer's disease. Of all his characters, he says, "My Dad would have definitely appreciated Austin Powers the most."

These days, Myers has been busy putting the finishing touches on the much-anticipated sequel, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," a film that Myers says once again plays as a son's paean to his father's enduring sense of humor.

In the newest Austin adventure--set for a June 11 release--the psychedelic super-sleuth travels back to 1969 London in search of his mojo, or sexual libido, that's been stolen by his baldheaded nemesis, the squinting, pinky-sucking Dr. Evil, a character also played by Myers--who shares co-writing and producing credits on the project.

After the success of the first film, theater owners and other industry insiders expect the sequel to be among the summer's biggest hits.

Mike De Luca, president of production at New Line Cinema, maker of both Austin Powers projects, says the sequel is easily as zany as the first film. "I immediately thought it was a funny script," he said. "We couldn't wait to do it."

All the excitement, frankly, mystifies Myers.

"I had no idea that anybody would respond to Austin Powers at all," says Myers, his features drawn in out-of-character seriousness. "I thought it was one universal in-joke that no one would get--because they didn't grow up in my house. I actually felt the same way about 'Wayne's World' because it was the suburban adolescent, North American heavy-metal experiences I knew growing up in the mid-1970s in Toronto. Really, I didn't have a clue whether people would get these characters or not."

New Line executives not only "get" the character, they're banking on him to serve as the basis for a healthy new movie franchise.

The studio is aggressively marketing the Myers project with tie-in partners ranging from Starbucks to Volkswagen.

There's also an animated Austin Powers series in development for HBO, and a line of merchandise ready to hit the stores that includes a "Shaguar" toy car; a plush doll modeled after Dr. Evil's pet cat, Mr. Bigglesworth; and, for grown-ups, Austin Powers martini and shot glasses.

Los Angeles Times Articles