"Austin Powers" star Mike Myers returned fire Monday in an intensifying legal battle over aborted plans to make the movie "Sprockets."
The star countersued Universal Pictures for damages in excess of $20 million alleging assault and invasion of privacy, as well as fraud.
The countersuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, follows a $30-million breach of contract suit filed last week by Imagine Entertainment, which was producing "Sprockets" for Universal. Universal filed a similar suit against Myers last month.
Myers' camp and the producers had been negotiating a resolution of the matter for about 30 days before Imagine elected to jump into the legal fray, said Martin Singer, Myers' attorney.
"I thought those discussions might lead to an agreement," Singer said. "But now that Imagine has filed suit, we're going full speed ahead with litigation."
The legal wrangle, filled with allegations as wacky as a bad "Saturday Night Live" skit, is highly unorthodox. Disputes between stars and filmmakers are usually settled outside legal proceedings, often amicably to allow both parties the option of working together again.
"I've never been in one of these situations in 25 years of making movies," said producer Brian Grazer, who heads Imagine with actor-director Ron Howard.
The clash began last month when Universal sued Myers for $5 million after the comedian abruptly told Universal and Grazer that he wasn't making "Sprockets" using the latest script, which at that point he had worked on for nearly two years.
The movie was based on "Dieter," a German pop existentialist character Myers played on "Saturday Night Live."
In a statement issued the day Universal's suit was filed, Myers disputed that he had walked away from "Sprockets" and said making the picture with the current script would "cheat moviegoers."
Universal shut down pre-production of the film in June. It was to be Myers' first project since last summer's blockbuster hit "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," and Universal's big summer comedy for 2001.
Myers' countersuit alleges that Universal violated his privacy rights by disclosing his private and confidential home address to its process server. It also alleges that the process server was instructed to "stalk" Myers and chase him "in a threatening manner down dark, winding and unlit streets."
Grazer called the claim "a joke" on Monday. "Mike should concern himself a little less with how someone handed him a letter and a little bit more time on the 200 families that lost work from [the disruption of the film]," Grazer said.
The suit's fraud claim, meanwhile, is based on the comic's contention that he had absolute script approval for "Sprockets."
According to Myers' countersuit, no written agreements were made between Myers and Universal for Myers' "writing, acting or producing services" on the film. The suit alleges that to induce Myers to star in the film, Universal agreed that Myers would have no obligation to appear in the movie until he submitted written approval of the script.
The suit claims that the day Myers announced he thought the "Sprockets" script was unsatisfactory, he informed Universal through his counsel that he was willing to work with the studio on another movie while efforts were being made to rectify "Sprockets."
Myers was the driving force behind the movie. He was to be paid $20 million as star, co-writer and co-producer. He had handpicked key members of the creative team, including the director, Bo Welch.