Yeah baby… Mike Myers probably hears those words shouted at him at least three times a day, so synonymous is he with his ultimate creation, the oft-franchised Austin Powers. But when Rotten Tomatoes UK rolls up to talk exclusively to Toronto’s funniest export about his other oft-franchised character, Shrek, we learn that it’s Shrek’s role as a straight man that appeals to him most…
RT-UK: This is the third time out for you with this character – what is it about Shrek that brings you back every time?
Mike Myers: I love the character, I love the writing, I love the fact that the filmmakers want it to be better each time. Jeffrey Katzenberg, who’s the CEO of Dreamworks, and Aaron Warner, the producer, Chris Warner, the director and Andrew Adamson, the executive producer, they all want it to be that it improves every time they go out.
And in essence this is a dramatic role for me. It’s a dramatic role with some comedy; it’s about a big guy who needs to love himself. He’s a big, sensitive guy. Because I didn’t create it and I don’t write it it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to talk about how great the writing is; because it is. Every aspect of it just gets better every time; the hair, water, fire and skin tone and texture, every aspect of it is so much better.
But as the technology progresses they keep the movie on message which is that you have to love yourself and love others. For Shrek it’s at different times in his life; in the first film he’s fallen in love, in the second he’s about to be married and then in this one he doesn’t feel that ogres can be fathers. He has to learn that and in mentoring Artie he does. That character is the metaphor for him; the playing it out, the putting it into 3D for Shrek. It shows him that he is capable of being a father despite what people say about ogres.
When things are so well constructed I’ll walk on fire for these people. I’ll run into a machine gun nest.
RT-UK: Hopefully they’ve never put you to the test on those…
MM: I think that’s happening this afternoon! No, whatever they want me to do I’ll do it. I’m in because I’m excited and I’m excited because they are constantly improving.
RT-UK: Do you enjoy the technical aspect of doing the voice? Of being out of costume and isolated in a studio?
MM: It’s daunting, but it’s also a lot of what I love about it. One, there’s no make-up. Two, I don’t have to do any of the writing. Three, it’s a dramatic role with some comedy so I’m not constantly having to feed that comedy thing; I can take my time with stuff, I can actually just be there, and pretend and just believe I’m an ogre. It’s a relaxing place to be, for me, to not always have to come up with the funny. That’s awesome. And when I did 54 I had that same feeling. This has actual jokes, too, that I like. It’s good comedy that I like to do. So it’s a fun place for me.
RT-UK: Do you ever feel tempted to improvise over the top of the writing? I believe you founded the Comedy Store Players with Neil Mullarkey when you were living in London, improvisation is obviously a passion of yours comedy-wise.
MM: I was one of the founding members, yeah. Neil Mullarkey was my comedy partner and is still a very good friend, he’s been in the Austen Powers movies. He’s a great comedian and I founded the players with him and Paul Merton and an actress called Kit Hollerbach. I love improv, but this is so well written. I can just let the dramatic moments happen and it’s a great feeling, really.
RT-UK: When you see it all come together at the end is it more surprising for you than seeing something that you’ve shot on set all cut together?
MM: It does. They say that comedy and sausages are the two things that if you know how they’re made they affect the appetite. I’m always creating and writing stuff so it’s nice for me to be able to watch it as a fan. I get to play the moments – not that I don’t play them in other films but this is more tightly scripted. You get to rephrase now and then, and they encourage question asking because it’s a three-year process. They want to have the actors know why they’re saying what they’re saying. Little things like, how far away am I from Donkey? How far away am I from Fiona? Where’s the boat? You can’t see anything and it turns into a radio play, it becomes a different experience. So I enjoy it.
RT-UK: Enough that we’re hearing talk of 4 and 5 as well…
MM: They’re talking about that, yeah. None of us are ever formally approached with this shit, which is a little funny!
RT-UK: As I understand it they’ve already set release dates!
MM: Yeah, but you know, people make plans. The average movie takes sixty months between the first idea and it being in front of people. I take three years between movies, I have since 1991. I take, on the average, thirty-six months and I usually spend about eight months just having free time, trying to figure out what it is I’m going to spend the next twenty-four or whatever amount of months trying to create. I’ll take it to a stage audience first, write the screenplay and then set up the movie. I tend not to set up a movie and then take it to a studio, I always write it first.
I find it a more liberating process that way around; I think that there are a lot of great studio people but the fewer voices in my head when I’m getting out a draft, the better. I just get it out and then I’ll listen to all manner of good ideas. And that’s what happens, too, when I’m touring and doing a character on stage. I did it on Wayne’s World – but then I did that on Saturday Night Live – and I did it on Austin Powers for two years. Every time it’s a three year genesis.
RT-UK: I guess it helps to know that what you have is a good idea or whether it’s just a good idea in your own head.
MM: Yeah, I need to know whether I actually want to do it and that it is connecting with people. Because it is a long time, it’s a very long time of your life to be involved with. I’ve been involved with Shrek for eleven years, so you’d better like Shrek if you’re going to be involved with it for eleven years. I do, I like it a great deal, so I enjoy it.
RT-UK: Do you like Austin Powers enough for a fourth encounter?
MM: Again, we’re in that sixty month thing where we’re four months into development on an Austin 4 from Dr. Evil’s perspective.
RT-UK: Austin became one of the most iconic characters of the nineties, he was very well embraced. Is it fun to think you’ve created a character with that sort of staying power?
MM: You know it’s funny; I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was eight years old and I did TV commercials when I was a kid. When I was eleven Saturday Night Live came on and I thought, “Oh God, I’d love to do that.” I saw the Pink Panther movies and thought, “God, I’d love to have a comedy series; I’d love to have a character I’d created that becomes a series.” I’ve now pretty-much done everything I’ve wanted to do since I was eight years old and it’s a wonderful feeling, I’ve got to say. I feel entirely grateful and appreciative of being able to make something up and do it, and I’m very grateful how well it’s gone. I’m a guy from Toronto who just wanted to be an actor since he was eight so it’s all kind-of crazy. Shrek has been wonderfully successful, it did really well in the States, and so it’s magical to me, still. I’m still that kid from Toronto.
RT-UK: We can’t let you go without asking about your Saturday Night Live cohort turned Shrek co-star Justin Timberlake; is he officially the most talented man alive? It seems he can turn his hand to just about anything.
MM: He’s hilarious on SNL. I think that Justin is unbelievably talented and in any field he wants to be in he will dominate. Had he been on Saturday Night Live he’d have been the dominant actor on Saturday Night Live. Had he wants a movie career and wants to do movies he’ll be a huge megastar in movies. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever seen.
RT-UK: Have you gotten to spend much time with him?
MM: Yeah, we hang out. You only see people during the promotion but we’ve had a few dinners. He’s hilarious and silly and cool and nice and just a level-headed, talented person. It’s one of those things where you’ll be somewhere there’s a piano and he’ll be sitting there telling jokes and he’ll go on the piano and blow your mind on how great he is, and he’s just so gracious about it. He’s a great guy and the world is his oyster.