It's fair to say that Mike Myers has struggled to find an audience in recent years. If 2022's "The Pentaverate" is anything to go by, relevancy isn't exactly Myers' strong point. Not that his Netflix series was without its charms, it's just the Canadian had a major moment in the '90s when his farcical shenanigans went over much better than they do today. In fact, Myers had a legendary run during that decade, making arguably the most successful "Saturday Night Live" spin-off franchise with "Wayne's World" and going on to create a cultural phenomenon with his spy spoof "Austin Powers."
The 1997 comedy remains one of my personal favorites simply because it's unapologetically ridiculous and over-the-top in its skewering of my homeland's pop cultural history. The "Austin Powers" films most obviously parodies James Bond, but Myers, who was raised by Liverpudlian parents in Toronto, takes his cues from a wide array of British media from the mid to late-20th century. While that all made for one of the most amusingly silly characters in modern comedy movies, the film's sharp satirical focus kept the silliness within a clearly defined comedic framework that has since been lacking from other, less successful Myers projects.
Still, a spy parody that also sends up the UK's "Swingin' '60s" culture wasn't going to be an easy sell in the mid-'90s, even though Myers already had the success of "Wayne's World" and its sequel under his belt. Instead of Wayne and Garth head-banging to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," the comedian would now be prancing around solo in a velvet suit and cravat, proudly flaunting Austin Powers' outdated cultural values and referencing somewhat obscure British media from the mid-20th century. Unsurprisingly, New Line Cinema took some convincing to put the movie out.
New Line Threw Myers A Frickin' Bone
"Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" is remembered as one of the best Mike Myers movies. But back in the mid-'90s, the comedian wasn't exactly drowning in offers to produce the spy spoof. According to The Hollywood Reporter's oral history, Myers had knocked out a basic script in two weeks, before director Jay Roach provided his feedback. Aside from the obvious Bond influence, Myers took inspiration from his late father's favorite British cultural figures, from Peter Sellers to Dudley Moore. But that didn't translate into major studio interest. As Myers put it, "I thought that you would have had to have grown up in my house to like 'Austin Powers,' because it was so specific."
Then-president of production at New Line, Mike De Luca, definitely hadn't grown up in Myers' childhood home, but nonetheless had the insight to predict that the unabashed silliness of "Austin Powers" would go over well. At the time, Myers had, according to Roach, "shopped ["Austin Powers"] around," and "had been rejected by a lot of places," but was determined to get his movie made. In came De Luca, who optioned the script after Myers visited the New Line offices and, "Did the character," sans costume and props.
But the New Line execs were still hesitant to hire Roach to direct. He's since made a name for himself with hits such as "Meet The Parents," but back then, Roach had, as Myers put it, "only [produced] an independent movie about Hitler," prompting former New Line CEO Bob Shaye to ask: "Who are you? We're not just going to hire Mike's buddy." Once again, it would take an in-person visit to land Roach the gig, with the director laying out his vision for Shaye and the execs and finally getting the green light.
The Wide Appeal Of Austin Powers
Since "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" debuted, the franchise has spawned two sequels and for a time became part of the cultural lexicon. With his "shagadelic" catchphrases and unrestrained, lovable goofiness, the character was bound to become a hit in retrospect, despite his seemingly obscure influences. In fact, that esoteric source material actually allowed for some fairly broad satire. The free love philosophy of the '60s which Powers embodied allowed Mike Myers to, as he put it in a recent interview, highlight how "there's something about sexuality that is corny. People get very, very serious about their sexiness, and to me that always makes me laugh because it's almost too arch."
In that way, "Austin Powers," rather than being confined by the source material, was liberated by it. Transposing cultural attitudes from the '60s to the '90s allowed Myers to slyly challenge how those same cultural attitudes had evolved (no matter how absurdly he did it). Whether it was commenting on the inherent "corniness" of sexual attitudes or just generally sending up the more contrived aspects of popular spy movies, the film addressed specific aspects of culture that anyone could identify. That meant it always had the potential to appeal to a wide audience, even if they had no idea who Peter Sellers or Dudley Moore were.
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The post How Mike Myers Convinced the Studio To Take A Chance On Austin Powers appeared first on /Film.