Bringing home bacon for late father

Myers: Being Austin Powers is a slice of life actor wishes he could share with his comedy mentor.

June 11, 1999|By John M. Glionna | John M. Glionna,LOS ANGELES TIMES

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 Sprockets 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 teen-age and twentysomething audiences but also among more discerning middle-aged moviegoers. 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."

In the newest Austin adventure, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," 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, Dr. Evil. The squinting, pinky-sucking Evil also is 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.

All the excitement, frankly, mystifies Myers.

"I had no idea that anybody would respond to Austin Powers at all," says Myers. "I thought it was one universal in-joke that no one would get -- because they didn't grow up in my house."

Executives at New Line Cinema, maker of both Austin Powers projects, not only "get" the joke, they're banking on it to serve as the basis for a healthy new movie franchise, with tie-in partners ranging from Starbucks to Volkswagen.

For Myers, the success of his slapstick spy represents a satisfying professional comeback of sorts after the four years between the second "Wayne's World" and first Austin Powers projects -- a period in which he made no films, and even took a year off.

"As far as my career goes, I've never really had a plan for it. Things always just come out of nowhere," he says. Indeed, Myers' career has the less-rehearsed feel of a comic's improvised sketch.

Take his critically praised role in last year's otherwise unremarkable film "54," in which he played Studio 54 nightclub co-owner Steve Rubell, Myers' first dramatic part. "It just sort of came across, and I read the script, and a couple weeks later we were shooting it," he says.

The same goes for the unreleased independent film "Pete's Meteor," a dark drama in which Myers plays a supporting role as a luckless small-time neighborhood drug dealer who inadvertently causes the death of his best friend.

But perhaps Myers' most unscripted move came in 1994, when he dropped out of public sight, taking time to "do some nesting" with screenwriter wife Robin Ruzan. What followed were days of traveling, reading books, seeing plays, practicing chords on his new guitar, playing pickup hockey games in the middle of a weekday afternoon.

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