Mike Myers: Happy in a World of Quirk - The Buffalo News
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Mike Myers: Happy in a World of Quirk

For Mike Myers, it is not the least bit humbling to go from making comedies for millions of viewers to performing for an audience of one, assuming that person is his 2-year-old son, Spike.

One spring afternoon, Myers was in the living room of his downtown Manhattan penthouse, helping retrieve a toy truck that the towheaded Spike was repeatedly dropping on the floor, accompanying the task with his dead-on re-creation of engine noises.

“A truck makes this sound,” Myers said, gurgling to Spike’s delight. “Rrrr, rrrr, rrrr, rrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

While his wife, Kelly, then nine months’ pregnant with their second child, worked in the kitchen, Myers was beaming about Spike’s incipient ability to imitate a phone call on a toy phone.

“He goes, ‘Goo-key-goo,’ ” Myers said, pressing buttons on an invisible keypad. “He makes a little breath, and then he goes, ‘Hi there.’ I’m, like, ‘Wow, dude, that’s some micro-observation.’ ”

Using his own well-honed aptitude for scrutiny and mimicry, Myers became one of the most successful comedians of his era, first on “Saturday Night Live” and in the “Wayne’s World” movies, then as a saucy secret agent in the “Austin Powers” series and the voice of a misunderstood ogre in the “Shrek” animated features.

For the five years that followed the awful performance of his 2008 film “The Love Guru,” it seemed as if Myers had gone into hiding, having abandoned those personas for the role of a man focused on family. Now, he is returning in similarly perplexing fashion with a new film, “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.”

This movie, which the Weinstein Co.’s Radius division will release June 6, is Myers’ directorial debut, but it is not, strictly speaking, a comedy. It is a documentary about Gordon, a talent manager who has worked with Alice Cooper, Teddy Pendergrass and other artists, and who lived a hedonistic rock ’n’ roll lifestyle before taking a late turn to the spiritual and altruistic.

If a passion project like “Supermensch” seems difficult to reconcile with Myers’ mainstream movies, the documentary is, in the eyes of its director, a perfect unfolding of artistic passions that more often point him in esoteric directions.

For him, “Supermensch” is not only the story of a peculiar show-business veteran with an unexpected trajectory but also of an idiosyncratic filmmaker for whom widespread recognition was an aberration rather than a goal.

“I don’t have a normal career,” Myers said. “I never have and never will, and I’ve been happy with that since the beginning. It’s a world of quirk.”

Myers, who turns 51 next week, has semi-grown up to be a pleasant eccentric with a gently effusive and talkative manner. He still wears a boyish haircut and dresses in jeans and T-shirts; he is equally conversant in classic rock music and Cahiers du Cinéma; and he decorates his bookshelves with his own paintings of Colonel Sanders, the KFC founder and corporate face, done in the styles of Vermeer and Lucian Freud. (“I never understood why American chicken had to be militarized,” Myers explained.)

What had always interested him about Gordon, Myers said, “is how he has not sought to be famous at all, but has toiled in the fields of fame.”

“In all of his stories,” Myers said, “it occurred to me that fame is the industrial disease of creativity. There’s a toxicity to fame that will have reproductive harm.”

Gordon, 68, a tall, lean man who now lives in Maui but whose deep voice never lost its Long Island accent, said he resisted Myers’ entreaties while pondering whether he wanted to make an open display of his life.

“I didn’t want to deal with all the baggage that getting known brings,” said Gordon, who in the film shares stories of doing drugs with Pendergrass and cooking breakfast for the Dalai Lama. “It’s not how I earned my living. There’s not a lot about fame that I’ve seen that I like.”

But, Gordon added, “I made a decision that Mike really loved me, that he had a genuine respect for the way I conduct my life and a great sense of humor about the stories I would tell him.”

Not that Gordon understood how the movie fit into Myers’ professional trajectory. Were he Myers’ manager, Gordon said with a laugh, his recommendation would have been: “Do not do this. It’s absolutely, on paper, the worst career choice he could have possibly made.”

Myers said he did not worry about this kind of long-term planning, and was more concerned about creating something new every day: a GarageBand recording; a haiku; a feature-length documentary. His heroes are creative multitaskers like Spike Jonze, and he so often invokes the personal motto “What would Soderbergh do?” that a friend put it on a needlepoint hanging displayed in Myers’ office.

“This isn’t a career move,” Myers said of “Supermensch.” “But often, things for me are not career moves. They’re just what’s on my mind.”

“Supermensch,” which blends archival footage, new interviews and comedic re-enactments, has been shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, South by Southwest and elsewhere; a review in the Hollywood Reporter called it “brisk and engaging,” but said that Myers’ “inexperience as a filmmaker shows in its choppy narrative.”

For his part, Myers said his lack of hands-on directing experience did not dissuade him from pursuing the project, and other frequent collaborators are not surprised to see him making the transition.

“He’s thinking like a director the whole time,” said Jay Roach, who directed the “Austin Powers” movies.

In his performances, Roach said, Myers is “kind of directing himself.” He added, “I’ll give him suggestions, but he knows how to do it and doesn’t really need me as much as other people might.”

“He’ll take a risk if he believes in something,” Roach said. “He gets sort of – fixated is a negative way of saying it. He becomes focused on a certain way that it’s going to go. And he’ll fight like crazy until it goes that way.”

And, eventually, everyone believes that Myers will steer himself back in more familiar directions.

“This is just his pure, artistic stuff coming out,” Michaels said. “I think he’ll come back and do a big, dumb comedy soon enough. We all return to that.”

A few days after the birth of his daughter, named Sunday, Myers was sitting in the lobby of the Mercer Hotel in SoHo, vibrating with nervous energy and frequently glancing at his phone for updates from his wife.

Whatever expectations others may have about his career, Myers said, “things are less forecasted than you would believe.”

Asked if an artist with as much choice and freedom as he possessed ran the risk of creating nothing at all, Myers offered a cryptic response that seemed to mean no.

“If you’re in the mentality of possibility, you’re not in the mentality of deficit,” he said. “If you’re in the possibility of creating, you’re not in the possibility of taking away.”

His phone began to buzz, and a smile crept across his face as he intently scanned a text message from his wife: Another missing toy had just been located.

“They found Spike’s bunny,” Myers said triumphantly. “That’s a big deal. That was a morning. That’s very good news.”

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