Back when the fearsome, swamp-dwelling ogre Shrek first entered the film landscape nearly a decade ago, hardly anyone involved imagined the big green creature would become internationally beloved. Even the man who wound up voicing the role had early reservations.
"Jeffrey asked me if I'd be interested in being in an animated movie called 'Shrek,' " Mike Myers said with a grimace last week as he recalled his conversation with DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg. "And I said, 'Is that really the title? That's not a really great title," he said of the film that just had its fourth -- and, according to the studio, final -- installment, "Shrek Forever After."
Still, he was intrigued. At the time, the comedian was riding high with his zany '60s British spy character Austin Powers. But in the storybook world of "Shrek," he found something compelling.
"When I first saw the mock-ups, I thought it was this unbelievably cool, immaculate universe," Myers said, leaning back in a chair in his hotel room. "I was like, this is a really brilliant deconstruction of fairy tales. And it's about class."
Because the Canadian actor viewed Shrek as a "working-class person," he initially tried out a Canadian accent for the character. But he wasn't connecting. So he opted for a voice he'd established during his run on "Saturday Night Live," a character called Lothar of the Hill People. The tone was so gruff he lost his voice after two days.
"And then I was like, 'I'm of Scottish heritage, maybe Scottish is the way to go. Scottish people are the salt of the earth.' And when I connected, everybody was like, 'Oh, yes, this is right.' "
Of course, "Shrek" has since defied the odds, becoming an international phenomenon and pop culture touchstone. The first three films in the franchise grossed more than $2 billion worldwide, and the original film won the first Academy Award for animated feature. The movies have premiered at prestigious film festivals, including Cannes. There has been a Shrek television Christmas special and a Broadway production, "Shrek the Musical."
So it's no surprise that with its lengthy run, starting in 2001, it's been difficult for some of the cast members to say goodbye to the characters they've played for so many years.
"I'm really sad, actually," said Cameron Diaz, who voices Fiona, Shrek's half-ogre, half-princess wife. "I think we've all kind of been going, 'Is this really it?' It's something that's been a constant in all of our lives for so long. As soon as one film would come out, six months later Jeffrey would call you and tell you to come look at storyboards for the next film. In a weird way, I did feel like it was going to go on forever, because why wouldn't it? Everyone loves Shrek."
Shrek's journey has resonated because the ogre is so human, Myers believes.
"There's something in Shrek ... he feels he's not good enough to fall in love, to be married, to be a father. And in the last one, he's not good enough to have a happily ever after," he said. "Maybe because I grew up in a country next to the big country, I could kind of relate to that. I think the feeling that you're not good enough and wondering about your identity is pretty universal."