He begins, as he often does, with his father. He talks about the deep depression that engulfed him after his dad’s death in 1991 and the spiritual quest he embarked upon to make sense of his pain. He talks about Eastern poetry, Deepak Chopra, and Seat of the Soul author Gary Zukav. He goes on, discussing Carl Sagan, Lenny Bruce, George Harrison, the Marx Brothers, the 1970s TV show Kung Fu, and the 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas. He references Joseph Campbell, The 400 Blows, cognitive behavioral psychology, Quentin Tarantino, progressive rock, and the mythology of vampires as it relates to the concept of ”mojo” in the Austin Powers movies. He speaks for more than 20 minutes, without interruption and without cracking the merest semblance of a joke — all in answer to this EW question: Where did you get the idea for your latest character?
For the past five years, Mike Myers, the man who has brought forth such iconic comedic creations as couch-surfing slacker Wayne Campbell, swinging superspy Austin Powers and his nemesis Dr. Evil, and the lovable ogre Shrek, has been all but invisible. Since his last major role in the 2003 Dr. Seuss adaptation The Cat in the Hat — a film that critics lambasted as a hair ball — he has provided the voice of Shrek in two successful sequels. But while Will Ferrell has appeared in 10 comedies over those years and Adam Sandler in seven, Myers’ most notable onscreen appearance was in a 2005 Hurricane Katrina relief special, during which he stood stiffly beside Kanye West as the rapper went off script, declaring, ”George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Now, like the cryogenically defrosted Powers, Myers, at age 45, is coming out of a state of pop culture suspended animation — and he’s hoping he still has his mojo.
With all the pomp of a political campaign, Myers has been trying to storm the zeitgeist in recent weeks with his newest character, a loony spiritual leader named Guru Pitka — appearing on the American Idol finale in saffron robes and chanting his mantra, ”Mariska Hargitay,” rolling out his own MySpace page, hosting the MTV Movie Awards, headlining a prime-time Saturday Night Live special. In The Love Guru, opening June 20 and costarring Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake, Pitka travels to America in the hope of overtaking Deepak Chopra as the world’s most famous New Age icon. Bawdy jokes, pratfalls, and dwarf tossing ensue. But to Myers, who regards Chopra as a friend and spiritual adviser, The Love Guru is not just a vehicle for a new set of catchphrases; it’s an effort to impart uplifting messages about love, joy, and self-acceptance. ”It’s a delivery system for some wonderful ideas,” Myers told EW in April. (He declined to be interviewed for this story.) ”People may say bad things about you, but you won’t say bad things about yourself. The only way out is in. You’re responsible for your own health and happiness.”
What audiences and critics will make of this hybrid of over-the-top comedy and self-help wisdom is anyone’s guess. But in the years Myers has been largely out of sight, some wonder if the comedy ground has shifted beneath his feet. His unique brand of humor — driven by outsize, absurdist characters, sight gags, and elaborately constructed and at times esoteric wordplay — may be falling out of fashion as audiences drift toward more grounded, relatable comedies like Knocked Up. ”Mike’s one of the smartest people, but he does characters, not real people,” says one high-ranking studio executive. ”If the audience relates to the character — a goofball in his basement, like Wayne, or a James Bond send-up, like Austin Powers — you’re off to the races. But there’s so little margin for error.”
DreamWorks cofounder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has partnered with Myers on the Shrek films, points to the comedian’s track record as evidence of his ability to remain on the audience’s wavelength. “To suggest there’s some question as to his relevance, I have to say, is off base and somewhat offensive,” he says.
Still, the fact is, within Hollywood, not everyone is cheering for Myers to succeed. Since early in his career the actor has been tagged with a reputation for being difficult to work with: moody, controlling, and arrogant. That description could, of course, fit many actors and filmmakers, but the degree of enmity directed toward Myers by some who’ve worked with him—even years after the fact—is rare. Says one executive who has had a rocky relationship with Myers: “I honestly root against him.” Penelope Spheeris, who directed Myers in his first film, the 1992 smash Wayne’s World, says she has shared war stories with others who’ve worked with the actor. “Maybe he could open, like, a children’s hospital to clean up his rep,” she jokes darkly. “He’s got to do something pretty quick.”
Myers’ admirers insist that, while he can be demanding, it is always in the service of producing the best work possible—and that he is always hardest on himself. “I’ve never understood where the lore about Mike comes from,” says Jay Roach, who directed the Austin Powers films. “I just know he’s very passionate about his work, and he wants it to be great and pushes hard for that. But once the lore begins, there’s not much you can do about it.”
On the poster for The Love Guru, beneath a photo of Myers with a flowing beard and twinkling eyes, the tagline reads: “His karma is huge.” It’s a line that, like much of Myers’ humor, hinges on a double entendre, but there is another layer of meaning at play, one he couldn’t have intended. Over two decades of making comedies, Myers has brought joy and laughter to millions and left bitter feelings and battered relationships in his wake. He’s been at the center of one of the most successful comedy franchises ever and one of the ugliest lawsuits in recent Hollywood history. He has been hailed as a genius and blasted as a megalomaniac. For better or worse, his karma is, indeed, huge.