EXCLUSIVE: After hatching characters that fueled movies such as Wayne’s World and Austin Powers, Mike Myers quietly spent the past two years readying his feature directorial debut on a docu about Shep Gordon, a music manager as colorful as any previous Myers creation. Few knew this was how Myers was spending his time until Toronto unveiled a lineup that included Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon. The film premieres tomorrow afternoon at 1:30 at Roy Thompson Hall as an acquisition title. Myers chronicles the spiritual and career journey of Gordon, whose trajectory is parts Forrest Gump and Being There, in terms of the number of chance encounters with icons that helped make him a giant in his field. It started when he arrived in a hotel room in California after quitting a job on the first day. Hearing a woman in distress outside, he rushed to her aid and promptly got face-punched by Janis Joplin after breaking up her consensual sexual encounter. She felt bad the next day, and she and Jimi Hendrix helped Gordon get into the music biz, where he broke Alice Cooper, Teddy Pendergrass and others. Later, his desire to help his chef friends birthed the zillion-dollar celebrity chef industry, and Gordon also became part of the Dalai Lama’s inner circle.
DEADLINE: You have made a career creating and playing these great eccentric memorable characters. Is there a common thread shared by Shep Gordon and your fictional characters?
MIKE MYERS: My friend Dave Foley from Kids In The Hall said that all comedic characters have obsession and compulsion. They’re just like you and I, only heightened in specific areas. For Austin Powers, it is about girls; he’s this girl machine. With Dr. Evil it’s exotica, and he’s a take-over-the-world machine. Wayne Campbell was a party machine and Linda Richman a Barbra Streisand machine. It’s all about obsessions and compulsions. Shep Gordon is just this lovely man, the nicest I’ve met in my life. He is a “fair” machine. He wants to help everyone, and correct any injustice done to someone he cares about, in his Mr. Magoo way. And once he enlists, he has the Midas touch. I have wanted to do a documentary on him forever. I met him on the set of Wayne’s World in 1991. Lorne Michaels told me early on that Wayne’s World was my movie and I had to be willing to fight with it. “You want Alice Cooper in your movie, go work it out with Shep Gordon,” he said. I’d never met a music manager before, I’d never been in a film before. I meet this guy who’s wearing a satin baseball jacket, with a receding hairline and a ponytail. I was six years removed from being a spiky haired punk rocker and we all loved Alice Cooper. When I asked to use the songs Eighteen and School’s Out in the movie he stops me and says, “How about something from the new album?”
DEADLINE: Your reaction?
MYERS: Umm, how about no? In 10 minutes, he not only had me convinced, I wanted him to be my dad. He says, “Look, I read the script. The band is going to be on stage for eight seconds. If you put School’s Out at the end of the movie over the credits, no one is going to remember the song he is singing for the eight seconds you see him onstage in the movie. And the backstage scene is so hilarious, Alice is excited to do it.” He got everything Alice wanted, and the scenes we did, I still can’t believe I was part of that. I came to learn it was vintage Shep. He came up with this compromise, and made me feel very good about it.
DEADLINE: Was he right, or were you agented?
MYERS: He was right. People don’t really remember “Feed My Frankenstein”, which he sang a snippet of in the movie, but the audience liked the song. And they loved the theatrics and the backstage scene. Seth started inviting me out to his home in Hawaii, and I grew to realize he is the most generous man I’ve ever met.
DEADLINE: As your career grew from Saturday Night Live to movie star, what importance did you place on directing?
MYERS: The interesting thing about life is, there is what you think is going to happen, and what actually happens. When I graduated from high school, I got accepted to York University, Fine Arts film program. I had done a short film called Punk In Transit, about a punk rocker who gets beaten up on the subway in Toronto, an essay on the Louis Malle film Lacombe, Lucien, and another on The Spy Who Loved Me, at a time I had no idea I would make a movie called Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. I got the letter of acceptance my last day of high school. My last exam was at 9:00, my audition for Second City was at 12:00, and I was hired at 3:00. I had planned to go to school to study film. I was going to be like Cassavetes, acting in movies to pay for the films I would write and direct. Then I got on Saturday Night Live, I did Wayne’s World, and then Austin Powers, where I had the great fortune to meet Jay Roach and I just fell back into that brilliant man’s arms. But the idea of directing goes way back to the beginning.
DEADLINE: Why did you make time for this movie?
MYERS: Shep got very ill and almost died. What do you give the man who has everything and who has been so generous to me and my family? I wanted people to pay attention to him, and see how much pop culture he was so responsible for over the last 40 years.
DEADLINE: You’ve tried a decade to convince him to let you do this. Has Shep informed any of the characters you’ve created since meeting him?
MYERS: Yeah. Even though Dr. Evil is in many ways a hapless boob, there is a little wisdom and world view in him that’s Shep. I’d say there are little bits of Shep in Dr. Evil.
DEADLINE: The documentary is fueled by great rock and roll stories, but at its core it’s the story of a guy who made the dreams of others come true, while searching for his own happiness that seems rooted in becoming a father. Tell me what that meant to you, after recently becoming a dad yourself.
MYERS: Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you, they are understating it. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I knew I wanted to be a father, I didn’t know it was going to be this awesome or that my kid would come out so beautiful and lovely. Shep and I have had many conversations about fatherhood, he is the ambassador of babies. I’d tell him about a movie and he’s say, ‘Great Mike, so when are you going to have kids?’ I’d say, yeah, umm, well… I had a great dad and always wanted to have the experience and I’m having it now. You’re spot on, it’s no accident that my unbelievable gift of becoming a dad is connected to Shep’s story. The term I’ve coined is that fame is the industrial disease of creativity.
DEADLINE: What does that mean?
MYERS: Look, I am insanely grateful for how my career exceeded my dreams. But it’s all about the ability to make things, that is what is important and what I remember from Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar speech years back. At the end of the day we are people who need to make things. I make something every day, whether it’s a painting, or a haiku or a song on the ukulele. Stanislavski had this great expression, Love the art in yourself, and not yourself in the art. When you make things well, and it makes you famous, you lose the ability to be the observer because you become the observed. You have to navigate to have an authentic experience. Shep toiled in the field of fame for so long, and found himself in a life so exclusive and so exterior-ized, it can preclude taking time to connect intimately with yourself and you pay a price. That is his story and it’s the need to make things. I needed to make this for Shep and for me.
DEADLINE: When you’ve hatched characters in films, you can soar or fall flat and it’s hard to know until you show the public. You clearly love Shep. Are you more nervous about the reaction to this than if you were unveiling one of your own character creations?
MYERS: You live with things you create, but eventually you have to send them off to their first day of school. You want to be there all day, but you have to let go. When it came to this movie with Shep, I had no expectations. I just truly love this man, and that’s why I did this. I love him even more and I wanted people to see why.
DEADLINE: You see that a lot of highly creative people tend to be unhappy, and they use that edge as fuel. What has your own recent happiness done to the drive to make another Austin Powers, or create another character that could launch a movie franchise?
MYERS: It has enhanced it. I say this with genuine gratitude. I don’t do a lot of things, so the amount of times I’ve created stuff and saw it impact the culture is mind blowing to me. I’m playing on house money here. The fire in my belly comes from seeing something like Breaking Bad and thinking, wow. Or hearing a great band or seeing anything that Tarantino or Soderbergh does. Happiness can fuel creativity. And Shep’s story is so compelling to me. Like the whole part about what Shep did to build the career of Teddy Pendergrass and then, as his manager, being the one to have to tell him he’ll never walk again. And then working years for free to make sure Teddy was taken care of until the day he died, and helping him get back onstage to sing at Live Aid. These stories deserved to be told.
DEADLINE: So when are we going to see another Austin Powers?
MYERS: I’m still figuring that out.
DEADLINE: What does it mean for a Canadian first time filmmaker to launch a film at Toronto?
MYERS: I’m just so honored and flattered. What I’ve done as an artist is so informed by having grown up in such an artist-friendly city. In Toronto, I got to see all kinds of classic films, with one pass, with beautiful prints, in beautiful theaters, popcorn with real butter. We take our pop culture so seriously. To go back home with this labor of love, it’s perfection for me.