Mike Myers in ‘Love Guru’: Taking Farce to Philosophical Heights
by Paul Fischer
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Mike Myers has created some of the screen’s most iconic characters, and he hopes to add his guru Pitka as the latest character to take the world by storm. Offscreen, this Toronto native is reserved, profound and someone whose characters are rooted in a deep need to pay tribute to his late father, who inspired him, as he explains to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: How long did it take you to create this character? And what was it about Indian culture that appealed to you?
Mike Myers: Well, my father passed away in 1991 and two things emerged for me creatively. One was Austin Powers. And Austin Powers was a tribute to my father for all the British comedy he introduced to me during his lifetime and in my lifetime. The other thing that emerged was the Guru Pitka. In 1994, I did a stage show and did five characters. I did Austin Powers for the first time, and I did the Guru Pitka for the first time. The Guru Pitka was my kind of my dealing with his death, and the one guy I wanted to see my success, the universe had taken away from me, and it rocked my world. And I went on a mini, not terribly deep spiritual quest in which I began to read veraciously, and one of the things I read was Deepak Chopra. I saw him on Oprah and I went, “Wow, what an interesting philosopher. What an interesting writer.” So, I read his book. I can’t remember which one, because he’s written 50 of them. And when asked about it, in one magazine, I cannot remember. Rolling Stone, I was asked about Gary Zukof. And when Deepak Chopra saw in this magazine, a friend of a friend of a friend said, “How come you are reading my book? And would you like to meet?” And I said, “Absolutely.” And we met, and I saw him give a lecture for two hours, and he was hilarious and he had a great sense of humor. And I was like, “Thank god he’s funny.” Because if I was there for two hours and it wasn’t funny, I don’t know what I was going to do. And he has a great sense of humor. And the notion of being enlightened is to be lightened up. Which is what my father always said. One of things he said was, “Nothing is so painful it can’t be laughed at.” And he said, “Now we have done some work, let’s have some fun.” My dad was from Liverpool. And I think those are two really simple and profound ideas.
PF: And those stayed with you your entire life?
MM: My whole life, yeah. These are sources of comfort and happiness. And this is how this was born. I thought about it since 1991 and since he died in 1994.
But moreover, as I was reading, he’s sort of is like what Carl Sagan is to physics, he is to matters philosophical. I’m not sure where the demarcation of spiritual, philosophical, creative and all that stuff is clearly marked in the same diagram of life. I think there are a lot of secondary colors in there, but, um, I know that people would say, “What are you reading?” And as I would tell them the different philosophical things, this voice emerged and I started talking like this.
And I would say, “The only way out is in. Intimacy is into me, I c.”
Love without knowledge, knowledge without love and then love with knowledge. The thing he would talk about and the things he would point me in a direction to read about and this voice emerged. Friends of mine would call me up and say, “Do the voice. I’m feeling depressed.” So, I’d be like, “The universe loves you.” And this is how it emerged, organically out of that. Things take a long time to gestate to me. I’m not a fast writer.
PF: How long did it take you to do your first draft? Do you know?
MM: I had the concept probably in ‘96. And then one things lead to another. Like Jeffrey Katzenberg comes and says to me, “Would you like to do animated movie called Shrek?” And I said, “What a terrible name.” (laughs) And three Shreks later. Three done and one coming, I would have never predicted any of it. When I was a kid in Toronto, I had no idea that I’d get employed and remain employed. So, there is less—it’s more like driving at night with beams that are low on the ground. You really can’t see too far ahead.
PF: Was Mariska Hargitay your idea?
MM: A friend of mine, Eric Gilliland, I had done this as a stage show in L.A., and I did it more recently in New York City. And at that time, a friend of mine who is a writer, Eric Gilliland, he wrote on Roseanne—I asked, “Would you be main guy, my main disciple, and talk to the audience?” And, of course, he goes, “I’d love to.” And so, I said, “I have this whole fictional teaching system, but I don’t have a salutation. A fictional salutation.” And he went, “Mariska Hargitay.” And I went, “Wow.” And he said, “Mariska Hargitay is a good friend of mine.” And she’s since become a lovely friend of mine now. And she came to the show, four shows later, and every time he would say “Mariska Hargitay,” we’d hear, “Ha, ha.” And I’d go, “My god, that’s Mariska Hargitay.” Recently, she sent me an unauthorized T-shirt from the Internet that says, “Mariska Hargitay, Mariska Hargitay.” That’s so perfect. She’s awesome and when you get to know her, she is, in fact, a blessing. And Eric Gilliland is the writer’s name. He actually got honored last night with all the Roseanne people at the TV Land Awards.
PF: How did you come up with the self-help philosophies? And has Deepak seen the movie?
MM: I think he has seen the movie. He’s in the movie. He gets it. This is the remarkable thing. Everyone who showed up gets it. It’s silly, and I feel that silly is the best delivery system for interesting ideas. When I was 19 in Toronto, the 784 Theater Company came to Toronto. And that’s seven percent of the population owning 84 percent of the wealth. They are very, very left-wing theater company. And I was intrigued, because I thought, “How entertaining can this be?” And John McGrath, he was the founder of the 784 and he wrote a book called The Good Night Out. And in it, he thought even the most message-laden theater, which in this case would be convincing me, a 19-year-old kid from the suburbs, of the historical inevitability of dialectical materialism.
That’s pretty heavy for a kid who is a heavy metal kid, who is also a punk rocker. I was sitting there going, “What is this?” But by the end of it, I fell in love with the main girl. I laughed until I cried. I cried until I laughed. They were such great entertainers that by the end of it, I was starting to go, “Wow. What an interesting concept of dialectical materialism. What an interesting notion of financial inequity or whatever you want to…” You know what I’m saying? Because, agitating propaganda requires that you’re the best entertainer possible. Because if you can’t agitate, educate and organize if you’re not entertaining. And it blew my mind, because he said the main entertainment, the ticket price, the soda price, the air-conditioning, he had a whole full-bore philosophy of entertainment. And it blew my mind. And I thought of two movies that dealt with mutually assured destruction. One was Fail Safe, which is a melodrama, and the other one is Strangelove, which is a farce. And ‘Strangelove’ is very silly, but if you were to think of a movie that more frightens you about the concept of mutually assured destruction I think you would go with Strangelove, which is a very silly face to tell. Now, nothing I have done has touched the hem of the garment of Strangelove, and I don’t think anything ever will. I think that’s one in every five generations masterpiece. But a person can aspire and in terms of aspiring to something, Peter Sellers, Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Strangelove would be the ultimate movie for me. It’s the ultimate piece of entertainment that has one of the deepest messages ever.
PF: All of your movies have all these great musical numbers. When are you going to make a real musical?
MM: It’s funny, you know KCET, the local PBS station, just had a pledge drive and they had a documentary on singing and dancing and they break it up to do the pledge thing and I went “I love these movies! I love On the Town. I wanna make On the Town. I would love to. That’s what Jay Roach keeps saying to me, “Why don’t you make a musical?” And I go, “I would love to.” I love it. I love On the Town. I love An American in Paris. And, again, I’m a punk rocker. I’m sitting there going, “Oh, wow. The colors. The world.”
PF: Any chance of an Austin Powers 4?
MM: I would have to write it. It’s one of 20 ideas, 10-20 ideas, roughly, circling in there.
PF: What do you want to do next? Are there any new characters circling in there you’d like to tackle next?
MM: I don’t know. I just did the MTV Movie Awards. That was a pure joy form me. I also did two characters, Bucky and Tristan. I enjoyed them a lot too. So, I never know. I don’t know quite how it works out.
PF: What are you going to do next?
MM: I don’t know. I promise you I don’t know.
PF: How is Shrek 4 going?
MM: That one I don’t know either, because I never see the script. You never see the script ever. You see a little bit ahead ever time you go to record. I never get to record with the other people. You have to so rely on your training and imagination of a “What if…?” And because Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas are incredible. (laughs) I love to say his name. I could say it all day. They are so great that down the line when you hear their recordings you respond off of it and you feel you’re in their world. You’re actually like a goalie in hockey for the most part.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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