“Oh Amy, yer warin’ glasses, it’s the bookish look . . . wait a minute, Amy, take yer glasses ooofff. Why Amy, yer beeeoooootiful.” With a ludicrous leer and a Scottish burr thick enough to rattle the china, Mike Myers has reduced a normally composed assistant director to helpless giggles before the cameras have even begun to roll on the set of “I Married an Axe Murderer.”
Myers has taken on a three-way challenge with this, his first movie since last spring’s “Wayne’s World” and his role as the loving but none-too-bright Wayne Campbell. In “I Married an Axe Murderer,” Myers plays two roles: Charlie Mackenzie, a hip San Franciscan who aspires to be a beat poet and, compared to Wayne, is a fairly normal guy, and Stuart, his Scottish-born father. In addition to his dual acting duties, Myers wrote the final version of the script with his buddy, Neil Mullarkey. The film also stars Nancy Travis, Brenda Fricker and Anthony LaPaglia and includes cameos by Alan Arkin and Charles Grodin.
There’s a lot at stake, both for Myers and for TriStar Pictures, which is backing the $20-million film, but if Myers is feeling any pressure, he isn’t showing it. Things are quite relaxed, if a little loony, here in the plaid, plaid, plaid, plaid world of Stuart and May Mackenzie’s living room, which has been nailed together inside a huge warehouse near Candlestick Park on the industrial outskirts of San Francisco.
The Mackenzie home is a festival of Celtic design, with enough plaid chairs and sofas, heraldic crests and lamps made out of bagpipes to make even Ralph Lauren dizzy. Between takes, to the crew’s great amusement, Myers boogies around singing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” by Scotsman Rod Stewart in a gruff baritone that sounds like Sean Connery on steroids.
Sidling up to co-star Nancy Travis, who plays Charlie’s girlfriend, Harriet, the owner of a butcher shop, he whispers: “You know, I killed a man with my butchering tool . . . he looked at me askance. Have you ever been looked at askance?”
“He’s a private actor, likes to keep himself apart. He’s very somber, actually,” Travis comments to an on-looker, before adding an emphatic ". . . Not! “
What “Wayne’s World” did for Wayne-glish--the dubious lingo spoken by Wayne, his co-host Garth and now, much of the rest of the world, in which girls are “babes,” Madonna is the “queen of Babe-alonia” and “not!” is a way of contradicting rational thought--"I Married an Axe Murderer” may do for such Scotticisms as wee and bonny .
If, that is, Myers’ fans can recognize their hero. As Stuart, he is disguised in a realistic-looking gray wig and thick bifocals that make Myers look at least a couple of decades older than his 29 years. A red flannel shirt flaps around a fake beer gut that is partially concealed by boxer shorts in an eye-dazzling red tartan check. The ensemble is completed by a pair of geriatric-looking slippers and black socks held up by elastic garters that clasp the actor’s spindly knees.
Charlie doesn’t look anything like Wayne either. The shoulder-length shag metal-head do and funky T-shirts and jeans are gone, replaced by a trendy wardrobe and a shorter, reddish-brown haircut that enhances Myers’ face. Cary Woods, who is producing the movie along with Rob Fried, is clearly pleased as he describes the actor’s transformation. “He looks like a real leading man. He’s obsessive about working out. He plays hockey every day and he lost about 20 pounds to do the part.”
Director Thomas Schlamme believes Charlie is less of a caricature than Myers’ previous roles. “He’s a leading man and he’s very far from Wayne,” the director notes. “Although there are qualities of him that are very boyish, he’s playing it where Charlie has to take a journey by finding a woman and proposing.”
The movie’s plot revolves around Charlie’s problems with commitment and the fact that once he finally falls in love, the object of his affection is apparently a homicidal maniac. In this scene, Charlie has brought his girlfriend, the possible ax murderer, Harriet, home to meet his parents. Through split-screen camera work, Myers is playing both of his characters in the same scene, on alternate shooting days. Today he is Stuart, yesterday he was Charlie.
Fricker, the Irish actress best known in this country for her Academy Award-winning role as Christy Brown’s mother in “My Left Foot,” has the role of Charlie Mackenzie’s mom, May, a transplanted Scot who is mad for all things American, particularly country music. She enters the set in a cowgirl outfit and a Dolly Parton-style bouffant, warbling, “Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful girl in the world"--all trilling rrrrr s and hooting ooooo s--while Myers as Stuart yells, “Aaachhhhhh--shut it, May! Just shut it!”
When May leads Harriet into the den to look at photographs of Charlie, Stuart (who has greeted his son’s girlfriend wearing his undershorts) interrupts, shouting, “Show her the one when he was a wee baby and pooped his pants at Niagara Falls!” Sophisticated humor? Not. But the crew, which has sat through countless takes of this parent-from-hell routine, still cracks up every time Myers says the line.
“The thing about Mike’s comedy is that it’s very verbal and he drops in and out of character,” Fried says. “He often does things just to make us laugh when we come on the set. He feeds on us.”
Myers has not dropped the character, however, during a lunch-break interview in his trailer. He sits, in costume, with his T-shirt rolled up to give some air to the prosthetic stomach that’s been strapped to him all morning, eating a low-cal meal of sushi and Chinese pot-stickers that’s been whipped up by his private chef. Photographs of Peter Sellers (one of Myers’ idols) are taped to the walls and an electronic game of video hockey is hooked up to the TV in front of him. “Funny you should ask about me. I love to talk about me,” he says, by way of greeting, in Stuart’s Scots burr--an accent he will maintain throughout the interview.
A bit wary of this Stuart/Myers clone, the reporter starts with a tentative question: What kind of music do you like?
“I doooo like Led Zeppelin,” Stuart’s voice, in Myers’ body, replies. “I also like Axl Rose’s kilt a lot. But does he wear trouuuus?” he asks, with a serious frown, referring to underwear (which in Scots dialect is pronounced trews ).
“A real man wears no trouuuuus,” he continues, relishing the word. “I look a bit like Axl Rose, except that he wears troouuuuuuus.”
Rod Stewart is another of Stuart’s favorite singers and when he breaks into a fractured verse: “You’re in my EYES, You’re in my DREAMMMMMMS, You’re in my EYES, I need a CREAMMMM, to get you OOOOUT of my EYESSSS,” Myers’ assistant, Fred Walsh, flees the trailer, hands over his ears.
Settling down, plate in hand, to discuss “Axe Murderer,” Myers says he likes the format of the movie, which combines comedy and romance into the structure of a thriller. “The entertainment was built in, I could just sit back in the passenger seat with the safety belt fastened and away the movie goes.
“But the main element that interested me was fear of marriage,” he continues. “Fear of that rite of passage--that ‘reet du passage’ (pronounced in a loopy French-Scottish accent)--if you will. It’s something I have gone through in different parts of my own life. The thing about that intrigued me was that I often have a fear that if I got married I’d be closer to death. In this movie I meet the girl I could finally marry, and yes, she will kill me. That’s what I liked about it--I think I was right in the first place and that’s what’s quite cool about this movie.”
How does Myer’s girlfriend, actress Robin Ruzan, with whom he shares an apartment in New York and co-wrote the humorous volume, “Wayne’s World: Extreme Close Up,” feel about this?
“Well, the thing about Robin is that she has the exact same fear,” he answers. “We both fear that if we did get married, it would be mutually assured destruction. There are a few rites of passage in a person’s life. There’s being born, first day of school, first girlfriend, last day of school, driver’s license, first album you bought by yourself, loss of virginity--and it’s not necessarily in that order. Then there’s the first day of college, first day of job, and then . . . there’s marriage, retirement and death.
“Oh, and there’s the day, if you’re a girl, that you stop having a four-poster bed and stuffed animals and dotting your i ‘s with circles; and if you’re a boy, it’s the day that you stop making machine-gun sounds along with the war movie. Which I still haven’t done yet. THHRR, THRRR, THHHHHHHRRRRRRP, SCCCCHHHHHHEEEEEE,” he adds, illustrating his point. “Because all men have that innate ability to make war movie sounds.
“So in a weird way, once you accept marriage, you’re only one rite of passage away from death. It’s like, who do you know who is older than you? It’s your parents, and your parents are generally married. So it’s almost in the Joseph Campbell sense. It’s the atonement with your father figure in mythology and in other things, it’s when the student becomes the master. It’s Freudian, it’s like when you kill your father and sleep with your mother. The atonement, the at-one-ment with the father figure is marriage. So it’s, um, scary.”
Myer’s unique ability to use machine-gun noises and serious literary references with equal facility is a large part of his charm. His best-known “Saturday Night Live” characters, from Wayne to Dieter, the ridiculously intellectual German host of the avant-garde TV show “Sprockets,” are outgrowths of the rather disparate sides of his character.
Growing up in Scarborough, Canada, a suburb of Toronto, Myers’ obsessions were hockey, rock ‘n’ roll, television and reading, but not necessarily in that order. The first books he recalls reading were “Scrubs on Skates” and “Rookie at Leaf Camp” by Canadian hockey writer Scott Young. Other early influences ranged from Kurt Vonnegut to Ayn Rand.
Myers began creating the character of Wayne about age 12, when he discovered it was a good way to attract girls at parties. Commercial auditions followed and he was cast in ads for K mart and Pepsi, among others. Accepted to college at Toronto’s York University, he opted for a berth with the Canadian branch of Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe instead. In between his long affiliation with Second City and “Saturday Night Live,” where he hired on in 1988, Myers spent some time in England.
It was there that he teamed up with Neil Mullarkey, an alumnus of the Cambridge Footlights. “That was where Monty Python started,” Myers recalls, “I thought, oh great, my heroes started there. So Neil and I did a double act and then went on to do the Edinburgh Festival together twice. Both times were very successful.”
Mullarkey, who helped Myers write the final script for “Axe Murderer” (the screenplay originated with writer Robbie Fox), recalls that when he first met the budding comedian at a small London theater, he was a rather pathetic sight. “He was huddled in a wheelchair, because all the seats were taken, in a coat and scarf, because it was freezing. He was very gaunt, because he didn’t have much money.”
Yet, after working with Myers, Mullarkey says he knew he’d become a star. “I did, but I guess not as quickly and as hugely as it has happened. He’s basically still the same guy, but it is weird that the guy I met huddled in a coat is now signing autographs and people come up and recognize him and treat him like an icon. It makes you realize the nature of stardom. You just realize how difficult it is because every minute of the day he has something to deal with.”
In “Axe Murderer,” Mullarkey says, “it would be less difficult if he was just a hired actor, but because he’s a writer too, every scene has been rewritten and needs to be looked at the day before. If he didn’t care it wouldn’t matter. But he’s passionate about it being right and funny.”
Anthony LaPaglia, who plays Charlie’s best friend, observes: “Mike has a very serious side to him--he’s a very intelligent guy. He just happens to have created this persona in ‘Wayne’s World’ that I think people expect him to live up to. This movie is a transitional movie because it really requires acting. It’s not just broad comedy, there are a lot of different levels in Charlie.”
Myers says that playing Charlie is no more difficult for him than playing Stuart--a role that he is obviously very comfortable with.
“It’s the same. Martin Short once said that when he’s on a talk show, he’s playing the character of a man who’s happy to be there. Which I thought was quite brilliant. It’s himself, only heightened. Charlie is me, basically. Do you know my ‘SNL’ character, Dieter? It’s the arty side of me, but Dieter is definitely arty, whereas Charlie is in the world of art but he definitely has an American passport. He has a girlfriend and he writes her poetry and likes hanging out with bands. His favorite poet is Kerouac--actually that is mine too. I also like Bukowski and Ginsberg a great deal. But I don’t have time to read poetry now--all I read are my own scripts.
“I’m actually kind of fed up with writing at the moment. Not really, I always say that and then I end up writing. I do try to rewrite the part, but not as much as you think. Fellini used to say, about improvising a film, that it’s impossible. It’s like improvising a moon shot. There’s too many elements and it’s the most expensive entertainment device created by man. There’s just too many democratic elements to go, ‘Oh, let’s see what we’re going to do today.’
“Not that I feel ruined or anything, but actually I’d love to be on a vacation in the north of Canada, like two hours north of Toronto, and just sit there and read. Sit on the dock, read, and the big thing that day is what you’re going to have for dinner. Make sure you get your workout and then get into your boat and drive to the marina and buy this type of gum they have in Canada called Black Cat Gum that’s all I want to do. I think I’m going to get some gum now, rrrrrmmmmm (boat sounds).”
Since he’s not on vacation, Myers relieves tension by indulging his passion for ice hockey. His idea of fun is watching his favorite team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, on television and playing endless games of electronic video hockey. He has even been known to rent professional ice rinks. During the five-week San Francisco shoot, there have been almost daily games of street hockey, played on in-line skates with Fred Walsh, LaPaglia and almost anyone else who happens along. “Freddy is the best player,” Myers notes. “I’m more Gretzky and he’s more (Mario) Lemieux.”
Myers is quite infatuated with San Francisco, in part because he’s found a perfectly paved park in which to play. “You can see Coit Tower, Lombard Street, Russian Hill and Fisherman’s Wharf from it,” he says, enthusiastically.
“San Francisco is like the Florence of America. It just looks like the whole city was designed by one production designer. Like they chose a basic color scheme and a basic shape and stuck with it. I mean, even the Transamerica building--they had to have high-rises, it’s just the economic reality of America--so they built it in the shape of a pyramid. I say, well, my hat’s off to you, ‘cause it mirrors the spires in Sts. Peter and Paul Church and the hills and the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. It looks like it fits.”
As soon as he finishes shooting “I Married an Axe Murderer,” Myers will return to New York for another season of “Saturday Night Live.” Although “Wayne’s World II” is in the works, Myers can rattle off a wild number of people he admires (from Al Pacino and Sean Penn to Penny Marshall and Federico Fellini) and would like to work with, he has no plans to leave the show. “I think I’ll stay with ‘Saturday Night Live’ for a long time. It’s a great gig, you get to do anything you want, basically.”
It is time to get back to the set, but before exiting the trailer, he has one more thought, “I don’t like to be pegged doon,” Myers says, in Stuart’s rumbling voice. “I just want to do stuff that I think is neat, that I like and if it turns out, fine, and if it doesn’t . . . then I’ve done my best.”