Mike Myers has a noticeable tic, a tendency to tap his fingers, the speed of the drumbeats accelerating in direct proportion to the degree of discomfort he's feeling. His fingers, at the moment, are moving like a hummingbird's wings.
Sitting in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, where he's spent the day promoting his second feature film, "So I Married an Axe Murderer," Myers has just been asked about the unflattering stories that have been circulating about him for months.
Stories have been printed about screaming matches with directors and producers that marred the making of "Axe Murderer," which opens Friday. It was also reported, and later denied by both, that Myers and Dana Carvey were at odds during the making of "Wayne's World," the 1992 mega-hit that catapulted Myers from the ensemble security blanket of "Saturday Night Live" into the glaring scrutiny that goes with being a movie star.
So, Myers is asked, why is Hollywood saying his ego is out of control?
"It's because I won the lottery," Myers says, referring to his sudden leap of fame. "There are always two questions when anybody wins the lottery: 'Is he a nice guy?' and 'Is he gonna quit his job?' "
Myers has no intention of quitting his job, planning to return to the "Saturday Night Live" cast after "Wayne's World II" wraps around Labor Day. But the "nice guy" question seems less cut-and-dried, particularly in light of recent remarks by "Wayne's World" director Penelope Spheeris, who told The Times the reason she chose not to direct the sequel was because "I just didn't have a good experience with Mike."
And "Axe Murderer" director Thomas Schlamme, while saying that some reports of conflicts on the San Francisco set between him and Myers have been exaggerated, admits that "Mike is a difficult personality."
"He was under a lot of pressure and had a lot of commitment and passion about what he wanted to do and sometimes that made it very difficult to work," Schlamme says. "But the bottom line was that both Mike and I were trying to make the best movie possible and in the end I think that's all that really matters.
"I'm not trying to sugarcoat this. I'm not trying to tell you that every morning we were hugging and dancing and having the best time of our lives. This was a very hard movie to make. But the notion that after Mike did 'Wayne's World' he turned into this demon has been blown out of proportion.
"Mike told me a very telling thing one time in the heat of a passionate discussion, which could have been described as an argument. He said, 'And the other thing is, people think that I've changed. The fact of it is, I've always been like this.' "
"Like this," according to crew members, means a willingness on Myers' part to argue loud, long and vehemently about any point he believes will affect his appearance on screen, whether it's dialogue, direction or the positioning of props. Those high-intensity arguments were frequent during the filming of "Axe Murderer," making Myers a less-than-popular figure on the set.
"I'm very passionate about my work. I care a lot," says Myers, who acknowledges there were disagreements during filming, but insists that he, Schlamme and producer Robert Fried agreed "90% of the time."
"We're talking about sensitive, passionate people arguing the last 10%," he continues. "We were all very passionate. Some people misinterpreted my passion as insanity.
"I pose this question. If somebody is passionate only about being better and it's done in a non-abusive way, but there's a disagreement, then it's up to them to interpret that as being difficult or being collaborative. In my opinion, that's collaborative. There was a very high level of honesty and openness on that set. If people interpret that as being difficult, then I can't do anything about that.
"And, in a weird way, what people think of me once I've made my feelings known is kind of none of my business."
Producer Fried, while also downplaying the amount of discord on the set, says he believes that Myers was under particularly intense pressure because he was not only the above-the-title star (playing two roles: an aspiring beat poet who's afraid of marriage and his crusty 60-year-old Scottish father), but had also undertaken major revisions of the script. "The logistics were very difficult for him," Fried says. "It's hard to write and star at the same time."
Myers' revisions (with writing partner Neil Mullarkey) were also the source of considerable controversy. The original screenplay by Robbie Fox, written in 1988, was a darker, more subtle mystery/comedy that used the device of falling in love with a possible ax murderer as a means of exploring fear of commitment and premarital Angst . Myers and Mullarkey reshaped the story into a broader comedy, more palatable to Myers' wisecrack-hungry "Wayne's World" constituency. Even so, the Writers Guild awarded sole screenplay credit to Fox, who then accused Myers of trying to strong-arm him into sharing the credit anyway. Myers has admitted calling Fox after the Writers Guild decision and asking, "Do you think this is fair?"
According to Schlamme, it was the challenge of integrating elements from both versions of the script that often led to disagreements on the set. "Mike wanted to preserve the comedy as much as possible," he says, "and at the same time we were all struggling to tell a story."
"You're talking about a game of inches," Myers says. "Tommy threw in funny ideas, I threw in story ideas and Rob (Fried) threw in story ideas. It was never a situation where I'm Mr. Comedy and he's Mr. Story. The dynamic was never that I'm sitting there like Morey Amsterdam, like Buddy on 'The Dick Van Dyke Show,' going, 'I got a good joke for you.' That would be an unfortunate, facile, sound-bite presentation of the way things were."
Myers, as you might expect, isn't very comfortable talking about any of this. There's a part of him that's still just a 30-year-old guy from suburban Toronto, newly married and slightly in awe of the turns his life has taken in the last few years. "Yeah, I'm nervous," he says. "I'm always nervous about anything. I can't really believe that we're sitting here in Los Angeles talking about my latest picture. That's kind of amazing to me."
There isn't, he says, any kind of grand star-making plan. He chose "Axe Murderer" as his follow-up to "Wayne's World" simply because he liked the premise and because he thought it would be a chance to play a slightly more realistic character than Wayne Campbell. It was not, in his mind, a particularly risky move.
"I'm cautious by nature," Myers says. "I'm also cautious because it's a Canadian national attribute. We're the most insured people in the world."
There is very little tapping as Mike Myers says this. His hand is hardly moving at all.