At one point in time, it might have been fair to say that Mike Myers was the biggest comedy actor in the world, transitioning in the early 1990s from his accomplished work on Saturday Night Live to the big screen with relative ease. In the early 2000s there began a noticeable dip in both the quality and commercial success of Myers’s films (or the live-action ones at least), and Myers gradually made fewer major appearances in mainstream films, leaving one to ponder exactly what happened.
While it may seem like a simple answer at first, there is a lot more than meets the eyes when it comes to Hollywood, as while there is usually plenty of evidence to be found, there is also a degree of conjecture needed to fill in the blanks, which is especially true of Myers.
Mike Myers first made a name for himself as a regular cast member of Saturday Night Live, of which he was a part of from 1989-1995. Renowned for his comedic timing, uncanny ability for impressions, and knack for crafting memorable original characters, Myers was a standout member of the crew during his tenure. His comedic profile then exploded to superstar status following the release of Wayne’s World in 1992, whose lead character Wayne Campbell was an SNL creation.
After leaving SNL, Myers took a hiatus from performing before debuting a new original creation on the big screen in 1997, Austin Powers. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was another huge commercial success for Myers, solidifying his status as a primetime comedy actor. Between then and 2002 Myers followed up with two more Austin Powers sequels to further success, as well as voicing the eponymous character in the animated mega-hit, Shrek. Myers was seemingly on top of the world. But then 2003 happened…or more specifically, The Cat in the Hat.
Myers landed the role as the title character in the Dr. Seuss adaptation, which, aside from impressive set design, was a film of such misguided incompetence that Seuss’ widow swore she would never allow another of her husband’s works to be adapted into live-action. Whatever the case, it was an uncharacteristic flop in Myers’ filmography, and given his other recent successes, one could be forgiven for thinking that this was nothing more than a bump in Myers’ seemingly ongoing road of success, but alas, things only got worse for Myers’ live-action career from there.
While Myers found massive success with three more Shrek films thereafter (which I will come to later), all other roles had seemingly dried up, to the point that his next live-action film as the lead, 2008’s critically and commercially maligned The Love Guru, was also his last, as he has featured in nothing more than brief supporting roles since then. Admittedly, there are some significant credits such as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and the recent Academy Award-winning film Bohemian Rhapsody, but one can’t help but wonder just what went wrong.
To begin with, based on quotes from several people who have worked with the actor/comedian over the years, Myers himself is a big part of the problem.
There is that well-worn stereotype of actors and actresses being egotistical prima donnas, and while of course it’s not inherently true, there are those who embody it to varying degrees. Marlon Brando’s antics on the set of The Island of Doctor Moreau, for example, is the stuff of legend, while Edward Norton is reportedly known to assert control over particular elements of the characters he plays. The common denominator is that they tend to be uniquely talented individuals who get more than a bit ahead of themselves, and Myers is seemingly no different.
While filming The Cat in the Hat Myers was reportedly difficult to work with, with one co-star even calling him a “diva.” Such allegations are not isolated to this film alone, however, and certainly not where they started. In fact, his on-set antics can be traced as far back as his star-turning performance in Wayne’s World. According to an interview with the film’s director, Penelope Spheeris, while shooting Myers was “emotionally needy” and “got more difficult as the shoot went on.” Spheeris capped off her rant by saying of Myers “Maybe he could open, like, a children’s hospital to clean up his rep.” Yikes.
In addition to consecutive live-action flops, Myers’ temperamental behaviour certainly didn’t help his case as a leading man in Hollywood comedy, but it’s certainly not the only factor that influenced his decline.
I have been careful in stating that Myers’ flops during the 2000s were confined to live-action, because Myers was still thriving as the voice of everyone’s favourite ogre Shrek. The Shrek franchise is an unmitigated success, with the original film earning the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, while all five entries (including the spinoff Puss in Boots) have generated $3.5 billion US worldwide, making it among the top 20 highest grossing film franchises of all time and the second-highest grossing animated franchise after Despicable Me. Yet his last Shrek film, Shrek Forever After, was in 2010 and his star status had already significantly waned by that point, even though Shrek Forever After made over $750 million at the global box office. Such success would seem at odds with his fading image, but it’s worth noting that was Myers was the voice of Shrek, not the face, which did less for his exposure, not to mention the fact that Shrek had become more synonymous with, well, Shrek than Mike Myers by that point. What I’m getting at is that Shrek became bigger than Mike Myers, a franchise which by 2010 was catering to a primarily younger generation that likely wouldn’t remember or be aware of his earlier works, and I would argue that it had begun to somewhat overshadow the impact that the franchise once had on his career.
Myers did make another jab at live-action in 2013, though this time he was primarily behind the camera in his directorial debut Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. This documentary is an undeniably endearing piece whose subject, Shep Gordon, is not only Myers’ mentor, but a father figure and fascinatingly well-known member of the entertainment industry. The film might be personally entwined with Myers to a fault, but there’s no denying his solid if unspectacular direction and the level of care and detail he afforded to his subject. Sadly, the film only made about $222,000 US, so this effort was far from being Myers’ second coming as a director.
Supermensch was ultimately an intimate passion project, and the fact that Myers spent more time behind the camera here indicates that he will only dedicate himself to projects that he feels are worth his time, whatever the exposure, especially given his dedication to family life in recent years. Myers has professed that parenthood has been the most rewarding experience of his life, continuing that “Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you, they are understating it,” so it’s easy to understand that Myers likely embraced the growing scarcity of roles with family in mind.
In 2018 alone Myers starred in two feature films, Terminal and, as mentioned above, Bohemian Rhapsody, which is already the most live-action roles the actor/comedian has done in a single year since the disaster that was 2003. So, who knows, maybe Myers is planning a comeback of sorts, and might even return as some of his most revered characters. Until then, if one thing is clear, it’s that Mike Myers is not rushing anything.
Image Courtesy of David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons.