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Thursday, June 16th, 2011

The Lost Roles of Mike Myers

Outside of the Shrek films, the past decade hasn't been to kind to Mike Myers's career. While its now commonplace for critics and Internet commenters to dogpile on the man, let's not let The Love Guru taint our collective opinion of Myers. He's created a lot of beloved comedy in his time, especially with his work on Saturday Night Live, Wayne's World, and Austin Powers. In an industry where most big name comedy actors are pumping out two or three movies a year, their faces a ubiquitous presence on the posters and cardboard cut-outs that blanket cinema lobbies year-round, it's refreshing to see Mike Myers showing a little reluctance to flood the market with his comedy. Though it sometimes may not seem that way, Myers is someone who chooses his projects carefully, taking lengthy Kubrickian hiatuses between movies. Being so choosy about his projects has caused Mike Myers to miss out on some well-known projects over the years. Let's take a look at some parts Myers passed up in this week's Lost Roles.

1. Whose Line Is It Anyway? (UK version, circa 1988)
The role: Panel performer
Mike Myers began his career as a performer at Second City Toronto. His Second City castmates Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie joined the cast of the original Whose Line is It Anyway?, but Myers was passed over when he auditioned, according to the commentary on the show’s DVD release. He's not the only now-famous face to have been turned down by Whose Line during this era. Steve Carell also had an unsuccessful audition for the program.

Becoming a panelist on Whose Line would have been great for Myers at the time, but if he had packed his bags for England and taken a full-time gig on the show, it would have likely caused him to miss out on becoming a Saturday Night Live castmember just a few months later. A spot in the SNL cast is obviously higher profile than one on this improvised UK show. Myers’s tenure on SNL served him well, allowing him a widely-seen program to perform his comedy on and a natural springboard to a feature film career. If he'd taken the Whose Line part, his path to fame would have been very different. He may have stuck with the show for a few years to end up coming over to the States for Drew Carey's Americanized version of Whose Line in 1998, but at that point, Myers was already a major movie star with two Wayne's World movies and an Austin Powers film under his belt.

2. Coffee Talk (never produced, in development circa 1994-95)
The role: Linda Richman
According to a scathing New York magazine piece about Saturday Night Live's disastrous and infamous 1994-1995 season, which was Mike Myers's last, the actor had a deal to spin off his “Coffee Talk” sketch into a feature film. The deal fell apart and the movie never ended up getting made. As you'll see below, this was just one of several proposed SNL movies that Myers was involved with that never made it through the development process. In the mid-90s, movie studios were eager to replicate the success of Wayne's World, and it's really surprising that they went with giving the Coneheads, It's Pat, and Stuart Smalley the feature film treatment instead of another Mike Myers character; however, I don't know if Linda Richman is the right choice for the subject of a full-length movie.

I'm tempted to give Myers the benefit of the doubt here, as he was on top of his game during this era and his previous SNL movie, Wayne's World, still stands as the best film ever made from an SNL sketch.* On the other hand, that may say just as much about how unnatural it is to turn a five-minute sketch into a movie as it does about Wayne's World's strengths. With Wayne's World, Myers created a rich world for these cartoonish characters to occupy and the basic style and tone that all of his later films would build upon. Despite Mike Myers's strong track record at the time with SNL movies, it seems like a stretch to even imagine “Coffee Talk” lasting beyond five minutes. Myers in drag for an hour and a half with that thick Long Island accent would be a little grating, and it's probably for the best that this one never made it through. Coffee Talk bombing could have taken the momentum out of Mike Myers’s career and he may not have had the leverage to make the first Austin Powers film a few years later.

* Blues Brothers doesn't count. The characters were featured in musical performances on SNL, but they were never the subject of written sketches.

3. Super Fans (never produced, in development circa 1994-95)
The role: Pat Arnold
Just when you thought a “Coffee Talk” movie sounded ridiculous, here's another SNL sketch that almost made it to the big screen. Intended to be an extension of the “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans” sketch — you know, the one where they say "Da Bears" over and over — that regularly starred George Wendt, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, and Robert Smigel, the Super Fans movie went into development along with a stampede of poorly-conceived SNL sketch movies that were greenlit after Wayne's World's surprise success. The plot for the Super Fans movie was to revolve around the Chicago Bears being sold and the team’s much-loved Soldier Field being renovated into a stadium made up solely of luxury boxes for the wealthy. The script was written by Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel, who left his position as head writer at Late Night with Conan O’Brien to work on the project.

Smigel and Odenkirk wrote a part in the movie for Martin Short, wanting him to play the clueless son of the Bears’ owner who inherits the team after his father’s death. The project fell apart when the NBC brass called off all SNL movies because of the bad press the 1994-95 season was garnering, and Chris Farley’s handlers didn’t want him appearing in an ensemble film after Tommy Boy's success. A reading of the original movie script was held at Chicago’s Just for Laughs comedy festival last year. George Wendt, Joe Mantegna, Horatio Sanz (presumably filling in for Chris Farley), Smigel, and Odenkirk all participated in the event, with Richard Roeper reading stage directions and former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka playing himself.

4. Sprockets (never produced, in development circa 1999-2000)
The role: Dieter
The most justifiable of Mike Myers's failed SNL spin-offs was Sprockets, based on the sketch of the same name, in which Myers would star as turtleneck-wearing asexual German talk show host Dieter. While it seems like a stretch to turn “Coffee Talk” or “Super Fans” into full-length films, “Sprockets” is a sketch that had a chance at making the transition gracefully. It may not have had the potential to be the next Wayne's World, but it had a better chance than some of these other projects that were tossed aside. Sprockets also came closer to being produced than these other aborted films. Myers co-wrote the script with Jack Handey and Michael McCullers in 1999. Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and David Hasselhoff were all signed on for supporting parts, with the plot set to cover Dieter’s quest to find his lost monkey Klaus. Myers was unhappy with the script and backed out of the project, causing two public lawsuits at his expense. Universal sued him for $3.8 million and Imagine Entertainment sued him for a whopping $30 million. Myers claims he opted out to avoid “cheating moviegoers with an unacceptable script.” He countersued for invasion of privacy and defamation. Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg reportedly stepped in to mediate, with NNDB reporting that Mike Myers agreed to star in The Cat in the Hat as part of the settlement.

Mike Myers was red-hot in 1999, so he didn't need a new project to maintain his career high as the Austin Powers franchise was at the peak of its popularity. Will Ferrell and Jack Black, on the other hand, could have been helped by the release of Sprockets, had it been a hit. Meaty parts in a widely-seen Mike Myers movie could have been the supporting roles that launched their movie careers, but Ferrell and Black were left to wait around for Old School and High Fidelity, respectively, to serve as their big breaks.

5. Austin Powers animated series and animated movie prequel (never produced, in development circa 1999)
Just when you thought the character of Austin Powers couldn’t get any more cartoonish… After the through-the-roof success of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, the second installment in the series, Mike Myers signed on to create an animated Austin Powers show for HBO in 1999, in which he would provide many voices for many of the characters. HBO commissioned a first season made up of 13 half-hour installments, but this one never came together, likely due to Myers’s fickleness and extreme caution with his career. An animated movie prequel was also planned, but that project fell apart too. While Austin Powers was a very popular film series at the time, these animated spin-offs might have been overdoing it and could have driven the good will the franchise had accrued into the ground.

6. Scooby-Doo (2002)
The role: Shaggy
Who got it: Matthew Lillard
Mike Myers is a longtime fan of the Scooby-Doo animated series, and a spokesperson for Myers announced plans for him to not only star in but also write the feature film adaptation of the children’s show for Warner Bros. in 1998. Myers’s love for Scooby-Doo is on display in the original Wayne’s World film, which features a faux-ending that parodies the classic series. For whatever reason, Myers’s involvement in this project never came together and he neither acted in or scripted Scooby-Doo.

The Scooby-Doo movie would have been served well by Myers's brand of humor, which is perfectly suited for making a live-action cartoon. Scooby-Doo was a success without Mike Myers, and it's reasonable to assume the movie would have only been a bigger hit with him present. Most of the audience for Scooby-Doo was composed of people who loved the original series and/or talking dogs, so tacking on a then-popular comedian would have been an extra bonus. Adding another hit to his resume would have helped Myers to withstand the critical and commercial pummeling that would come with the release of his next two live action features, The Cat in the Hat and The Love Guru.

7. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
The role: Chuck Barris
Who got it: Sam Rockwell
Confessions of a Dangerous mind went through a lengthy development process since Chuck Barris sold the film rights to his autobiography in the late ’80s. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Ed Norton, and Ben Stiller were each cast at one point, only to vacate the role. Mike Myers was also amongst the actors cast as Chuck Barris who called it quits before production began. Myers was attached to the project in 2000 with David Fincher considering directing. After Fincher passed on the project, Myers said no as well, choosing to focus on starring in The Pink Panther for director Ivan Reitman, another project that he ended up deserting.

While some of Mike Myers's peers, namely Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey, were able to diversify their roles with departures like this, the only movie Myers ever got to star in outside of the comedy genre was 54. His cameo in Inglourious Basterds was also a break from the slapstick humor that has made him famous, but it wasn't a substantial enough part to land him roles in similar movies. Starring in Confessions was a great opportunity for Myers, as the film had comedic elements and his goofy humor would have fit in fine with the game show host half of the film's game show host/CIA assassin protagonist. 2000 was also the perfect time for Mike Myers to attempt a riskier project, as his popularity was peaking at this time. This is another project that could have helped Myers to weather the failures of The Cat in the Hat and The Love Guru, allowing him to show off his versatility.

8. Bewitched (2005)
The role: Darrin Stephens
Who got it: Will Ferrell
Mike Myers was the producer’s top choice for Darrin early in Bewitched's production in 2002. By the time the movie started filming two years later, the plot was switched up to be a behind-the-scenes look at remaking the orginal 60s series Bewitched, rather than a straight-ahead remake. It was probably in Myers’s best interest to skip this one, as the result was met with indifference by critics and audiences alike in what the New York Times called “an unmitigated disaster.”

9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
The role: Willy Wonka
Who got it: Johnny Depp
Mike Myers was one of several actors considered for the role of the eccentric candy mogul in Tim Burton’s adaptation of the children’s book. He was well-suited for the part and could have brought more humor to the project than the actual choice, Johnny Depp. It’s likely that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would have still been a success in Myers’s hands, and this could have been a much-needed recent hit for the actor, guaranteeing his career some longevity and allowing him to branch out a little bit.

10. The Pink Panther (2006)
The role: Inspector Jacques Clouseau
Who got it: Steve Martin
Producer-director Ivan Reitman was all set to helm this remake of the classic Peter Sellers film series with Mike Myers as Inspector Closseau back in 2001. MGM, the studio behind the production, reportedly couldn’t accommodate Myers’s demands for a $20 million payday and Steve Martin was hired in 2003 to take his place. Myers was obviously influenced a great deal by Peter Sellers. His habit of playing multiple characters and his ’60s-based Austin Powers films were inspired by the man’s work, but the Pink Panther film that resulted was deemed disrespectful to Sellers’s memory. Sure, Mike Myers seems a better fit for this project than Steve Martin and the Steve Martin version was successful enough to warrant a sequel, but remaking another comedic actor’s beloved character just feels unnecessary. If somebody tries to remake Austin Powers or Wayne’s World a few years down the line, they wouldn’t be able to do it as well as Myers either.

11. The Love Guru sequels (never produced, studio discussions held circa 2006-08)
Up until The Love Guru’s disastrous release, many in Hollywood expected the film to be the start of another lucrative Mike Myers franchise a la Wayne’s World, Austin Powers, and Shrek. The expectations that this would be a hit are justified, but the fact that Mike Myers was discussing sequels with the studio a year before production began is pretty absurd. The Love Guru uses the same basic formula that Myers developed with his previous hits, but that was perhaps the reason audiences rejected it. It came off as a cheap imitation of a Mike Myers movie with nothing new to offer. Needless to say, the film’s failure precluded the existence of any sequels and Myers seems to have taken a hiatus from movie stardom ever since.

12. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (in development)
The role: Walter Mitty
Who got it: Ben Stiller (for now)
This remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye film of the same name has been in development for several years and still isn’t any closer to production than it’s ever been. Ben Stiller was the most recent actor to sign on for the lead role earlier this year, joining a list of actors who were at one point attached to the project that includes Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Sacha Baron Cohen, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell. Myers signed on in 2007 but left the project to work on The Love Guru. This Walter Mitty remake may never see the light of day, as development has been taking such a long time, but it remains to be seen whether or not Myers missed out on a lucrative film role.

13. See Me, Feel Me: Keith Moon Naked for Your Pleasure (status unknown)
The role: Keith Moon
Mike Myers, a fan of 60s and 70s rock music, signed on to play The Who’s drummer Keith Moon in this lengthily-titled biopic several years ago. After several delays, production was set to begin in early 2008, but the cast and crew never got the ball rolling and no updates on the project’s status have been announced since then. While things still could come together and Myers very well could hold onto the lead role, the actor is 48 as of this writing, and Keith Moon died at age 32. That’s a sizable difference, and with each year that passes, it seems less and less likely that Myers will be able to pull this one off.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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  • Brendan K. O'Grady

    Meyers would have been a GREAT Keith Moon 10 years ago, but he's probably aged too far out of the role. The good news is that at 48 there is still plenty of time for him to transition into whatever kinds of roles he wants to play. It seems as much a matter of his needing to decide if he's ready to leave the broad comedy of thing like The Love Guru behind…

  • Jason Farr@facebook

    Blues Brothers should be counted as an SNL spin-off because of the point you made. They were characters created on SNL and the very fact that they didn't have a sketch, but were still able to make a movie out of it says a lot for it. Nonetheless, the movie is looked at as an SNL movie since that is where those characters originated.

    • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

      @Jason Farr@facebook Wayne's World 2 is definitely the best SNL movie sequel though, right? We can all agree on that.

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @Jason Farr@facebook The Blues Brothers characters were created before SNL, from what I understand. Aykroyd and Belushi performed live shows as them before trying it out on the show. They were billed as the musical guests for the episodes they were in. I just think the way the characters originated is a little different from the Roxbury Guys or It's Pat.

      @Joshua Ungerleider Wayne's World 2 kicks Blues Brothers 2000's ass.

  • Shifty

    Just a comment on the Sprockets write-up; the reason I heard was because he had created the character with a fellow member of Second City Toronto, Dana Anderson, and as such he didn't have the full rights to the character.

    http://www.imdb.com/news/ni0100843/

    On a follow up note; I have met with Dana Anderson, and seen his work in comedy and theatre for a few years. I was even one of the 200 (or so) lucky people in 2000 to see Mike Myers make an appearance on our local stage with Dana (he played a scotish viking, in the 2hr long improv show), in a sort of reunion for the two. IMO Dana Anderson is one of the few amazing talents I have met who are genuinely nice, happy and humble.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dana_Andersen

  • Jonl

    Wayne's World curse?  Both Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were red hot, then the movie roles became few and far between.  Mike Myers had a little more staying power, but he fell sharply after Austin Powers.