It’s hard to believe “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” is set to celebrate its 20th anniversary on May 2, considering its continued pop culture relevance.
Released in 1997, the brainchild of “Saturday Night Live” star and Canadian-born funnyman Mike Myers –who also holds a British passport thanks to his English-born parents — became one of his most iconic (and lucrative) projects.
The cheeky re-imagining of classic spy films spawned two successful sequels, with the entire franchise earning close to half a billion dollars worldwide, according to Forbes.
In honour of the movie’s upcoming milestone, the cast and crew behind the hilarious trilogy recently sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to document the oral history of the first film.
Director Jay Roach – who also acted as Myers’ creative collaborator when he first finished the script – believed “at that time… it was just going to be some kind of cool cult film.” While initial test audiences predicted a flop, New Line Cinema and Michael De Luca – then-president of production – thought the comedy was “blazingly original,” and took a chance.
Although part of Austin’s charm is his uncanny ability to crack anyone up, the character actually came from a pretty dark place – according to Myers, creator and star.
“After my dad died in 1991, I was taking stock of his influence on me as a person and his influence on me with comedy in general. So Austin Powers was a tribute to my father, who [introduced me to] James Bond, Peter Sellers, The Beatles, The Goodies, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore,” adding, “I was devastated by my father’s death. But to have that turn into something that makes people happy is unbelievably satisfying. It’s that kind of stuff you never get used to or get tired of.”
Many of the film’s characters became incredibly quotable, including Dr. Evil. “It is always a surprise which lines are people’s favorite. The ‘one million dollars’ has been the one that is so satisfying because it is sort of a fragile joke,” says Myers. “It restores your faith in audiences. And it has really stayed in the culture.”
Myers’ co-star – Elizabeth Hurley – describes getting the call to play Vanessa Kensington: “I was with my then-boyfriend Hugh Grant, who punched the air with excitement. He said Mike was one of the funniest comedians on the planet.”
The franchise also managed to get big stars to make cameos, including the late Carrie Fisher – who appears in a scene with Dr. Evil and his son Scott, played by Seth Green.
“I sent the script to her in the hopes that she would play the therapist,” says Myers, going on to reveal that “she wrote a very lovely, supportive letter saying how much she loved the movie. She was so supportive during the shoot. She just kept giving me a hug and telling me, ‘I just love this scene and how weird the choices are.'”
It’s been 15 years since that last installment – “Austin Powers in Goldmember” – hit the big screen, with constant rumours swirling of a fourth. But will it ever get made? “We have talked about [making a fourth movie] for 15 years,” says Roach. “We have also always said we don’t want to do it unless we came up with something that lived up to the concepts in our mind. Until Mike feels like he has a concept that earns a fourth, it won’t happen. But if it did, we have all agreed that we would be delighted to get back into it.”