2nd May 1997: Tony Blair and Austin Powers

I was in Los Angeles. I watched the first morning of the Blair government unfold on TV from the other side of the world. I couldn’t stay to see it all because I was heading out to the premiere of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, in which I had a small part. I’d “given” Mike the title.

Years before, when we were doing our double-act in London, Mike laughed uproariously when I told him that a small-time magician on the back pages of The Stage (the showbiz newspaper) described himself as, “An International Man of Mystery”. This splendid soubriquet had been brought to my attention by my friend, Richard Turner (who co-created BBC Radio 4′s Museum of Curiosity).

The premiere went very well. Big laughs all round. But there was this annoying fellow behind me. He kept laughing, applauding and repeating lines. You know the type. Eventually I turned round. It was Michael Stipe, lead singer of REM.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the film’s release. A nice chap called Ryan Parker of The Hollywood Reporter asked me for my recollections. Here is his piece.

Quite rightly, he concentrates on the central players and only one of my responses to his questions makes the cut. But because I can, I have put all of them below.

So, twenty years on, I am still with The Comedy Store Players and teaching improv as a leadership skill, Tony Blair is back in London, fighting Brexit… and Mike is busy with something new. You’ll find out more about that next month.

….

Q: Is there a story behind the Swedish enlarger scene you’re in? Who wrote that?

Mike! It’s Mike’s script … I was just a hired hand. But I brought my own eye-brows.

Mike and I had done a double act in London. For some reason, we called it “Mullarkey & Myers”. It was B-Movie and cartoon pastiches, with a carful of props.

Mike was very kind to ask his old friend to fly over and do that scene, and looked after me beautifully. He’d sent the script over to me about a year before… I told him it was really funny, that he must make it, and must put Elizabeth Hurley in it.

Q: How many takes did it take to do that scene?

Not many. We started about 4pm and had to get out within a couple of hours, I think. Jay Roach was superb, helping me relax but make the best of the scene. They’d filmed a sequence with Basil Exposition earlier: the one where Austin has a very long pee.

Q: After the movie became a monster hit, did people recognize you and do lines from the scene? If so, do you have a most memorable interaction?

Sometimes they think they recognise me but aren’t sure from where. It’s just a nagging feeling they have, as If I might have been someone they nodded to down their local pub.

When people discover I was in the film, in that scene, their whole body lights up with joy, wherever I am in the world. They keep having to pinch themselves. I ask them not to pinch me.

I was on safari in South Africa once and the ranger Googled me. “Because of that scene, you may just be my hero”, he said. That’s exactly how I felt about him, as he drove the Land Rover within a few feet of a big lion.

I was on set the day before my scene, watching them film Dr Evil’s father/son encounter group. He says things like, “My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes, he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy.”

It was hilarious, but rather left-field, I thought. How would play in “middle America”? A couple of years later I was visiting California and a friend took me to the LA County Fair in Pomona. There were tea towels for sale, with the entire text of that monologue typed out on it…

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