Mike Myers may still be wondering what Dreamworks saw in him that reminded them so much of a stinky little green ogre, but he won't deny having a blast as Shrek (2001). Myers detailed in this interview the exhilarating experience of serving as vocal backup to the title character, and how he drew on magical childhood memories to put himself into the perfect state of mind for the part. The award winning comic actor also described the first time thrill of getting animated for a movie.
You're a natural as Shrek (2001), but I hear you weren't Dreamworks' first choice to be the ogre.
Yeah, it was actually Chris Farley. And when he died, they changed some of their ideas about the character. Like giving me a Scottish accent.
What made you say yes to Shrek?
When they told me about the movie and said that Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow were in it, I told them right away, I'm in. And I loved the whole idea behind the story, which is that you're beautiful, so don't let other people tell you that you're not just because you don't look like the people in magazines. Or because you're not that weird ideal body image that's out there right now.
Where did the idea for Shrek come from?
One of the producers of the film, John Williams, got a hold of the book from his kids. They loved it, and showed it to him. Then he brought it to Jeffrey Katzenberg at Dreamworks, and he got Dreamworks interested in it. So they ended up turning this little twenty eight page book into the movie. And it's all about this stinky, smelly ogre who doesn't care what anybody thinks of him. I had a blast, but I still wonder sometimes why they saw me as the perfect guy for this strange character.
What got you interested in playing an animated character?
I have very happy memories of fairy tales. My mother used to take me to the library in Toronto to check out the fairy tales. And she was an actress, so she used to act out for me the different characters in all these fairy tales. And then my mother would change stuff. Like because she's from Liverpool, Babar the elephant would be from Liverpool too. So I have all these great memories and associations with those stories. And I thought, when I have kids, that's the sort of well told, silly, and fun fairy tale that I would want to take them to. But it was an amazing experience. And I think Shrek is a real classic, a fairy tale classic.
How did you connect to Shrek as a character?
They like made Shrek into this person that isn't me, but that is kind of me. Shrek is this big, green, disgusting and oafish character. So I guess that's why they cast me! But they've made me into a storybook character that is so three dimensional. They've done a really great job, I've never seen anything like it before. It was a completely new experience for me. Shrek lives by himself in a swamp, and he's sort of sick and tired of people pre-judging who he is and what he's like, just because he's an ogre. They think he's like automatically going to eat them, or poke them with sticks and stuff. And he's just like an ordinary guy, he just wants to have fun, and hang out.
Then one day Lord Farquaad , that's John Lithgow, he sends all these fairy tale characters off to Shrek's swamp. And Shrek is like, get out of my swamp. He goes to Lord Farquard who tells him, I'll get all the people out of your swamp, if you go and find this princess Fiona who I want for my bride. That's Cameron Diaz. So Shrek says fine. He goes with his friend, Donkey, played by Eddie Murphy, and they rescue Fiona from a tower and bring her back. But in the meantime Shrek and the princess fall in love. And Shrek feels that the princess could never be in love with an ogre. Then he goes from feeling bad about being an ogre, to being proud of who he is. And that's a great message for kids.
What did you think of your turn as Shrek when you got to see the movie?
I was blown away. I had never seen anything like that. It was like this 3-D universe that I just didn't want to leave. I loved being in there, and not just as an actor. It was also great to just be there and watch the movie when I saw it the first time. I thought it was just a great story, very well told, and with incredible animation. And it has an amazing message. I was actually crying by the end, even though I knew the story backwards and forwards. So I was completely sucked into it, like a big kid or something.
What was it like co-starring with Eddie Murphy?
I thought Eddie Murphy was hilarious. And Cameron Diaz was wonderful, and John Lithgow was like brilliant. I've always been a huge fan of Eddie Murphy, I think he's an absolutely brilliant comedian. I've seen everything he's done, and what he does just blows me away every time. And I really loved playing off the ideas that he would act out. So it was great to watch Eddie be so hilarious, to interact with that, and then to kind of just sit and watch a master. So I just sort of played off of him, it was really great.
Then I think that John Lithgow scene with the gingerbread man is pretty hilarious, the interrogation sequence. The writers have done a great job of creating a fantastically fresh new world, with really funny bad guys. So it was really cool to be part of it. But what I liked most of all about Shrek, is that I got to approach my character like a dramatic role, even though it was an animated movie. Because Shrek is all about heart, and all about love, The movie is accepting yourself and loving yourself for who you are. But it's still totally funny.
How is it different playing an animated character?
Well, in an animated film, the process is really a whole other thing. It changes in very small increments. They sort of direct you and talk you through these animated characters, much more than the audience thinks. Then you see how they draw from that, and where they wanted your voice to go. So it's very collaborative process. And at first it kind of didn't suit my style of doing things. Because when I worked on Saturday Night Live, I got used to like go, go, go. And there's not much improvisation as you would think on a movie like this. They really know what they want before you go in there, and you mostly just bring the right energy to it. But then about six months into Shrek, the whole process actually became quite relaxing. You know, that you could progressively change every aspect of every detail, and make it much better. And the painstaking patience and attention to detail that they have to apply to the movie is really brilliant and mindboggling. So I ended up really loving the process, once I got used to it.
What was it like being a Scottish guy in Shrek?
It comes really naturally to me. One of my very best friend's parents are from Scotland. And Scotland in temperament in its way is a lot like Liverpool. But I think it's just my family. I think I just sort of tapped into my family energy for the role, and just went to that really awesome and magical place. Like when I remember how my mother would take the time to read me a story when I was a kid. You remember how much fun it is to be in that world. So you just get that great feeling all over again, that your mother is kinda taking care of you, and stuff. That's the energy I wanted to get to for this movie, and I think they've completely knocked it out of the park. And the look of the film is really amazing, I think is completely unique. I've never seen anything like it before. It's just a completely hypnotic storybook world that envelops you.
What are you up to next?
I'm in view From The Top, A (2001), with Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, Kelly Preston and Mark Ruffalo. And I'm working with Ivan Reitman on The Pink Panther. But don't expect it to be anything like the original. And don't expect Austin Powers to show up either. But that's all I'm going to say for now.