Want to make a Gen Xer feel old? Tell ‘em that 20 years ago today, on February 14, 1992, “Wayne’s World” was released in theaters. (“‘Wayne’s World’ is 20? No way?!” “Way!”) Lots of now middle-aged folks who spent too long living in their parents’ basements (like Wayne and Garth) have fond memories of what may be the funniest film ever spawned from a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, a film that made a bankable movie comedy star out of Mike Myers, introduced the world to Tia Carrere, helped rescue Rob Lowe’s career, and spawned countless catchphrases that viewers couldn’t stop repeating. (“Schwing!” “We’re not worthy!” “That’s what she said!”) Yet behind the movie’s blissful silliness lies a secret story of off-camera bitterness and strife that threatened to keep the film from partying on — as you’ll read below.
1. Myers created the Wayne Campbell character long before “SNL,” when he was still in high school. He appeared as Wayne on various Canadian comedy series during the 1980s, including “It’s Only Rock & Roll” (See clip below.)
“Wayne’s Power Minute
2. By 1991, the popularity of the sketch had led to a greenlight for a movie at Paramount, but who would direct? Penelope Spheeris — whose ties to “SNL” went back to the first season, when she helped Albert Brooks make his filmed sketches — campaigned hard for the job. The daughter of a carnival owner and strong man, Spheeris had made a name for herself directing “The Decline of Western Civilization,” a series of wry documentaries about rock musicians. She was working on a documentary about serial killers while pleading with Paramount and “SNL” guru Lorne Michaels for the change-of-pace gig.
3. According to a Vanity Fair expose published in 2000, Myers initially didn’t want to take sketch co-star Dana Carvey along to play Garth on the big screen because he feared being upstaged by the more established comedian. Carvey has disputed that claim. Talking to Entertainment Weekly in 2008, Michaels said the tension between the two funnymen had been “overstated” but added, “That isn’t to say they’re not both comedians and that occasionally there’s not some disagreement over who should be speaking what.”
4. Before landing a starring role as Cassandra, Wayne’s aspiring-rock star girlfriend, Tia Carrere had done a two-year stint on “General Hospital” and had made TV guest appearances on both action series and sitcoms. After bit parts in such testosterone-heavy movies as “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” and “Showdown in Little Tokyo,” she was offered a role on the hit show “Baywatch,” but she turned it down to audition for “Wayne’s World.”
5. Rob Lowe, still seeking career rehab after his 1988 video sex scandal, played against type as a comic villain. The casting worked a little too well, and Lowe would spend the rest of the decade in similar parts, in “Tommy Boy” and all three of Myers’ “Austin Powers” movies.
6. Lee Tergesen, who played Terry, Wayne and Garth’s cameraman, made his film debut in “Wayne’s World.” Later, he’d become best known as one of the stars of HBO’s “Oz.”
7. Myers’ girlfriend, Robin Ruzan, was cast as a waitress. They’d marry in 1993 and divorce in 2006.
8. Myers and Spheeris did not get along. Myers was a perfectionist who tended to lash out when he didn’t get his way. Sometimes, that lashing out would take the form of petty tirades, such as excoriating an assistant for bringing him a bagel with butter instead of margarine. “He was emotionally needy and got more difficult as the shoot went along,” Spheeris told Entertainment Weekly in 2008.
“Wayne’s World” — “Bohemian Rhapsody”
9. The famed “Bohemian Rhapsody” sequence, with Wayne and Garth and their pals driving around, lip-synching and headbanging to the classic Queen tune, marked an especially fractious moment between star and director. “You should have heard him bitching when I was trying to do that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ scene,” Spheeris recalled to Entertainment Weekly. “‘I can’t move my neck like that! Why do we have to do this so many times? No one is going to laugh at that!’”
10. For his part, Myers had nothing but kind words for Spheeris, at least by 2008. He gave a statement to Entertainment Weekly, saying, “I’m incredibly grateful for Penelope Spheeris’ contributions on ‘Wayne’s World.’ Some 17 years later, the movie is still a bright highlight in my professional career.”
11. One thing that was causing Myers anguish during production: his father’s deteriorating health. Eric Myers had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1987 and died in late 1991, before “Wayne’s World”‘s first positive test screening. “Mike had this desire to make his father proud of him,” said Deepak Chopra (a Myers friend), to Entertainment Weekly. ”I think one of his tragedies is that he was never able to do that because his father passed away before he became such a huge phenomenon.”
12. For all the turmoil on the set, filming took just 34 days.
“Wayne’s World” — Wayne and Garth Meet Alice Cooper
13. Gary Wright re-recorded his ’70s track “Dream Weaver” for the film. The particular use of that song, cued up as a running gag whenever Wayne looks longingly at Cassandra, became a common cliché in movies whenever a guy would stare at a hot chick.
14. “Bosom Buddies” star Donna Dixon had a memorable role as Garth’s dream girl. Except for a bit part in 1994′s “Exit to Eden” (starring her husband, “SNL” alum Dan Aykroyd) and another cameo in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” as John Dean’s wife Maureen, “Wayne’s World” was her last major film role to date.
15. Upon its release, the movie’s soundtrack shot to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Spheeris shot a music video for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” incorporating footage from “Wayne’s World,” and the song rocketed to No. 2 on the chart, some 16 years after its initial release, and just a few months after Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s death.
16. The movie cost a reported $ 14 million to make. It earned $ 122 million at the box office.
“Wayne’s World” — Trailer
17. Almost immediately, a sequel went into production. Myers, who had earned a reported $ 1 million to co-write and star in the first film, saw his fee nearly quadruple, to $ 3.5 million. Nonetheless, “Wayne’s World 2″ (1993) wasn’t nearly as big a hit, topping out at $ 48 million.
18. “Wayne’s World” had been the first movie based on an “SNL” sketch since 1980′s “The Blues Brothers.” Its success launched a wave of “SNL”-derived movies that lasted throughout the ’90s, including such films as “Coneheads,” “It’s Pat: The Movie,” “Stuart Saves His Family,” “A Night at the Roxbury,” “Blues Brothers 2000,” “Superstar,” and “The Ladies Man.” To date, however, “Wayne’s World” is by far the biggest hit of all “SNL” movies.
19. Myers was set to turn another one of his SNL characters, dour German “Sprockets” host Dieter, into a film, but in 2000, he pulled the plug on the project at the last minute, saying he didn’t want to make a subpar movie based on an “unacceptable script” (even though he was the screenwriter). Universal sued him for $ 30 million, he countersued for $ 20 million, and the whole mess was settled with Myers agreeing to make another movie for the studio, which turned out to be 2003′s dreadful “The Cat in the Hat.”
20. “Wayne’s World” spawned a Nintendo video game in which Wayne must travel through various Aurora, Illinois locations from the film in order to rescue Garth, who’s trapped in the “Zoltar the Gelatinous Cube” arcade game referred to in the movie.
21. Spheeris had mixed feelings about the movie’s success. “I spent so many years being told that I could not do a comedy because I’d done these dark, hard-edged pieces,” she told the New York Times in 1992. “Now I’ve proved I can do a comedy. And now people are saying, ‘I don’t know if you can do anything with a serious edge to it.’ Twenty years of that reputation just blown out of the water by one movie.”
22. Indeed, Spheeris became the go-to director for TV comedy franchises being adapted into movies, first with “The Beverly Hillbillies,” then “The Little Rascals.” She also directed another “SNL”-related comedy, “Black Sheep,” starring the sketch comedy show’s Chris Farley and David Spade. But she also went back to documentaries, including another installment of “The Decline of Western Civilization.”
23. She blamed Myers for keeping her from getting the job directing “Wayne’s World 2,” but Spheeris eventually made her peace with the comic after being blown away by his work in the “Austin Powers” movies. “You can be moody, you can be a jerk, you can be things that others of us can’t be,” she said of Myers, “because you are profoundly talented. And I forgive you.”
“Wayne’s World” Redux — “Saturday Night Live,” February 2011
24. Myers and Carvey reprised the characters twice more in recent years: once at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, and once on a February 2011 “SNL” episode hosted by Carvey. Talking to TMZ last month, Carvey joked he’d be up for making a third movie, provided that Wayne and Garth finally aged. “If they want, we can play ‘em in their 50s,” Carvey said. “‘Wayne! My prostate’s enlarged!’”
25. Having honed her reality-competition chops on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” Carrere will be seen vying for Donald Trump’s favor on the new season of NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice,” starting next week.
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