For many, Wayne's World is the definitive 90s comedy and the movie responsible for introducing air-head phrases like ‘Chyeah, right!” and “Shwing!” into the day-to-day lexicon of an entire generation. However for director Penelope Spheeris, the Mike Myers film is much more than just a goofy nostalgia trip.
As the film that shot the rock-doc filmmaker to worldwide fame turns 30, she’s as astounded as anyone that its legacy has stuck such a lasting chord.
“It’s unbelievable, to be honest with you,” Spheeris tells Yahoo, the disbelief still evident in her voice “It’s really gratifying.”
She also refutes the myth that it was a legendarily fraught shoot. “People talk about the shoot as if it was really stressful," she adds, "but it wasn’t, it was actually fun.”
Looking back, it’s easy to see why Spheeris remains blown away by its longevity. Despite defying expectations to become 1992’s sixth highest-grossing release (pocketing almost $200m at the box office against a $20m budget), little was expected from this Saturday Night Live spin-off movie, and bringing it to life certainly wasn’t without its struggles.
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Based on a character created by Mike Myers, Wayne’s World placed its then-29-year-old star alongside fellow SNL player Dana Carvey in what would become Myers’ big screen debut.
In it, we followed head-banger Wayne Campbell (Myers) and his goggle-eyed pal Garth Algar (Carvey) as they navigate fame and Rob Lowe’s sleazy studio exec when their small-time cable access show hits the big time. The end result is an infinitely quotable modern classic that’s not only chock full of memorable gags and authentic rock moments, but it somehow manages to capture an entire grungy zeitgeist in its 94 minute run time.
For Spheeris, it was a denim-and-flannel-shirt-loving movement she was all-too familiar with. In 1981, she helmed LA punk doc The Decline of Western Civilisation, following it up with a metal-focused sequel in 1988.
Soon after, she toyed with the idea of directing This is Spinal Tap before Rob Reiner stepped in. Together, these creative choices quickly made counter-culture authenticity Spheeris’s forte, and when the time came for SNL mastermind Lorne Michaels to pick a director for Wanye and Garth’s louder-than-life world, she was a natural fit.
“It was my first studio movie,” she tells us during an exclusive interview shortly before Wayne’s World’s 30th anniversary. “I had to go to maybe five meetings with different people at Paramount because I didn’t have a history with comedy or making hit movies. I had to go get the blessing of executives and producers and just when I thought the meetings were over, they said ‘Okay, now you have to meet Mike Myers to see if he’ll give you his approval.’”
By this point, Spheeris had directed six features, while Myers — then one of SNL’s newest breakout stars — had yet to properly set foot on a film set. However, experience didn’t matter. Wayne’s World was Myers’ baby and introduction to cinema - and he was fiercely protective of both.
“I remember being in that meeting and clearly thinking to myself: ‘He’s a very sensitive guy — and fragile, in a way.’ As a director, I’m a little pushy but I thought: ‘I need to be really careful with this guy.’”
Spheeris’ instincts were right. Her and Myers’ relationship would have plenty of ups and downs before production was complete, particularly when it came to deciding upon a final cut. After Myers missed a successful test screening due to his father’s ill health, the future Austin Powers’ creator came to think the film didn’t work and requested substantial cuts, but Spheeris stuck to her guns.
It’s a story that’s been retold during almost every Wayne’s World anniversary and a relationship that’s long been repaired. However looking back, Spheeris understands why Myers was so worried about ensuring Wayne’s World was as good as it could be.
“Before I worked with Mike, I worked with Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Danny DeVito and lots of different comedians,” explains Spheeris, commenting on the comic mindset.
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“I don’t want to say he was nervous about doing the movie but he was so protective of it because it was his first movie and a character he created. He just didn’t want it to fail.”
To add to the on-set tension, Spheeris only had 34 days to shoot her big studio debut. “Preparing for it was tricky,” admits the director. “I was always having to balance what everybody wanted, but I was really good at that because I’m the oldest of four children and my mother always put me in charge of the kids. I hated it at the time but I thank her now because on Wayne’s World, I was in charge of the kids,” she laughs.
“The aspect that was most challenging was the fact that Dana and Mike both wanted to do their very best and would ask for extra takes. And to be honest with you, oftentimes they would improve their performance or jokes if they did another. I just worked with my instinct,” remembers Spheeris.
It was Spheeris’ gut instinct that led to the creation of many of the film’s most iconic moments. Like Garth’s daydream dance sequence when he’s trying to impress his dream lady: “When Dana was trying to attract Donna Dixon, who played the waitress at Stan Mikita’s Donuts, there was a big to-do about what music to use and I fought like all hell to use 'Foxy Lady',” she says.
“Nobody got the joke but Dana took it and ran with it and it was awesome.”
Of course, that’s far from Wayne’s World’s most memorable musical moment. No retrospective of the film would be complete without a mention of Wayne and Garth’s sing-a-long session to Queen’s 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Did Freddie Mercury get to enjoy that scene?
“Sadly he passed away a few weeks before the film was finished and didn’t get to see it but [Queen guitarist] Brian May always supported the film and speaks very well of it.
"The headbanging scene came from my 1987 movie Dudes where I had Flea from the Chili Peppers and Jon Cryer headbanging to 'Hava Nagila', the Jewish folk song. I just redid it in Wayne’s World with 'Bohemian Rhapsody',” laughs Spheeris. “I knew it worked — but that’s the one scene everybody remembers.”
In addition to creating this legendary scene, Spheeris’s rock-world connections also helped her secure some big-name musical cameos, like the scene-stealing Alice Cooper. In fact, it was Spheeris who convinced Meat Loaf to star as the bouncer at the Gasworks, the rock bar where Wayne meets future-girlfriend Cassandra (cue Dream Weaver music), played by Tia Carrere.
“It’s very unfortunate that we lost Meat Loaf, especially at such a young age,” says Spheeris, shortly after news broke of the singer’s death at 74 in late January.
“I was friends with him in the LA metal scene and I’d always hang out with him in the clubs. He was a very kind, sweet-hearted and extremely talented man. He didn’t have the look of your regular rock star but he sure could write great songs and belt them out.”
With such a short shoot, there were inevitably some scenes that fell by the wayside, but that wasn’t always a bad thing. “The writers wrote a scene where Wayne and Garth meet the Jolly Green Giants,” reveals Spheeris, commenting on an odd, corn-themed moment that didn’t make the cut.
“I had an ex who was 6ft 5” and a nephew that was 6ft 5” and we dressed them up, painted them green and put them in fake leaf skirts. They were ready to go, then at the last minute someone said we couldn’t clear the Jolly Green Giant. The rights owners wouldn’t give us permission. I thought: `There is a God!’ There was another scene I didn’t want to shoot but ended up in there where Wayne opens a door in Mikita’s Donuts and there’s a bunch of ninjas. I fought so hard not to use that,” she admits, “and I lost!”
It’s this kind of random, throwaway whimsy that gives Wayne’s World its happy-go-lucky charm, and it’s something that Spheeris blames for its extended shelf-life.
“Even three decades later, whenever you watch Wayne’s World it puts you in a good mood,” she reasons. “Unfortunately, life has gotten more difficult and stressful and people watch Wayne’s World to get their head back into that enjoyment of life. It’s so gratifying for me to see that and acknowledge it. People just love it,” smiles Spheeris.
“It was a group of people that came together at the right time and place and made the right movie — and I feel blessed that I was involved with it.”
A special 30th anniversary Wayne’s World Blu-ray SteelBook is available now.