Wayne's World director explains 'Bohemian Rhapsody' scene, Mike Myers tension
It’s been 25 years since Wayne and Garth first partied on the big screen — and they’re coming back to celebrate.
Wayne’s World is returning to theaters for a special two-day run in February to mark its 25th birthday. The film, about two rock-obsessed public access show hosts, began as a Saturday Night Live sketch starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey before the duo turned their creation into a 95-minute feature with the help of Lorne Michaels and director Penelope Spheeris.
The movie served as Spheeris’ initial foray into studio films after cutting her teeth on punk rock documentaries like The Decline of Western Civilization. The 1992 comedy was both a triumph and disappointment for the director, considering tension with Myers resulted in her not being asked back for the 1993 sequel.
Ahead of Wayne’s World‘s theatrical rerelease and screening on Friday night at Honda’s Hockey Goes Hollywood event in Los Angeles, Spheeris chatted with EW about the challenges of making the film, how they created the iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene, and the moment she decided to forgive Myers.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you initially get involved with the film?
PENELOPE SPHEERIS: I actually knew Lorne from way back before he even started Saturday Night Live. I worked on SNL, and he had called me when he wanted Albert Brooks to do some short films. So I knew Lorne and I had just done The Decline II, which was about headbangers, and Wayne and Garth thought they were headbangers, so I guess the studio didn’t really care because it was a $14 million movie in an age of a $63 million average. So they just went, “Okay, we will just let her do it even though she’s never done a studio movie before!” I just think it was a lucky moment in my life.
What was it about this project that appealed to you? It was radically different than what you had been most successful with, specifically The Decline of Western Civilization.
Oh, totally. I was an independent filmmaker, I wasn’t even in the Directors Guild or any of mainstream Hollywood at all. What appealed to me about it is the same thing that appealed to me about every other movie that I’ve ever done and that is, I got a gig [laughs]. Because being a woman in this business, you kind of take whatever you can. But I was happy to do Wayne’s World because I really did think it was hilarious.
Were you a fan of the sketches beforehand?
Yeah. I mean, I have to tell you I felt a little bit of a challenge to turn a five-minute sketch into a 90-minute movie. But all of us had that fear. There were so many rewrites on the script. It was unbelievable. You do some rewrites and the script supervisor gives you different color pages. There’s like 10 colors and we went through all 10 colors three times. So it was a lot of rewriting as we went along.
I imagine another unique part of directing this film was that Mike and Dana came in with more experience with these characters and the material than you did. How did that impact the way you approached your job?
They were great. Just like any great comedy team, they are always trying to one-up each other. So Dana would come up with an idea and then Mike would build on it and it just kept evolving. I had to respect the fact that they really knew the characters. But that’s an actor’s job. When you get a script, whether there was a skit before that or not, you’re supposed to delve in and find that person. And those guys had it, so I had to respect what they knew about the characters, but it was challenging. Dana had to have all this stuff rigged up in the car, like a licorice dispenser. And it’s like, “We don’t have time to build all that.” “Yeah, but we have to!” “Okay.” Mike had to have the exact right house that he lived in. Honestly, the house could have been any house, you know what I mean? It was fun but crazy.
Also adding to your challenge was that this had to be a really short shoot, correct? You had to rush to get them back to SNL.
We were shooting like right up until the last moment. Because the final scene we shot was them lying on the hood of the car, supposedly at the airport, but it was a soundstage. I had to get them out the door to get them into the limo to drive them to the airport to go back to write on SNL. So that’s how tight the schedule was. And that’s why that scene is so funny: because I just let the cameras roll. I didn’t cut. I knew if I cut, I wasn’t going to get the scene. I just let it roll and they kept improvising and I think that’s why everybody loves that scene so much. Not very much of that was scripted; they kind of just made it up. They knew the movie was over and the reason they were laughing so hard is it was a way to experience a relief and release of having just done 32 days and then the other two days we went to Aurora and Chicago. But they were just laughing so hard then because they were just relieved that we had accomplished what we had to do.
The “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene is so good. Take me through shooting that and why you think it’s become so memorable.
I think it’s so memorable because it’s sort of like the epitome of joyous youth. The song itself builds so well in that operatic way that Freddie Mercury had of writing. The guys, when we shot it, were really complaining because they didn’t like having to bang their heads so much. I did so many different shots and we mounted the cameras different ways and Mike was complaining that his head hurt and he needed Advil and they were both saying that the scene wasn’t funny and why are we doing this. But it’s the scene people remember.
That probably makes you feel even better in the end when you see that you were justified in your vision.
I saw how the audiences reacted in the test screenings and they would cheer when that song kicks in and start banging their heads really hard. I knew that it worked then. But it was a group effort; everyone pitched in their ideas. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song itself, was a choice of Mike’s. It was in the script from the very beginning.
This was basically Rob Lowe’s entrance into comedy, and now I would argue he’s more of a comedic actor than dramatic. Were you surprised by how funny he was and what he brought to the movie?
He will admit and has admitted that Wayne’s World really taught him his comedy chops. He was kind of just the dreamboat romantic actor kind of guy before that. He said he learned a lot from Mike and Dana, and maybe a little from me, I don’t know. But that’s where he honed his comedy. It was funny because it was Lorne’s idea to approach Rob for the part and we all went, “What? What are you talking about?” And he goes, “C’mon man, we can get him cheap, he just had some really bad publicity.” And it was true [laughs].
Hey, it worked out for everyone.
It did. The whole thing really was a coming together of personalities and chemistries that just magically worked. Years later, I remember working on one of those comedies and an executive from the studio said, “Don’t you dare think that you’re going to do the same thing with this movie as you did with Wayne’s World because that only happens once in a lifetime.” And I said to him, “Oh yeah, well, just watch me.” But he was right. I’ve had successful movies after that, but none of them that made $200 million and 25 years later people are celebrating.
You say “once in a lifetime,” but were you interested in returning for the sequel?
Of course I was. Like I told you, I would take any gig that I could get. I just assumed that I would be able to do it. And… you know why it didn’t happen, right?
I’ve read that there was some tension between you and Mike over the final cut of the movie.
Right. Because of that, he decided that I couldn’t direct it, and he had the power with the studio, because without Mike, you don’t have a movie. So then I got snubbed there, but I always look at things like that as, “What a great lesson.” It really made me a better person and a stronger person. I mean, I was really depressed over it. I tore all of the phones out of the walls, they were still connected at that point [laughs]. And I felt horrible. When you go through something like that, you just come out stronger. So I thank them for it.
And you guys have kind of buried the hatchet and moved on, right?
Oh yeah, I don’t care. Here’s the thing, I forgave Mike when he did Austin Powers, because when somebody has that much talent and can make that many people feel good, it’s fine. I was fine with it, I’m like, “This guy’s just a genius.” I’m over it.
Something I find interesting about your film is that it was only the second film based on an SNL sketch or character, coming 12 years after The Blues Brothers. After Wayne’s World’s success, they made many more, but none of them have done nearly as well. What do you think it was about this movie that separated it from all the others?
You know, you’re asking the question like, “Why is man on the face of the Earth?” I don’t know [laughs]. Like I said, the only explanation I have is that it was kind of cosmic, everything just came together: the right people, the right circumstances, the right script, the right time. I couldn’t believe back then how well received the film was and I can’t believe right now — 25 years later — that it’s being given this attention. It’s rather uncommon.
I just watched it again yesterday and it still holds up.
Really? You know the last time I saw Wayne’s World was? The premiere in 1992. I just don’t like to go back and look at my own movies for some reason. I either like to be in the now or a little bit in the future, but I don’t like to relive the past. I would look at that movie and tear it apart.
What can fans expect from the rerelease?
Well, I don’t know if you heard or not, but I was told that Aurora, Illinois [where the film took place] was doing a celebration. Evidently, it started off as they were going to do a one-month celebration and now it’s turned into, believe it or not, a six-month celebration of Wayne’s World. It’s starting in February and ending on July 4 with a headbanging session to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in an effort to get more people than ever before together to headbang to that song. I can’t believe it. Don’t they have pumpkins or strawberries to celebrate? Isn’t that crazy?
A lot of aspirin will be definitely be needed!
[Laughs] No, Mike kept asking for Advil!
In closing, how do you look back on the film and the experience in general?
Next to my daughter being born, I look at it as the most blessed event of my life. How’s that for a quote? I just thought of it at this moment [laughs].