Oh, Behave!: 20 Years of Austin Powers

The spy who put the “grrr” in “swinger” and got movies their mojo back first appeared today in 1997. It’s time to reopen a shagedelic dossier.
Publish date:
Elizabeth Hurley and Mike Myers in Austin Powers

Elizabeth Hurley and Mike Myers on the set of 'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,' which premiered on May 2, 1997.

After six seasons on Saturday Night Live and a pair of films sprung from its popular Wayne’s World sketches, comedian Mike Myers traveled back in time to the swinging London of 1967 and returned with his most outrageous character, the saucy superspy Austin Powers. Make that two outrageous characters, as Austin and his nemesis, Dr. Evil, injected the late 90s with bad puns, gross-out gags, and racy double entendres. Can we pleasure you with an anniversary review of his exploits? Yeah baby!

1) Toronto-born Myers says the British pop culture of the 60s, including The Beatles, James Bond, and Peter Sellers, inspired Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. His father (who died in 1991) loved all of it, and the movies are a homage to him. The name “Austin Powers” comes from a car (the Aston Martin Austin) and Cold War pilot Francis Gary Powers.

2) Some sources say professor Stephen Hawking inspired Austin’s hair and glasses, but Myers says Warren Beatty (hair), the Rolling Stones (sideburns), and Sellers and future co-star Michael Caine (glasses). Beatles boots, a Partridge Family crushed velvet suit, Sean Connery’s chest hair, and the teeth of Finian’s Rainbow (1968) star Tommy Steele added to the look. Co-star Elizabeth Hurley (who took the role at the urging of her then-boyfriend, Hugh Grant, a Myers fan) said “Swinging Sixties” radio and TV commentator Simon Dee, a one-time phenomenon in Britain, also influenced the character.

3) The pussy-stroking Dr. Evil (a part intended for Jim Carrey) was a straight lift from the fifth James Bond movie, 1967’s You Only Live Twice, where Donald Pleasence played the pussy-stroking archvillain Blofeld. Evil’s “pinkie thing” was a gesture borrowed from SNL chieftain Lorne Michaels, Myers told The Hollywood Reporter

4) All three Austin Powers films were directed by Myers’ friend Jay Roach, who had a slender resume going in. Roach’s Monty Python-esque storyboards for the “fembots” got him the job.

5) The movies also grew out of “Ming Tea,” the retro-psychedelic band that appears in all three, and predates them with club and TV appearances. Its members include Austin (on lead vocals and guitar), “Sid Belvedere” (bass and backing vocals), and “Gillian Shagwell” (rhythm guitar and backing vocals). “Sid” is rocker Matthew Sweet and “Shagwell” is Susanna Hoffs, co-founder of the hit group The Bangles. She and Roach have been married since 1993. 

6) Dr. Evil’s “one million dollars” gag is Myers’ favorite in the movie. 

7) The movie tested poorly, and some of the naughty bits, like Myers and Hurley’s “nude blocking” scene, nearly resulted in an R rating. It did okay business in the U.S., but tanked overseas a few months later. It had the misfortune to open right around Princess Diana’s death, when a burlesque of Brits with a Diana joke (removed from international prints) seemed poorly timed.

8) Paving the way for sequels was the surprise popularity of the film on DVD, a format launched just as the movie opened. Myers said “I knew we had something” when he happened upon a Halloween parade filled with revelers dressed as Austin Powers.

9) That “something” led to 1999’s smash sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Myers added the repellent Scottish henchman “Fat Bastard” to his repertoire, and claimed it took 64 hours to get into his makeup. Some dainty newspapers wouldn’t print the character’s name. 

10) Speaking of public standards, the movie’s subtitle caused consternation in the U.K., where on some posters it was simply referred to as Austin Powers 2. The lighthearted meaning of the term “shag” eventually won out.

11) Generating maximum laughs was another new character, Mini-Me, Dr. Evil’s clone. Verne Troyer, one of the world’s shortest people at 2 ft. 8 in. tall, had parts in movies like Men in Black (1997) before his breakout performance.

12) This was the only Austin Powers movie to receive an Academy Award nomination, for Best Makeup. It also won a Grammy, for Madonna’s soundtrack hit “Beautiful Stranger.”

13) “Let me ask you a question. And be honest. Do I make you horny, baby? Do I? Do I make you randy?”—Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

14) Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) rounded out the trilogy. Myers played his three established roles plus the villainous Goldmember, a Dutchman with grotesquely flaking skin. He said his inspiration was an episode of HBO’s Real Sex that spotlighted a “sex barn” owner who lived near Rotterdam. 

15) Austinpussy was the working title for the movie, but it was thought to be too risqué. It’s used as the title of the cameo-filled movie-within-the-movie, which features everyone from Tom Cruise (as Austin) to Britney Spears

16) “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other people's cultures, and the Dutch.” Cast as Austin’s secret agent father Nigel was Michael Caine. Having inspired his “son’s” eyewear, Caine wore the same glasses he wore in 1965’s spy movie The Ipcress File

17) Fresh from Destiny’s Child and on the cusp of her solo career, twenty-year-old Beyoncé Knowles made her feature film debut in Goldmember, as agent Foxxy Cleopatra, a spoof of 70s “blaxploitation” heroines like Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones. 

18) “You may be a cunning linguist, but I am a master debater”—Austin to Foxxy.

19) After directing the hit comedies Meet the Parents (2000) and Meet the Fockers (2004), Roach found new mojo in political films, winning Emmys for HBO’s Recount (2008), the story of the contested 2000 presidential election, and Game Change (2012), with Julianne Moore “smashing” as Sarah Palin

20) To paraphrase a line from International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers has been frozen for 15 years. Are his bits and pieces still working—could there be a fourth film? “You just have to see,” says Myers (who, with few recent credits, has been something of a cinematic man of mystery since his other series character, Shrek, last appeared in 2010.) “We have all agreed that we would be delighted to get back into it,” Roach adds. “Get back into it”—oh, behave!