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  • Feature: Catching up with 'The Love Guru' Cast

    Thu, 19 Jun 2008 09:03:47

    Feature: Catching up with 'The Love Guru' Cast - ARTISTdirect speaks to Mike Myers, Justin Timberlake, and the rest of <i>The Love Guru</i>'s creative disciples

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    Hollywood is fertile ground for fleeting spiritual movements, with introspective flocks gravitating toward the dubious philosophies of Rhonda Byrne and Eckhart Tolle—essentially, any selection from Oprah’s New Age a la carte menu—to attain transcendental calm. Hype-driven as these teachings are, they stem from a common desire: the want for self-acceptance. Mike Myers holds reverence for certain doctrines—he is a friend and follower of mind-body maestro Deepak Chopra, for example—and pays homage to teachers like Chopra while poking fun at faddish self-help crusades in The Love Guru, his first live-action feature in five years. Like Wayne Campbell and Austin Powers before him, Guru Pitka is a character painted with fine comedic gradiation. From his cascading tresses to his cache of clever acronyms (e.g., “Gee, You Are You,” or, G.U.R.U.™), Pitka is a fleshed out being who, in real life, could convincingly receive enlightenment-seeking celebrities at his sprawling ashram. (Indeed, look out for a brief series of celeb cameos at the film’s start.)

    Myers has a long and intensely personal connection with Indian culture, which matured when his father passed away during the early ‘90s, the same time that his career was beginning to soar.

    “In 1991 my father passed away and I went on a spiritual quest,” says Myers, “I started reading voraciously. I saw Deepak Chopra on the Oprah show…and I went, 'His philosophy and his writings speak to me.' Austin Powers was a tribute to my father and all the British comedy that he had introduced me to, and the Guru Pitka was an extension of me dealing with my father's death.”

    Myers channels Chopra’s hypnotic cadence through Pitka’s voice and writes him into the film as well, positing Chopra as the Guru’s pop-psychology nemesis. They battle for national adoration, with Chopra holding court as America’s Number One Guru, and Pitka begrudgingly accepting secondary status. Myers’ internalization of Chopra’s teachings and influence are manifest in Pitka’s ruling philosophy, the D.R.A.M.A. (Distraction, Regression, Adjustment, Maturity, Action) system for self-actualization. It is the approach he uses to coach Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco), a lovelorn hockey player whose wife has run off with arch nemesis Jacques “Le Coq” Grande (Justin Timberlake) and whose game is suffering as a result.

    Myers hand-picked Timberlake (whom he calls “the most talented human being that I’ve ever met”) to play wife-stealing lothario Grande, enlisting the pop star-cum-actor as a key player in Guru’s robust comedic ensemble. For Timberlake, being recruited by one of his comedic heroes was a defining personal and professional triumph.

    “Mike called me and said, ‘I think you’re really funny, I think you understand comedy, and I can’t really see anybody else playing this role and pulling it off like you’ll pull it off,’” Timberlake recalls, “That meant a lot to me. I grew up watching Mike on SNL be Linda Richman and [Dieter on] ‘The Sprockets,’ Simon…You kind of walk in saying, ‘Okay, don’t let Mike down.’”

    Timberlake, who won the effusive praise of Myers and others after assuming hosting duties on Saturday Night Live, but whose acting career has heretofore consisted mainly of dramatic roles, likens comedy to his experience as a performer.

    “It’s very similar to being onstage. That’s what SNL is; it’s being onstage. You get an immediate reaction. This was my first comedic experience to not get an immediate reaction. [For instance,] the dancing on the ice [scene]—I did takes and takes and takes of that…I got to the point where I’m like, ‘Man this is not funny. This is really not funny.’…Then the director says, ‘Cut!’ and all the extras are like, ‘Yeah!’ [Applause] And I was like, ‘Oh, thank God.’”

    From Timberlake’s Celine Dion-worshipping Grande, an eccentric Quebecois with a muddled accent, to Myers’ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi-inspired Pitka, cultural influences have a pronounced presence in the film, with some critics complaining that the jocose jabs amount to grossly insensitive, and ultimately harmful, portrayals. According to cast members, however, this was never the material’s intent.

    Says star Romany Malco, “He’s not even making fun of Indians. He’s making fun, really, of how fashionable it is to have a guru in Hollywood…That’s really the joke.”

    Myers adds, “The teachings are like The Force in Star Wars and like the country of Fredonia in the Marx Brothers movies. This is a fictional teaching that's...designed to be non-denominational and fictional and in a fantasy world.”

    This is a silly movie [with] a nice message...You have to love yourself.

    Myers is deeply fascinated with Indian culture, harboring an appreciation for layers which teem with details that both he and director Marco Schnabel borrowed in order to create Guru’s vivid atmosphere. Myers, who claims to be an insomniac of sorts, recalls watching Indian movies in early morning and having those images make a memorable impact.

    “I would watch [Indian films] and go, 'Wow. This is just a tapestry.' It was so different and ultimately it's [similar to] Austin Powers. It's all singing, all dancing, very bright color palettes. I didn't know that then because I hadn't written it yet, but I was like, ‘This is just a fascinating parallel universe that's going on.’”

    First-time director Schnabel, whose history with Myers extends back to working on the Austin Powers franchise, was particularly taken by the rich visuals of Bollywood films, which were woven into The Love Guru’s meticulous set design and, in direct reference, musical numbers that allude to popular Indian films. Star Jessica Alba, who recently gave birth and was not available at press time, reveled in these performance pieces.

    “She loved it. That was the first thing that we did at our makeup test. She came out sort of wearing these beautiful Bollywood outfits and immediately you could tell that was what excited her the most about the movie, and working with Mike, obviously,” Schnabel says. “I found that when we were shooting those sort of sequences she really came alive and had a lot of fun with it, and she would most look forward to [them]. For me, the dance numbers and musical numbers are the highlight of the film. It’s what I get a kick out of.”

    Creating Pitka the character was, in many ways, just as carefully choreographed as said elaborate dance sequences. Myers spent years road-testing the Guru out at comedy clubs while completing the screenplay with co-writer Graham Gordy. This deliberate gestation period is one explanation for Myers’ brief hiatus from live-action films, though he has lent his voice to the Shrek series in the interim. Working closely with Myers on Guru, Schnabel was privy to the nuances of the comedian’s creative process.

    “He spends a long time incubating with the idea. He really wants to make sure that his next film is something that’s going to hit with audiences, that they’re going to respond to it, they’re going to react to it. Once he finds something…he’ll then take it out on the road and test it,” Schnabel explains. “I can remember 12 years ago at The Viper Room here on Sunset seeing Austin Powers for the first time. It was a different incarnation of Austin at that time. So he’s really just getting audience feedback and building a character from the outside in. And once he really feels like he’s got something that’s going to hit, then he starts building the script, and that takes time. He goes through many different drafts and by the time he called me, he sort of got it to a place that he wanted and he was ready to start collaborating.”

    Myers’ collaborative spirit permeated every aspect of the film. He teamed up with Graham Gordy as a writing partner, selectively pulled in talents like Schnabel and Timberlake, performs duets with onscreen partner Rajneesh (Manu Narayan), and even propositioned Chopra to make a brief cameo. It appears Pitka’s teachings extended to the set environment as well, as Myers speaks of shooting the film with fondness.

    “Everyone [onboard] got that this is a silly, silly movie that's just for fun that is, I hope, a great delivery system of a nice message, and the nice message is that you have to love yourself. If you love yourself then you can invite others to love you. That's basically the message…You're responsible for your own health and happiness.”

    Indeed, Guru Myers.

    —Heidi Atwal

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    Tags: Mike Myers, Justin Timberlake, Marco Schnabel, Jessica Alba, Romany Malco, The Love Guru

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