How The Comic 'Wayne's World' Became Her World

Posted: February 16, 1992

Picture Wayne and Garth on a killing spree: The two head-banging, late- night public-access-TV hosts climb into their car, tool into downtown Aurora, Ill., and blow away half the customers at the local doughnut shop.

Nothing like that happens in Wayne's World, the sublimely stupid comedy starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey and based on the characters the two created on Saturday Night Live. But when the folks at Paramount heard producer Lorne Michaels suggest Penelope Spheeris as director, the executives had queasy visions of a movie turned dark and twisted.

Spheeris' filmography - a list of low-budget, independent efforts, nary a one of 'em a comedy - showed a woman obsessed with teen angst, violence and drugged-out kids. There was Suburbia, about a pack of runaway delinquents. And The Boys Next Door, in which high school grads Charlie Sheen and Maxwell Caulfield murder a bunch of people. And Spheeris' documentaries, The Decline of Western Civilization, Parts I and II: frenetic, close-up looks at the punk and metal-music scenes.

"There was mega-concern," reports Spheeris, who, happily, wound up with the job anyway. "It was really hard to convince the studio. . . . I had to go to, like, five meetings and think of everything funny in the world I could say just to prove that I wasn't going to be turning this thing into Wayne and Garth Go to Hell.

"I think the turning point came when I was on the phone with one of the executives, and I said that I had done a season on Roseanne as story editor. He goes, 'Well, why didn't you say so?'

"I said, 'I forgot. It's the kind of thing you want to forget about.' "

If screenings are any indication (and they usually are), Wayne's World, which opened Friday, promises to be a hit. Test audiences have been howling gleefully throughout, as Wayne and Garth square off opposite a sleazy TV producer (Rob Lowe), get backstage passes to an Alice Cooper concert, and go ''Schwing!" over babes (Tia Carrere, Lara Flynn Boyle and Donna Dixon). The film crosses the heavy-metal sendup of This Is Spinal Tap with the off- the-wall hilarity of Airplane! and The Naked Gun.

"It does give me great pleasure to sit in an auditorium and think that I may have had something to do with making these people laugh like this," says Spheeris, who may finally get the industry respect she deserves. "And for me, personally, it's a gratifying feeling to know I've gone from those dark, heavy subjects to something more fun and uplifting."

Whether dark and heavy, or fun and uplifting, Spheeris - who has been editing, producing and directing for 20 years and rearing a daughter for 22 years - seems uncannily attuned to the mind-set of arrested adolescence.

"I do believe, honestly - after spending 12 years in analysis with the same shrink - that it is probably due to the fact that I never really experienced an active teenage life myself, and I'm doing it vicariously now," says the director, whose father, a circus strongman, was murdered when she was 7. "I was the oldest of four kids, I had to take care of all the kids, and I swear I was never able to party like everyone else. So I'm doing it in movies now."

"Hopefully," she says, laughing, "I'll grow out of it soon."

THE PLAYER. Fine Line Features, a division of New Line, has nabbed The Player, Robert Altman's scathing black comedy about the movie biz. Virtually every studio in Hollywood was bidding to distribute the independently financed pic, based on Michael Tolkin's novel and starring Tim Robbins as a hotshot studio exec who kills a struggling screenwriter - and then seduces the screenwriter's girlfriend. According to Variety editor Peter Bart, writing in the current issue, "Hollywood's new favorite indoor sport is trying to figure out which industry figure each of the lead characters is modeled after. . . . None of (the characterizations) are particularly flattering, to be sure."

The Player, which is scheduled to open in April, contains a humongous number of cameos, including Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Anjelica Huston, Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis, all playing themselves. And all toiling for day- worker, scale wages!

"BASIC" R. After all the hoo-ha over a possible NC-17 rating, director Paul Verhoeven has made enough trims on his ultraviolent Michael Douglas- Sharon Stone thriller to win an R rating. According to the Los Angeles Times, about a minute's worth of footage depicting an ice-pick stabbing and some heated sex between Douglas and Stone was excised from Basic Instinct last week to ensure the R rating. (Verhoeven was contractually obligated to deliver an R version to the studio; X and NC-17 ratings have thus far proved to be box-office anathema.)

The Basic Instinct production has been at the center of controversy since the project was announced early last year. Douglas stars as a police detective investigating a series of murders, in which the victims are killed in the throes of ecstasy. His prime suspect is a rich bisexual novelist, and the film

explores her past sexual relationships - with men and women. When shooting got under way in San Francisco last April, gay organizations protested what they perceived as negative stereotypes in Joe Eszterhas' script. Several location shoots were disrupted by protesters, and police were called in to protect the film crew.

According to the Times story, TriStar is concerned that gay activists plan to put up billboards disclosing the film's ending when Basic Instinct is released March 20. Gay groups also have threatened to picket theaters playing the megabudget flick.

CLIPS. Tim Burton, sweating bullets to have Batman Returns ready by its June release date, has agreed to helm the film version of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. The Tony-winning musical will be adapted by screenwriter Caroline Thompson, who worked with Burton on Edward Scissorhands. . . . Matt Dillon and Danny Glover have signed up for The Saint of Fort Washington, a film about a homeless guy that Tim Hunter (River's Edge) is set to direct. . . . Akira Kurosawa, 81-year-old director whose Rhapsody in August is in release, has announced plans for his 30th film, a comedy called Mada Da Yo (Not Ready Yet), which he'll begin shooting in Japan early next month. . . . Kenneth Branagh has selected a script from comedian Rita Rudner for his next project. It's titled Peter's Friend, and Branagh will star and direct, as he did in Henry V and Dead Again. His fellow thespians: his wife, Emma Thompson; Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

FROM THE "UNLIKELIEST OF HITS" DEPT. Oliver Stone's assassination thesis, JFK, is the No. 1 film in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

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