Director Penelope Spheeris on the 25th Anniversary of Wayne's World | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Director Penelope Spheeris on the 25th Anniversary of Wayne’s World

Party On and Don’t Look Back

Feb 03, 2017 Penelope Spheeris Bookmark and Share

Wayne’s World is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a nationwide re-release this month. Film writer J.A. Kordosh spoke with Penelope Spheeris, the director of the comedy classic, about the wisdom of being poor, why she didn’t direct the sequel and trademark bandanas. She’s a hoot! Are you a hoot? If so, please read. If not, he can recommend a nice, cold bowl of pralines and dick.

J.A. Kordosh [Under the Radar]: How did Wayne’s World come to you?

Penelope Spheeris: It was what they called an open directing assignment back in the day at Paramount. My agent knew that I had worked with Lorne Michaels before so he got me in the door over there. It was a long process but I got the gig because I knew Lorne and I had just directed Decline of Western Civilization Part II. It was about heavy metal music and Wayne and Garth thought they were headbangers even though they weren’t (laughs).

So Lorne was key in getting the job?

Yeah, but let me tell you I had to go through so many meetings over [at Paramount].

Why did you think there were so many meetings?

Probably because I hadn’t done a studio movie before and because I was a woman. I didn’t really realize it back then, I mean, I realized I was a woman (laughs) but I didn’t realize that there was, you know, a bit of discrimination going on. I just thought it was just a really tough job.

You had done documentaries and indie films before, but Wayne’s World was your first studio film, how prepared and confident were you when you started the film?

It wasn’t my first narrative piece. The Academy of Motion Pictures just restored all my student films from UCLA. I had done a bunch of films there, Suburbia, Boys Next Door with Charlie Sheen and Dudes with Jon Cryer. I was pretty confident at that point. I knew how to make a movie. What I wasn’t sure about was having all those people, all those trucks and trailers there. When they drove me to the set—first of all, they drove me to the set. That’s pretty freaky. I told them, “Man, you can’t have the right place. I don’t do movies like that.” It kinda opened the door to the studio system for me.

Mike Meyers became a bit notorious for being a control freak on set. You have been quoted as saying you hated him for years but have subsequently forgiven him. Can you talk about collaborating with him?

I have to say I regret ever saying I hated Mike. I think I hated the situation. I didn’t want to the change the cut and if I wouldn’t change it I couldn’t do Wayne’s World 2. That’s a bad situation. I have to say as time passed I came to admire Mike so much because of Austin Powers and his other work. After Wayne’s World all of us were just spinning. I wanted to do more serious films like I had done before but I couldn’t get those jobs. They only gave me comedies. They started offering two million dollars for my salary. I didn’t want to do it, honestly, but I had been poor my whole life, like most of us, and I said screw it I’ll go ahead and take the money.

Were you creatively satisfied after making Wayne’s World?

I felt like I was in a group of extremely creative, talented and funny people. Previously, I had worked with Richard Pryor, Albert Brooks, Danny DeVito and Lily Tomlin so I had been around comedy but this was a really special group. People asked, “Why did it do so well?” I think it was a magical moment in time. People said, “Don’t think that will happen again,” and I’m like, “Yes, it will.” Except it didn’t. It didn’t.

When did you know it was going to be a hit? Why do you think it struck such a chord with audiences?

Having never been in the studio system before I didn’t really understand test screenings. The executives at the studio understood them of course, that’s all they really base all their advertising on. If it doesn’t test well they’re not gonna throw any more money at it. On our first screening that’s when I knew. That’s when everybody knew. Unfortunately, Mike’s dad had just died around that time and he wasn’t at the test screenings. It’s kinda not his fault that he wanted me to change the movie because he wasn’t able to see it with the test audience.

Did the changes he wanted to make get it into the movie?

No. I said I am not changing it. It was a weird situation. Here’s the thing, as bad as I felt when I couldn’t do Wayne’s World 2, I knew instinctively that that they were doing it too soon. I mean, it was a year afterwards.

How did it feel to be part of a cultural sensation, spawning catch phrases, Halloween costumes and all that?

People ask me when they last time I saw the movie was and, John, it was twenty five years ago. I don’t go back and look at my old work. It was really gruesome and brutal to have go back and do the Decline box set even though I love all that stuff. When you look at it you go that part of my life is gone I’m almost dead (laughs). So it’s hard to look back but now it’s kinda fun that they’re doing the 25th anniversary. Me and Tia Carrere, Robert Patrick and Colleen Camp did a panel that’s going up before the movie. They’re showing it in 400 theatres.

I’m gonna try and catch it in New York.

[Skeptically] Really?

Yeah, it had a big impact on me when I was a kid.

It makes people really happy. It’s a sign of happier times.

We’ve definitely had happier times. You maybe couldn’t make that film now. So, twenty-five years later you’re not going to watch Wayne’s World?

No, no, no. I hope Paramount doesn’t hate me for saying that. I’m in the Academy and the Director’s Guild and I have a stack of movies to watch from 2016. You get to a certain point where your time is extremely valuable. I love Wayne’s World and I’m so happy they’re doing this. In fact, I just spoke to Alice Cooper which was a trip, because he was in the movie.

And he’s in Decline of Western Civilization Part II, right?

Yeah, that’s why he’s in Wayne’s World. Mike wanted Aerosmith but they said no because it looked like some stupid comedy. Then they did Wayne’s World 2.

Once it’s cool, it’s cool.

Right, but that didn’t work (laughs). That’s okay. I saw Steven Tyler the other day. He has a whole country and western show now.

That’s odd. Does he still have the bandanas around the microphone?

Oh, he ain’t giving that trademark up (laughs).

So you have this Top 10 box office smash hit and it launches another career in studio features but having read your prior quotes and what you said earlier, it seems like it didn’t open all the doors you wanted it to?

Yeah, but I don’t wanna complain because I have a lot of friends who never got any movies. They never made any money. I made a bunch of movies and I would have rather made more serious movies. I’m basically a serious person. I think I’m a deep person and I’m not really a comedy person. That’s the only gig I could get. I took the money and I’m still spending it. You can’t have everything if you’re a chick. You can have the money but not doing what you wanna do or you can do what you want and then not have the money.

Final thoughts on the 25th anniversary and your connection to Wayne’s World?

[Adopting Southern twang] I thank the Lord in Heaven that it ever happened. How’s that?

That’s perfect. I love the movie and I wish you all the best with that stack of 2016 films.

Awesome. I have a lot to do. Thanks a lot, John.


For Wayne’s World 25th Anniversary screenings near you, head over to the event’s website.


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