Wayne’s World is 30 years old? No way. Yes, way, and we asked director Penelope Spheeris to share her memories of making this comedy classic that to date is the highest-grossing movie based on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
Wayne’s World was Spheeris’ first studio film. She came to the project with serious indie cred as the director of the seminal punk documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, which has been enshrined in the National Film Registry as an “historically, culturally or aesthetically significant film.”
She worked with comedy guru and “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels on the short films by Albert Brooks that were featured in the show’s first season. Who better then to direct a comedy about Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and his BFF Garth (Dana Carvey), two suburban rockers and local heroes who host their own cable access show. Rob Lowe, who had never done a flat-out comic film, costars as a sleazy producer who plots to take control of the DIY show and commercialize it.
Wayne’s World’s quotable catch phrases (“Schwing!”, “We’re not worthy”) have become embedded in popular culture as has its iconic set pieces, including Wayne and Garth’s headbanging drive-around their small town of Aurora, Illinois while Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” blasts from their radio.
Made for only $14 million and released by its studio with little expectations, Wayne’s World rocked the box office to the tune of $183 million. The Paramount Home Entertainment release is available to rent or buy on demand from Redbox. Wayne’s World is also available in a 30th anniversary Blu-ray!
Spheeris spoke to Redbox about what why she took the gig, making a smart dumb comedy and working with Meat Loaf. Party on, readers.
Redbox: Were Mike Myers and Dana Carvey your first choices to play Wayne and Garth?
Penelope Spheeris: (Laughs) A director theoretically has final say, but I like to have everybody’s input. But there was absolutely no denying they had to play those parts. (Paramount executive) John Goldwyn wanted his wife Colleen Camp to be in the movie. I said, ‘Dude, that’s nepotism,” and he goes, ‘Yeah, welcome to Hollywood.” But she was fantastic and she’s still one of my very best friends.
RB: You launched Rob Lowe’s career as a comic actor. What did you see in him that made you think he could be funny?
PS: It surprised even him that he was as funny as he was. Lorne Michaels is the one who wanted me to cast Rob. He’s always been famous for being good looking, okay, so he fit that part. But I said, ‘We can’t hire this guy because he had an issue with the law’ (the sex tape scandal that nearly derailed his career). And Lorne said, ‘Well, that means we’ll get him cheap.”
RB: Welcome to Hollywood!
PS: Welcome to Hollywood, right. Rob was hell-bent on doing a good job and making up for his bad behavior.
RB: What about the script resonated with you?
PS: The fact that if I could get that gig, I could get my foot into the studio system door. The movie could have been Creature from the Black Lagoon 4, and I would have done it.
RB: I’d love to see you do that!
PS: I know, right? I love that movie. I’m not putting down the script to Wayne’s World, obviously, but the fact is, that was the movie that would get me into the Director’s Guild. It was a big stepping stone. Before that, I was borrowing money from my sister to pay the rent.
RB: You know the old saying that dying is easy, comedy is hard. But harder still is making a smart dumb comedy.
PS: I think it was Mike who said Wayne’s World is a dumb movie made by smart people. I agree with that. The fact is, Lorne’s mandate was always to stay ahead of the audience, so if the audience thinks you’re going to hang a right, then you hang a left. Sometimes I think they took it to an extreme. I didn’t like the scene in Stan Mikita’s Donuts when Wayne opens the door and there’s Ninjas bouncing around. I thought that was too much of a left turn. I didn’t want to shoot that, but I did. It got a good laugh.
RB: One of my favorite unexpected moments is when Garth asks Wayne if he found Bugs Bunny attractive when he dressed as a woman. Mike Meyers’ laugh is so genuine, I was wondering if Dana improvised that.
PS: Yes, sir. You got it. It’s one of my favorite little stories. That was filmed on a soundstage. The airplane that flew over was about three feet long. Mike and Dana were so tired because it was the last day of the shoot. We were all tired, we couldn’t even see straight. There was a limo waiting outside to take them to the airport to get back to Saturday Night Live. It was going on for so long the limo driver was honking and they were laughing because the driver was honking and (messing) up the takes. They just started improvising and I let the camera roll. And it was a magical, magical moment.
RB: We just lost Meat Loaf. What was it like to work with him?
PS: It was as special as he was. I knew him before he was cast. He and I used to hang out at the clubs on the Sunset Strip, partying all the time. I suggested him for the bouncers, because there were plenty of times before he became too famous when we were arguing with bouncers to get in the door. One thing I loved about him was he wasn’t your typical rock star look, but he had this innate talent and amazing voice. It was a tragedy to lose him.
RB: Wayne’s World was Chris Farley’s debut. What do you remember about working with him?
PS: I got a call from Lorne, who said he had this really special guy who was going to join the cast and that he wanted me to give him a part. His part as the guy in the parking lot was the only one that was left. The stiff, twitchy stuff he with did while giving directions came out of his nervousness. Lorne told me that he was shy and didn’t like being on camera. It was a real pleasure to work with Chris then and on Black Sheep. He was a special person.
RB: What was it like to see Wayne’s World with an audience for the first time?
PS: Indescribable. It was at the Village Theater in Westwood. It was a thousand seat theater and it was packed. I stood in the back with the marketing guys. The laughs just kept coming. It was one of the most magical, surreal moments to think we could make a movie that made so many people laugh so much.
RB: Wayne’s World put “Bohemian Rhapsody” back on the map. Was that always the song for that scene?
PS: It was Mike’s idea to use “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but I shot it in a way that may have boosted it up a bit. I think we damaged a few cervical bones there.
RB: It’s such an iconic moment in movie comedy. I don’t remember which movie it was, but there was a Leslie Nielsen movie where he’s doing the head bob.
PS: What about James Corden? Driving around with everybody singing in the car? He got the whole thing (from Wayne’s World).
Photo Credit-Suzanne Tenner