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Mike Myers finally makes directorial debut with juicy showbiz doc

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TORONTO - On his last day of high school, Mike Myers was accepted to York University's film program and — being a self-described "pseudo-intellectual punk-rocker" — the man who would eventually go on to create some of the silliest characters in recent film history knew instantly what he wanted to make: serious-minded documentary.

Sure, the actor who would later create the outsized goofballs of "Wayne's World," "Austin Powers" and "Shrek" always loved comedy, but at that time he was more inspired by realistic drama like "Goin' Down the Road" and such innovative docs as "F for Fake" and "Medium Cool."

And his debut as a documentary filmmaker might have indeed happened sooner if not for one thing: the stubbornness of his dream subject, genial showbiz impresario Shep Gordon.

Myers met Gordon on the set of "Wayne's World" in 1991, when they negotiated which tune by Alice Cooper — a Gordon client — would be included in the film. Soon after, Myers was on vacation in Hawaii when Gordon invited him to a luau he was throwing that would be attended by the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Far from a party-hopping Hollywood sort — "I'd been to maybe two parties where there's huge stars," says the actor — Myers was instead struck by his host, who was "compassionate and generous" and seemingly in possession of a limitless trove of jaw-dropping Hollywood anecdotes.

"At that moment I said to him, 'Can I do a film about you?' And he just said: 'Uhh... No.'" Myers recalled with a laugh, exactly mimicking Gordon's voice, in a telephone interview this week.

"I just kept asking for 20 years."

Eventually, Gordon relented and allowed Myers to craft "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon," which hits Canadian theatres on Friday.

Gordon's tale is, to say the least, unlikely. After growing up in Long Island and attending the University of Buffalo, he wound up hanging out at Hollywood's Landmark Motor Hotel as a 21-year-old who fortuitously was punched in the face by Janis Joplin — thus marking his strange entrypoint into a social circle that also included Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

Little more than a drug dealer at the time, Gordon thought he'd provide a legitimate front for his activities by managing Alice Cooper, an unruly and unpolished band that had rode a series of splashy stunts to local infamy but little more.

Gordon would help bring worldwide fame to Cooper — the band and its lead singer, who would take that name as his own — while building an impressive list of clients that included Anne Murray, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass and Emeril Lagasse (in fact, Gordon is feted in the film for essentially inventing the celebrity chef concept).

Described by Myers as a "perfect combination of Brian Epstein, Marshall McLuhan and Mr. Magoo," Gordon bore a seemingly limitless capacity for sex and drugs, and it's thus unsurprising that celeb interviewees including Michael Douglas, Stallone and Tom Arnold provided more outrageous anecdotes than Myers could possibly cram into a 90-minute film.

"There were so many fantastic stories that my joke was that there would be a companion piece called 'Honourable Mensch,'" said Myers, inspiring peals of laughter from Gordon, who dialled into the call from Maui.

Myers knew that would be the case going in. He recalls many evenings in Hawaii when he would persuade Gordon to stay up a little later — "he goes to bed insanely early," Myers notes — to tell another story.

Not that Gordon minded.

"He loved hearing my stories and I love telling my stories — and I don't usually have an audience," Gordon said. "I've had this Forrest Gump-ridiculous life of great moments."

Not all such moments were flattering, but Gordon made no effort to omit potentially embarrassing passages from the film ("there were parts of the movie that were a little difficult for me to watch, but they're real," he said).

In fact, the entire film wasn't necessarily an easy experience to sit through for Gordon. After basing his life around celebrating and inspiring the success of others, the spotlight wasn't a comfortable fit.

"It's embarrassing a little bit for me to see myself on the screen, to think about taking 90 minutes of a person's life, looking at me. That's not what I ever envisioned my role on the planet was," he said.

"But I see the reaction of the people after the movie ... and it's really touching people in such a deep and poignant way towards the good, rather than the dark. And I'm proud to be part of it."

Myers, too, ventured out of his comfort zone here to an extent.

And yet, while "Supermensch" marks the 51-year-old's formal directorial debut, the Emmy winner wrote every instalment of "Austin Powers" and "Wayne's World" and, given his notoriously meticulous nature, might have been more involved in those productions than your average film star.

He certainly still had much to learn — "the art of documentary filmmaking has been something that I've held in unbelievably high and warm regard," he notes — but said the divisions between roles onset have been fluid even as far back as his days on "Saturday Night Live."

"One of the great things about working with Lorne Michaels is if you write your material, you have to produce your material," said Myers, whose wife recently gave birth to the couple's second child. "On a comedy, you end up being a stunt co-ordinator of the comedic sequences. ... There's a thousand ways to shoot any given comedy or action sequence, and so you're always part of that team.

"That's a tradition that Lorne Michaels believes firmly in. ... I thought I was going to be a director anyways and the great tutelage of Lorne Michaels is that you're forced to be part of the mise-en-scene and all of it."

Still, says Myers, "Supermensch" should not be viewed as a professional precursor.

He was primarily motivated by his adoration of Gordon, which comes through clearly even during this interview. After Myers digresses into his love of Toronto — "one of the great joys of living in Toronto," says Myers, who indeed still lives here, "is how many cinemas there are per capita" — Gordon traces his own long history with the city. He was the one who brought the live chicken that was famously torn apart during a Cooper gig here, and he helped open up a clothing store around 1970 — complete with see-through phone booth changerooms — but "the city got rid of us very fast."

Laughing all the while in the background, Myers marvels: "This is my first time hearing this."

In one of his own interview segments in the film, Myers calls Gordon the nicest person he's ever met — a sentiment echoed by several other interviewees. So speaking now, Myers was certain to shift focus from his behind-the-camera debut back to his reluctant star.

"I have such respect for documentarians. I'm honoured that the movie got distributed. That's my personal artistic part of it, as an artist," he said.

"As a friend of Shep, this isn't a career move. I love Shep and I wanted his story to be told. And he finally said yes."

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