Entertainment Music The Austin Powers film Beyonce would rather forget

The Austin Powers film Beyonce would rather forget


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Amidst this tidal wave of fnar fnar humour, a lesser performer might have been all at sea. Not Beyoncé. In only her second screen role, she radiated confidence. She was also multi-tasking: in between filming she was on tour with her band Destiny’s Child, and recording their swan song album they would release in 2004.

What was she doing in Austin Powers in the first place? Myers and his director, Jay Roach, were looking for a strong female lead to play off Myers as Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham had in the previous Powers (a career high for Hurley, it would turn out).

“She was already a known person at the time, and we just wanted to go crazier with everything we did in that third film,” Roach told Vulture in a 2022 oral history of Beyoncé’s participation in Goldmember.

“This movie was really hard to put together. Much like every casting decision in Austin, it all seemed impossible. We’re going to get Steven Spielberg to pretend like he’s directing Austin? We’re going to get Tom Cruise to play Austin and we’re going to get Gwyneth Paltrow to play Dixie Normous?” (They managed all these things.)

The producers had decided Powers’s new foil should be a young black actress. Beyoncé’s name was suggested. “We sat down with Beyoncé and her mom on the rooftop patio outside of Mike Myers’s room at the Chateau Marmont and talked about the possibilities for the character,” Roach said. “Her mom was very much into blaxploitation movies. She could tell that was the DNA for Foxxy. Her mom was so cool and so helpful and instantly had ideas for us.”

'Beyoncé was prepared to put her foot down when it mattered': Mike Myers, Beyoncé and Michael Caine, who played Nigel Powers

According to Roach, Beyoncé “hit it off” with Myers. But for the singer, the draw wasn’t Austin Powers but Pam Grier. Told she would be playing an undercover agent modelled on the first lady of the blaxploitation genre, she was all in. “My mom loved Pam Grier. She loved Foxy Brown [Grier’s most famous part),” Beyoncé said in 2002. “I got a chance to meet her when I was 15 at the Source Awards.”

Given her lack of acting experience, she would have to screen test. “I was very nervous. I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Beyoncé said. “I was just grateful to get the opportunity … I felt like it was a new chapter of my life, a new way to grow as an artist.

Beyoncé is introduced 30 minutes in when Powers is sent to infiltrate the lair of gold-obsessed Dutch bad guy Johann van der Smut, aka Goldmember. She appears on stage at Goldmember’s villainous roller disco singing Hey Goldmember – based on a medley of KC and the Sunshine Band hits.

Lyrics-wise, it isn’t her finest moment – the chorus goes, “Hey Goldmember! Hey Goldmember! He’s got a golden pad, he’s super bad”. But despite the hackneyed material, Beyoncé’s charisma is unmistakable.

“This was an important moment in her career,” said Matthew Rolston, who directed the video for the Austin Powers tie-in single, Work It Out – her first solo release. “A real turning point, going from the front woman of a successful pop band to a first solo effort. It had been carefully constructed by her mom and dad to be her debut as an actress and a solo pop act at the same time.”

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Goldmember is essentially a series of semi-improvised skits strung together by a flimsy storyline in which Austin Powers and his former nemesis, Dr Evil (played by Myers), team up to defeat Goldmember (Myers again). Beyoncé doesn’t have much to do beyond standing beside the star and looking cool. Despite the relatively low stakes she nonetheless left a lasting impression on everyone who worked with her.

“We all just stood there, and our mouths dropped open,” Candy Walken, head of the film’s hair department, recalled to Vulture. “She became this incredible light. She was 19-years-old and had such command of that stage when she stepped onto it. None of us really knew why they’d chosen her for this character, and then we understood.”

Beyoncé and Myers share a kiss at the end but that’s as explicit as it gets – though she references their character’s previous relationship when saying “Mama only got a taste of honey, but she wanted the whole beehive”. But if it all seemed to come naturally, Beyoncé was nevertheless expected to put in the hard work behind the scenes. To play Foxxy, she was on a 1,200-calorie-per-day diet—“a really tough physical regimen and diet,” according to the film’s producer, John Lyons.

He added that Beyoncé and her team were “keenly aware of the expectations that both the music business and Hollywood frequently have for how young, beautiful women should look and were smart about making those ideas work to their ends”.

'The juxtaposition of the imperious Beyoncé and the juvenile Myers would strike many as absurd'

Beyoncé was prepared to put her foot down when it mattered. One flashpoint was a proposed poster for Goldmember, which she felt made her look too skinny. “When we were shooting, someone brought her a poster that would be promoting the movie,” makeup artist Kate Biscoe told Vulture. “He showed it to her, like, “Do you like it?” And she was kind of like, “Yeah.” He goes, “What’s the matter?” And she says, “You made me too skinny. It’s not me.””

Despite this, the film itself was a relatively straightforward affair, ending with Goldmember defeated and Austin Powers saving the day. Alas, he could not save what had become an ailing franchise. The film was off to a rough start when James Bond studio MGM threatened to sue over the title – which they felt was too close to Goldfinger. Just in case, the producers came up with an alternative: You Only Shag Thrice.

Austin Powers saw off MGM. Critics proved trickier to shake – the reviews were savage. “Extremely juvenile…scatological,” said the Miami Herald. Rolling Stone praised Beyoncé’s “Pam Grier sass” but could find nothing else positive to say.

Later, the juxtaposition of the imperious Beyoncé and the juvenile Myers would strike many as absurd. “What is the joke Myers is going for here, other than that there is a black woman in this movie?,” wondered GQ Magazine in 2018. “By extension, what is the point of Powers expressing unreserved sexism, racism, selfishness, if it’s never once truly positioned as a fault of his?”

'What is the joke Myers is going for here?'

What did Beyoncé take away from the experience? We don’t know, as she has never spoken about the movie since its release. She would continue to act, appearing as a pop star opposite Steve Martin in The Pink Panther in 2006 and playing a thinly-veiled version of a young Diana Ross in that year’s jukebox musical Dreamgirls (in addition to lending her voice to the 2019 live-action Lion King remake).

By then, however, her true focus was her solo career. Did Goldmember fuel her ambition to become one of the voices of her generation? It’s pure conjecture, but you have to imagine that all those weeks standing next to Myers while he cracked up at his own jokes opened her eyes to the reality of the movie industry, a place where even stars at Beyoncé’s level have no real authority.

Twenty-two years later, Austin Powers remains a weird blip on her CV. It is a reminder that even pop goddesses have to start somewhere – and that, after you’ve made it through a blizzard of Mike Myers bum banter, the only way is up.


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