It's a tall order to fill the chapeau of "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat." Although "Saturday Night Live" alum Mike Myers has created characters like Austin Powers and Dr. Evil, the actor says he worried about how to bring the legendary feline children's character to life underneath all that makeup and gravity-defying hat.
His biggest concern was whether he could maintain the anarchistic, frisky nature of a cat if the costume was bulky, heavy and required five hours to put on, like the obese Fat Bastard character in the "Austin Powers" movies.
The weight of the "Cat" costume was pared down to three pounds and the makeup took about 2 1/2 hours to apply, thanks to makeup and special effects artist Steve Johnson and his company Edge FX. Johnson was trained by Rick Baker, who won Oscars for makeup in "Men in Black," "The Nutty Professor" and "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," among others.
The "Cat" suit was made of human hair and angora; the nose consisted of foam latex and literally was glued to Myers' face. The inside of the suit had a vest with circulating cold water as well as a portable air conditioner connected by a hose for outdoor shoots when temperatures exceeded 90 degrees.
Remaining a cool Cat as he suited up, Myers also had to scratch out places for battery packs that controlled his tail and ears.
"I had more stuff in different parts of my body than I care to talk about publicly," he quips. "I don't know how they did it. I really felt that NASA was probably involved somehow."
Myers says he was inspired by the cartoon "Top Cat," Bugs Bunny, and Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz" -- especially how the Lion's tail seemed to be a disconnected part of his body.
Not all of Dr. Seuss' vision could be brought to reality, however.
"One thing that was impossible to re-create was to achieve the long neck on a human as Seuss drew the Cat," Johnson says. "But all of us were very happy with the final look. It recalls the book character and allows Mike to shine through."
According to costume designer Rita Ryack, the Cat's trademark headgear was a particular challenge. She says powerful magnets were sewn into the hats to keep them on a metal skull plate on Myers' head. The striped hat then was equipped with a periscope, tennis balls, microphone, CD player or whatever was called for in the script.
Myers jokes about the skull plate, saying, "I don't think the magnets had a deleterious health effect on me, but I was able to pick up the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and I watched most of the Toronto Maple Leaf home games -- it had a nice little side benefit."
Director Bo Welch was the most surprised with the outcome of the costume.
"The first time I saw Mike in the suit and makeup it gave me a very light and joyful feeling," the director gushes. "You have the memory of the book -- and it was the first book I ever read -- but of course the Cat never moves in the book. And to then see him come to life -- it was a wonderful feeling."
"Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" opens nationwide Friday.
Advance reviews of "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" were not available. Look for a review of the film in Friday's Life & Style section.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page F6.