It sounds like a comedic twist from one of his films, but Jay Roach swears it’s true. “While I was studying law at Stanford University, I got a job running a Sunday night movie series for a solid year,” recalls the Albuquerque native. “I learned all about exhibition, down to running the A/C and popping popcorn, so I really started my career in exhibition, which makes this award especially meaningful.” Two years later, “totally inspired” by his exhib experience, Roach radically revised his career goals and applied to USC Film School instead of law school.

The change of plan may have been law’s loss, but it turned out to be a huge gain for future millions of fans of such Roach comedies as the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” franchises.

“I wish I had a secret recipe for success,” says the director, “then I’d feel a lot more confident. But I’m always as terrified as I was the first time, doing ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.’ I just try to help create the best characters and comedic predicaments – but ultimately it’s all about casting in comedy. You have to find the funniest people who’ll also improvise and take situations beyond what’s on the page.”

Roach, who cites Monty Python and Woody Allen as his two biggest influences, has been well-served by his stars.

“Mike Myers is one of the greatest character creators and improvisers of all time, and to be able to work with his electric comedic brain was the luckiest thing to ever happen to me,” he notes. “And then to get De Niro, with all that dark baggage from his Scorsese films which made him twice as scary – that was another great comedy gift.”

Next up? “Dinner for Schmucks,” starring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, out in July.