Izumi Hasegawa: Did you just relish this role and the performance you had to do in it?
Michael Caine: Yeah, I loved doing this. I fell in love with the script when David Heyman [producer] brought the script to me. He's the guy who produces Harry Potter. I mean, it's not a big movie like that...so he brought this, he wanted to do it. He gave it to me and I was reading it, and I got halfway through and I rang him and I said, "I'll do it." He said, "Did you like it?" I said, "I haven't finished it yet." He said, "Well why are you calling me before you finished it?" I said, "Because I'm crying and I wanted something to do." [Laughs] It made me cry halfway through and no script had ever done that to me before, and I don't cry easily -- believe me, honestly. I just thought it was a wonderful thing to do, and also it stretches me. When you've been an actor as long as I have, you're trying to get better and be better and better. The only reason to go to work, really, is to try and prove to yourself that you're better than you were the last time. So that's what it was about.
IH: I would imagine that you had a say as to who played the little boy and you had to have a rapport with him...
MC: I didn't have a say who had to play the little boy, but I did say to David, "If the little boy is no good, we're in trouble." And then he brought Bill [Milner] in, and Bill was fabulous because he wasn't from a stage school. He hadn't done any professional acting before... I think he did one little thing, but he was from an amateur dramatic society, and most important of all, he didn't have a stage-mom. He had a very ordinary...when I say "ordinary," very nice, very sweet woman -- she wasn't peddling her thwarted ambitions through him or anything, so he was just a very natural little boy, and I thought he was wonderful.
IH: What did that mean to you personally, working with someone that's so young who is so talented?
MC: First of all, I don't like working with bad actors. [Laughs] I know some actors who like to work with bad actors so they look good. [Laughs] I like to work with the best possible actors, 'cause that pushes me on. I never got the sense that Bill was a little child actor working. I just looked at Bill as someone who was just the same as me, and we're very good friends. One reporter said to me, "Did you give him any advice?" I said, "No, he didn't need any." He never looked like he needed any help. He was just wonderful, I thought.
IH: Have you ever had that close rapport, either now with somebody that young, or when you were that young with somebody older?
MC: Yeah, I did. I had a very close rapport with my head mistress in a little school in the country, who I now realize was a lesbian and I was her sort of surrogate son and I didn't realize. I was seven, and she taught me to play poker when I was seven [laughs], in the evenings. It was a little country school, and her name was Mrs. Linton, and so I had a relationship with someone much older than me who wasn't a relative. It was very similar to my thing with the boy, but what happened with the boy is I'm there to take care of him; eventually, he's there to take care of me, and he learns from doing that.
IH: Your character is a retired magician. Have you ever thought of your retirement life?
MC: In life, no, because I think films retire you -- sometimes, if you're unfortunate, after your first film. [Laughs] This is about my hundred and first film. No, what happens is that you say, "I'm going to retire," and then David Heyman turns up and gives you this script. So you're not retiring anymore, 'cause you say, "Oh, do this one." And then they just did it again. I didn't work for 15 months after this picture. This was made quite a long time ago. They saved it -- they wanted it to come out this April. But then I've just done a picture called Harry Brown, in which I played a lead, which is unusual for someone my age. You're usually a character, like I am in Batman -- I'm the butler, I'm not Batman. [Laughs] So these things turn up and you just can't refuse them. I mean, I don't have my next movie. I'm not looking for it. Someone will give me a script, possibly, and I will work again. If someone doesn't give me a script I want to do, I'm retired. But there won't be some great announcement or fanfare trumpets -- I just won't do anything. I'll stay at home and do what I do there, which is cooking, gardening, writing and traveling.
IH: Did you learn any magic tricks doing The Prestige?
MC: No, I didn't play a magician in The Prestige -- I played the guy who made the tricks. Hugh [Jackman] and Christian [Bale] were the magicians. But in this, the first thing I saw that I'd got right was before we ever started shooting the movie -- I decided to part my hair in the middle. And then I had to meet the real magician to learn the tricks -- a technical advisor -- and he came in, and his hair was parted in the middle [laughs], and I thought, "I haven't even started the movie and I got something right." [Laughs] I told another magician that story, who I met later, and he said a lot of magicians have their hair parted in the middle. And I said, "Why is that?" He said, "Houdini." Houdini parted his hair, and all the young magicians copied him.
IH: How difficult was it for you to learn some magic tricks to pull off some slight-of-hand for the film?
MC: Quite difficult, especially when you're my age and I've got fingers that don't work quite so... Billy got that one quicker than I did. But it's quite difficult to do. But the other things, of course, are tricks and machinery and gadgets and things. They're not so bad.
IH: The writer of this [Peter Harness] is in his early 30s. Do you think he got it right, or did you have any input into the script?
MC: I never input anything -- just my performance. I never changed anything. He actually grew up as Billy, in a house for old people. He said, "Unfortunately, a magician never came into my life [laughs] to cheer me up," but his mother and father owned the old people's home.
IH: Did the character of Clarence give you any insight into aging or the aging process?
MC: It gave me insight into why other people age -- not me. [Laughs] But there was a sad part of it, which was the dementia and the Alzheimer's. I was technically perfect because my best friend just died of it, and so I knew -- I'd just spend five years with it. Doug Hayward, my tailor, who was also my best friend...so I knew exactly about Alzheimer's and what happens and the confusion and stuff. So I was very experienced like that, but when you get older, you have friends like that. I just played a guy who had emphysema, and my other best friend has emphysema, so I had the technical knowledge from him of what happens. It's quite weird. [Laughs] But I'm trying to stay right through the middle, without getting anything.
IH: What did you gain from working with the young actor that maybe colored your performance?
MC: How lucky I was to work with this boy, who was so skilled and so natural, and I just thank God everyday that he was there, because it can be so difficult working with children. On The Cider House Rules, I worked with 150 of them [laughs], so I know how difficult some can be...and how brilliant he was. But I learned I didn't have to do anything to help him. That was great.
IH: You talk about when Hollywood chooses to retire an actor. Why do you think it hasn't retired you?
MC: I have no idea. You don't know when your time is up, so to speak. It just goes a period of time when the right scripts don't arrive. It hasn't happened to me yet. I mean, it might have happened now -- I finished this last picture, as I said. I don't have another picture to do, and if a script doesn't come, then I won't do anything and I'll be retired, but there won't be any announcement or anything. I remember McArthur saying, "Old soldiers don't die -- they fade away." [Laughs] Well, old actors don't die -- they fade away.
IH: Are you not expecting there to be a third Batman picture?
MC: Well, Christopher [Nolan] is doing a picture called Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio, which I saw on the Internet, so I imagine another Batman is quite a long way away.
IH: Is your Harry Brown character kind of the answer to this epidemic that you spoke about?
MC: Yes, it's about a very old ex-Marine, a tough guy, but away from all that, a very gentle soul who lives in one of these -- what they call in America -- projects -- the very poor (we call them counselor states in England), and it's an absolute cesspit. The old people are afraid to go out, and it's true in England -- I don't know what it's like in America. And his best friend is killed, and he becomes a vigilante and starts to wipe out the gang. It's very far from Is Anybody There? [Laughs] He's a very, very tough guy. [Laughs] Someone said to me on the picture, "He looks like Jack Carter -- he got old." [Laughs]
IH: Did you enjoy making that type of movie?
MC: Yeah, and it was weird for me because we went back to these projects which, fortunately, are being torn down -- that's why we filmed it, 'cause there were just a few people left, but they were the projects where I came from myself. And in this project, there is a mural on the wall with me on it and Charlie Chaplin, who came from there as well. It's just me and Charlie Chaplin on the wall in this project. But they're not going to pull the mural down. [Laughs] They're going to leave it. It was quite weird because I was there with the young guys who were on the streets there, and they were talking to me 'cause some are quite scary. [Laughs] But I was old and they were young, and some of them were black and I was white, but they treated me exactly the same as if I was one of them. The first thing they said was, "Where did you come from here?" and I said, "800 yards over there," and I saw them change. They said, "He's one of us." And then I talked to them a great deal, and they all had ambitions and they'd all been let down by us, the government, the education, the family -- as children. They'd all been let down.
IH: What are the kinds of films and roles, at this point in your career, that you're drawn to?
MC: It's just the writing. Like Dark Knight I chose a long time ago 'cause it was Batman Begins, but that was because of Christopher Nolan. But also, on this film, there's John Crowley, who is a brilliant young Irish director. I saw two small films that he did, and I loved them. And then, on Harry Brown, there's a young English director called Daniel Barber, and I saw a small film that he did... He actually got nominated for an Academy Award for that film [The Tonto Woman]. I like working with younger directors. As I'm going to do these small films, a younger director can get a chance in a small, cheap film -- he can't get a chance at a big one.
IH: Weren't you signed for three Batmans?
MC: Oh yeah, if they do another one, I'll probably be the butler. [Laughs] I hope I'm still alive. But Michael Goff, who played the butler in Batman before me, the last time he played in Batman, he was 84.
IH: But didn't Christopher Nolan do this the last time also -- he wanted to make another film in between and then he came out...?
MC: He did. I was in that too -- The Prestige. [Laughs] Christopher doesn't make pictures without me. [Laughs]
IH: Do you think he'll come around to doing a third one?
MC: I would imagine so, and that will be probably The Riddler.
IH: When you go through your whole career, and you've been in American cinema and British cinema, and so much has changed through time, obviously -- different styles of films -- people like to really glamorize the '60s and '70s films -- they think they're kind of the last golden era, like real, true, gritty cinema. Do you miss that? Do you see something missing...?
MC: No, I've never seen anything missing. I would go with what I want to do at any given time, and it's still there for me. I can't sit here, having done this picture, and say I never get offered any good scripts. I don't get offered many because I'm a bit old now, for the lover and all that. I say I don't get the girl anymore, I get the part. [Laughs] I remember the change in that -- I got a script a few years back and I sent it back to the producer. I said, "Well, the part's too small," and he sent it back to me. He said, "It wasn't for the lover, it was for the father." [Laughs] And I looked in the mirror. I said, "Oh my God. [Laughs] I got old."
IH: Do you have a favorite character that you've played out of all your performances?
MC: Well, Alfie had to be the one, because it was the one that made me a star and it broke open the American market for me. I came to America and then I got my first nomination for an Academy Award for it. So that, apart from being a favorite, was important. But my favorite character of all was in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels 'cause I enjoyed that -- Dr. Sheffhouse. I liked him very much. [Laughs]
IH: What did the victory at the Oscars for Heath Ledger mean to you and, in your eyes, his legacy?
MC: I thought it was very important for his family as well. I was a big fan of his, and the first time I met him, I met him on the set, where he invades our party we're having, and I'm standing by the lift and I expect to greet people, and there -- all his gang's behind him -- he came in. But before that, I'd met him, obviously, on the set, and he had this makeup on, and I was saying how fantastic I thought it was, and we were just chatting quietly, and then they said, "We're ready to shoot," and I had never seen the performance. We were just talking, and then he came out of the elevator and I was absolutely stunned by that -- the way he did it and the energy that went into it. And then, when I saw the movie, there's an opening monologue and a closing monologue that he does, which I thought, if anybody's going to be better that and get an Academy Award above him, I will pay good money to see that. And nobody did beat him. I'm so pleased.
IH: That will be a tough act to follow for anyone who plays The Riddler, though.
MC: Yeah, I thought it would be a tough act to follow The Joker after Jack Nicholson. [Laughs] And now Heath is The Joker. We'll see.
IH: Since your producer on this does the Harry Potter movies, any chance of you showing up in Harry Potter Six or Seven?
MC: Me? No, I think I would have been there before if they had wanted me. No, I think they're all set in their ways, so David and I have this little station -- we do the little ones. I hope he gets another script like this type of thing. But David's mother is a very close friend of mine, so I've known David since the day he was born. [Laughs]
IH: Have you seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on Broadway?
MC: No, I missed that -- I was never there. I hear it was very funny. And John Lithgow played it. He's a wonderful actor, and he's a friend of mine.
IH: Do you have a favorite director that you've worked with?
MC: John Huston, yeah.
IH: When you were growing up, was there a film that you saw that made you want to go into the business or that really changed your life and made you realize how important films could be?
MC: Yeah, at the very first one. I was five years old at the children's cinema, and I saw Lone Ranger. I wanted to be The Lone Ranger, and I wanted to be a movie actor from that time on. I'm a great movie fan, but my favorite film of all time is Casablanca.
IH: You've done three films with Christian Bale, and he caught some attention for the...
MC: Yeah, that stunned me 'cause he's not like that at all. I mean, I'm more like that than he is. [Laughs] You're liable to get a volley off of me if you walk around doing my takes. [Laughs] But I would never imagine Christian doing that. It's completely out of character. I was stunned when I saw it on the news.
IH: Is it business as usual on a movie set, whether it's Christian or not? 'Cause it's something that happens and everyone gets over it later?
MC: Oh sure. I lost my temper on a movie years ago. I was doing a movie called The Last Valley, and James Clavell was the director. I'm not a very good horseman and I told him, and they put me on this horse that they knew was a killer, and it ran away with me for two miles. I brought it back at a slow pace and then I got off, and all the units were laughing, and then I started. I outdid Christian by about 30 minutes [laughs] and with more language than he knew, and James Clavell broke the crew for an hour and he said, "Let's have a cup of tea." And so we went and had a cup of tea. James Clavell was captured in Hong Kong, when he was 14, by the Japanese and spent the first part of his life in a Japanese prison camp. And he said to me, "The way I survived -- I became Japanese in mentality, and so I knew where they were coming from and their treatment of us, and I knew where I should be and everything." He said, "And the one thing the Japanese never do is they never lose their temper." He said, "because anger is an emotion that you should never show to strangers, because you expose too much of yourself." He said, "You must never expose yourself like that to strangers." And he gave me this long lecture on the Japanese and anger, and I have never lost my temper on a set since. I go home and scream at the kids. [Laughs]
IH: Did you reach out to Christian?
MC: Well, I haven't seen him since, no. When I meet him, I'm going to say, "Where the fuck have you been?" [Laughs]
IH: What would you like to have the audience take away from this picture?
MC: I would like them to take away a moving experience about life that they didn't quite have before -- about the relationships between children and adults and youngsters and the aging. It goes both ways; you see how an older person can help someone young and bring them around, and you see how a younger person should treat an older person. I think that understanding between the two ages is very important in this picture.
IH: One of the relationships that is palpable, even though it's not seen on screen, is that between you and the wife, and a lot of it has to do with dealing with the sense of regret and guilt. What was your inroad into reaching that dramatically and tapping into that...?
MC: Well, it was something that you would imagine if you'd done that to your own wife and what that would be like. I've never, of course, done that to mine, and I've had a very happy marriage, but I can imagine my reaction if that happened to me, and I have seen it with other people who've had regrets about what they did, when people died. Everyone does different things, but I've never had any regrets about anybody I knew who died because I don't treat people like that.
IH: You have served the knights and you achieved an Academy Award. Do you have anything that you haven't achieved yet?
MC: I've won two Supporting Actors, I've been nominated seven times for Leading Actor, and I never won that, so that would be an ambition, wouldn't it? [Laughs] I've got two Academy Awards, and it would look better with another one in the middle. [Laughs] Three it would look nice, wouldn't it? [Laughs]
IH: Where do you keep your Academy Awards?
MC: In my office. There's a big row of shelves behind me, and above, on the top shelf, are the Academy Awards. So when you come in the door, you look at me, you look straight up and you see two Academy Awards [laughs]...and three Golden Globes...three BAFTAs. [Laughs]
IH: What are the big summer movies your looking forward to?
MC: I don't know what they are! [Laughs] I've just come from Surrey in England. [Laughs] You don't get a lot of Hollywood news out there. We don't know what's coming. There is one I read about. I want to see the one with Christian -- The Terminator. Yeah, I saw a trailer for that.
BBC Films' 'Is Anybdy There?' is in limited theatrical release now.