The veteran actor discusses making the film, trying to perfect his craft, and why he continues working
If actors can be national treasures, than Michael Caine is a world treasure. Having done over 130 films, he reunited with his "Batman Begins" director Christopher Nolan, to play the role of Cutter in The Prestige. As one of those rare actors who can seemingly play any role, having Michael Caine in a movie instantly elevates it's stature.
The Prestige is a twisting turning tale of urgent mystery, as two Victorian-era magicians spark a powerful rivalry that builds into an escalating battle of tricks and an unquenchable thirst to uncover the other's trade secrets. As these two remarkable men pit daring against desire, showmanship against science and ambition against friendship, the results are dangerous, deadly and definitely deceptive.
Something you get to do in this that I think has got to be one of the more difficult acting challenges and you do it very well is voice over, its being the "off camera".
Michael Caine: The off camera ya.
And the film starts with that. When you see that is that a worry or is that a different acting challenge for you?
Michael Caine: Ah no, what I did was...I had said those words like about the pledge that turned to prestige in the film... And when we did do the voice over I did it exactly the same, exactly the same. Only slower or faster according to what they say because you've got timings on the clips, you know, what they want. It becomes kinda technical but you have to hang on to the natural side of it...so I just did it exactly the same. I always thought it was like explaining to a child, that way you get it right.
You're the children.
Michael Caine: You're the children, you turn you show them the pledge and then it's the prestige.
We most recently heard you speak about your curious nature as a boy and a young man, was magic part of that?
Michael Caine: Oh ya, ya, I liked magic tricks but I was never curious enough to want to know how they were done. I wanted to be fooled. My character in the movie at one part said you don't see it because you don't want to see it, you want to be fooled. And I've seen those television programs where the magicians, you know you've seen em....expose the tricks. And its always so simple...you saw Ah duhhhh why didn't I see that? I find it all very disappointing, I'd rather stay with the magic. I've worked with Cy Endfield who is director of Zulu who is the king of the magic mountain an inventor of some of the most difficult card tricks, he didn't do the card tricks...he invented them, he had that kinda mind.
And then other people I knew very well which were more like here...for the big stuff was Siegfried and Roy, so I knew what I was talking about when someone said "we're gonna do big tricks" you know, its not just cards. They put an elephant up in the air and it disappears. So I was fascinated by that...although I am one of the most curious people you've ever known but I've never wanted to know about the secrets of this. But my favorite thing in the world, I think a miracle is Google cause everything is on Google. I love it, I look things up on Google all day long...I probably owe em a thousand pounds.
Do you do any magic tricks?
Michael Caine: No, I'm absolutely useless, I can't do anything...I'm so jealous of people that can do stuff. Hugh Jackman can sing and dance and all that stuff...I'm so jealous of him. Also when you grow up and your from a very poor back ground, as I was...you don't learn stuff, like you know you don't learn to swim for ages, you never learn to ski, you never learn to water ski, you don't learn to drive a car...all those things that people just do quite normally...I never had the facility to learn anything, But in a way it was an advantage in the end because it was like the old zen thing from chi....fung shway from china...that don't do many many things just bring it right down to one and I found acting, and it was really the only thing I could do. And so I spent my entire life trying unsuccessfully to perfect it. Because the fung shway thing it's like the guy can play every instrument in the band but none of them well.
In talking about discovering acting, do you see a parallel of those three acts of magic and what you are doing as an actor? Is there a certain amount of misdirection and amount of having to deliver prestige of the end of the performance?
Michael Caine: Well acting is an illusion anyway and its tricks, there's all sorts of tricks especially when you're working in movies as apposed to theater because the movies are so much more technological, but if you think in terms of magic...you watch...I explained to you the pledge the turn and the prestige and then you watch the movie and you see it going on with these two magicians for certain given reasons the one thing that you haven't any idea about is that you have another magician working called Christopher Nolan and he is taking you through this two hour trick with the pledge the turn and prestige in which he does so beautifully I think. And so you have this trick upon trick upon trick and the whole thing is a trick, which is a movie, which has been done by actors so there is an illusion.
What was it like being re-united with Christopher and with Christian and with working with them and you're going to work with them again afterwards.....
Michael Caine: Ya, yep, well it makes life very easy because you bring things down to a short hand, you're not nervous or worried is Emma going to like this person? Are they going to be nasty or nice? You know, you don't know when you go in...are they going to be talented or untalented? Is it a sham what they've been doing or not? And so I know all those things about Christopher and Christian and we are all completely at ease with each other which is so important in making a movie, because making movies can be very, very tense.
Speaking of being re-united, are you going to be re-united with Sleuth?
Michael Caine: Yes I am. Yes I'm doing a remake of Sleuth ...a sort of remake of Sleuth in a funny way. With Jude Law and Kenneth Branagh will direct it and theres a script by Harold Pinter. But its not really a...Kenny Branagh described it as its not a remake of Sleuth he said what we are actually doing is making a picture where we are using the plot line of Sleuth and stolen the title.
Whats the time line on that?
Michael Caine: January the fifth we start.
Start Shooting it?
Michael Caine: Yep.
Have you started the table reads on it? Talked to these guys? Whats that like?
Michael Caine: We did...well it's very funny we went to Twickenham Studios the other day and did a read through with everybody there, studio executives and all that sorta stuff. Half way through....very very successfully I must say...but half way through the reading, I was looking around the studio and I'm going...I remember this studio. Where the hell is it from? And it was where I made Alfie...and so....chuckle...it was so good ummm....chuckle.
Something in the air?
Michael Caine: Ya, that's what I'm saying, ya it was kinda weird...ya
And also kinda weird that Jude Law made it in the remake of....
Michael Caine:Alfie! Ya, ya!
I guess he's playing the Milo character...
Michael Caine: Obviously ya...well there are only two, I'm playing the Olivier character ya..
And can you just totally put...even though as you said it's a different story just using the same premise, can you just totally put that out of your mind and tell him no don't watch what I did as Milo...
Michael Caine: Well no neither of us watch the old movie, no, no we can't do that. And its also great for me because I don't have to do the four hour make-up to get made up as the detective, which was always a pain in the butt for me, I hate sitting in the make-up chair for four hours. Especially when everyone's gone home and it takes an hour to take it off! I like to go home early.
So what are some of your movies that have been on cable lately? I was wondering, if you ever catch one do you reminisce about it?
Michael Caine: No, no the only one, if I go through and see a movie...I'll go oh yea...that's a...neh neh...The only one I'll stop and watch is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Which I don't know why is it, I completely disassociate myself from it and it makes me laugh. I sit there laughing out loud at these guys, especially Dr. Schaffhausen...with that sequence. It makes me laugh, cause its so outlandish and I'd never done anything like that before or since unfortunately. I'd love to do a comedy.
Well you have a thriller right? With Demi Moore coming up?
Michael Caine: Ya, ya that's a heist movie...a..thats called Flawless. We uh gotta change that title, can you imagine what the critics are going to do with a title Flawless? Maybe it's not quite as flawless as they think you know how it is....
Have you started that one yet?
Michael Caine: I've finished it!
Michael Caine: With Demi Moore...
And that comes out when?
Michael Caine: Oh we don't know yet because we finished shooting but we haven't started the post production yet. I haven't even post sinked it yet. So that would be next spring I would imagine.
A lot of experience for you?
Michael Caine: Ya, ya we shot it in Luxemburg, and also I, I knew Demi anyway...she was my daughter in Blame it on Rio. So I knew her from there, and so we're old friends...so it was very easy...she's a much more grown up lady now...
I wish they'd get her hair to stay in the right, the wrong place...they've never...
Michael Caine: Ya, ya...they've got that, ya, ya...
I've always been fascinated by actors who really disappear in a character and I think Christian is a great example of that. And you are to although you always bring a little heart, humanity even though you play a bad guy sometimes. I was wondering is it enough to become the character or do you have to bring something more to it for it to work?
Michael Caine: I think you have to become the character but what happens is, is if you are playing a villain, there is a thing...well...when a villain comes in we all hiss...boo! He's the villain, he's not nice...he's got a black mustache and a black hat. Nobody is a villain to themselves, even Hitler though he was very nice to small children, he loved small children and animals.
So, no one is a villain to themselves. And what we all have to realize is when we see a villain is we are not seeing a theatrical sypher, we are seeing a person just like us, who did something we would never do. And that's my way of playing a villain. I'm just like you, but this is what I'm going to do.
You also have Children of Men coming up next don't you?
Michael Caine: Ya, ya that's a already been shown in England. That is a futuristic film, set in 2027 in England...but a very dark, not so shinny...everyone walking around in helmets and silk shirts and things, this is just England in a, a absolutely destroyed. And factious state, and there is one character....I always see as a parallel between like Alfred the butler in Children of Men I saw represent "Us"...amongst all these extraordinary people.
In Prestige I saw...represent "Us" as human beings with all these extraordinary people. In Children of Men I play an old pot smoking hippie from the 60's who hasn't changed one bit in the midst of all this disaster. He's still living his life out in the middle of the woods and they can't find him. Which of course then they eventually do, and then kill him. But he's the one token left from a free society that we had like in the 60's. I have like long hair and a beard and everything, glasses. It was partly based on John Lennon. I said "I saw a picture of John Lennon, let's do...like that".
Is that particularly satisfying to you the fact that you can comfortably play this touchstone character that the audience can identify with?
Michael Caine: I like that, because also it comes about from what directors see in me which is my sort of secret style of acting. Which is as apposed to the big Star who holds up and says this is a picture of me and you must admire me and you do and you say isn't he wonderful, isn't he lovely, isn't she beautiful... I hold up a mirror and say "this is you" and I wonder if you see a reflection of yourself in me. And that's why I get these parts, because great directors with great casting. If you give me one of these parts that is correct. If you give me one of those other parts, you've made a mistake.
What was it like working with John Huston and how was his work with the actors? Because I've always been amazed at his work with the actors....
Michael Caine: He was very sexing, like all directors he never said anything. Until it needed to be said, and then he said it in one line. I remember I was doing a speech and he went "cut"! And I thought it was going fine. I said what did we cut for? He said "you can speak faster Michael, he's an honest man". And I went "I got the whole character right in it, ya know".
Do you talk to Danny at all on Children of Men, cause not only does he tell wonderful stories but he does a wonderful John Huston imitation.
Michael Caine: I didn't see him, I only had a very small part, I only worked two weeks on Children of Men. I mean it's a very important part, a very showy part, which is why I did it and it was two weeks...which is also why I did it.
You could of retired 15 years ago, why do you keep working? A let me rephrase that...why do you continue to pursue to continue?
Michael Caine: It's something I enjoy and I'm now in a position to choose exactly what I do down to the finest detail. And um I do offers I can't refuse. I mean I couldn't refuse this, because I love this script so much. When you've done as many scripts as I have and you find a script that is as completely different as this is...you go straight through the roof. Its Christian and Christopher again, you know. The remake of Sleuth I can't refuse. The next Batman I can't refuse because I've already contracted to do it. And then there is another script after that which is a tiny little British film.
There won't be much money for it or anything, which I will do...which I don't want to talk about it yet, we've got to put a muckers on it because I haven't even got the money to do it yet. But I will do that, then I won't work for a year. Like when I worked on the film Bewitched with Nichole Kidman, I didn't work for a year till I did Children of Men.
Because I don't want to work, because I don't have to work. Because I'm not going to work on something that I'm not going to enjoy. And so this I obviously enjoy. And I'll enjoy Batman, and I'll enjoy "Sleuth". And I'll enjoy my little English script...which is quite....When you read a script...you read script note...script note... and then you find a script that is great, its like a big birthday present, and Christmas all in one.
The Prestige opens nationwide on October 20 from Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros.