It's early December 2010, and I'm riding in a van full of journalists through Hawaii's Waimea Falls Park, when we pass a bed of flowers... which are taller than most buildings in Los Angeles. That was the first thing I saw on the set of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the 3D sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth. The flowers are quite a proper metaphor for the movie as a whole, since everything is bigger this time around, most notably the cast. Josh Hutcherson reprises his role as Sean Anderson, the only returning cast member from Journey to the Center of the Earth, but this time he is surrounded by the likes of Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens, Kristin Davis, Luis Guzmán, and Dwayne Johnson, who dwarfs everyone on the set the way those fake flowers tower over the lush scenery.
If you haven't seen trailer for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, lets break down the story first. Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) sets off with his stepfather, Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson) to find his grandfather (Michael Caine), who sent a distress signal our from an uncharted island which may in fact be the Mysterious Island from Jules Verne's stories. When they arrive, with the help of father-daughter tour guide team (Vanessa Hudgens and Luis Guzmán), they quickly learn that this is, in fact, the Mysterious Island, where everything small, in real life, is big on the island, and vice versa. They all must overcome the incredible obstacles the island throws at them to get out of there in one piece.
One of the actors we had the chance to speak with on the set was the legendary Michael Caine, the adventurous grandfather trying to find a way off the island. Here's what he had to say below, which includes some unique anecdotes about directors Christopher Nolan and David Lean.
Actor Michael Caine
Can you talk about how you were drawn to the project?
Michael Caine: I now have three new grandchildren, so I wanted to do a family film. I've done adventure films, but not for small children. This is really fancy. I mean, this afternoon, we were riding around on bumblebees. My grandsons are going to say to their friends, 'Can your granddad do that?'
Is that something you think about now? Whether you'll enjoy your films with them?
Michael Caine: Oh, I've done that for ages. I don't really work a lot now, so I only do something I'm going to enjoy for a specific reason. I work about once every two years, and it's been about two movies since the last movie I did, Harry Brown. This is very cute and quite clever. I was amazed at how clever the script was.
Harry Brown is probably a less typical grandfather movie...
Michael Caine: Oh, yeah. I didn't even let my daughter watch that one, and she was pregnant at the time. I said I didn't want her to see it, let alone the kids.
How challenging is the physical stuff in this movie for you?
Michael Caine: Well, I'm 77, but I live on the side of a hill anyway, in England, and I walk about four or five miles a day. I don't smoke or do any of those silly things, so it's not very challenging for me, physically. I take care of myself very well, and whenever I look around, there's always a chair next to me in case I fall down.
Dwayne was talking about how excited he was to work with you. He's a very physical actor, but he's also a very charismatic actor. How has he been as a co-star in the film?
Michael Caine: Oh, he's wonderful. He's also the nicest man, you know. The most amazing thing, I thought, about Dwayne, is he has a bodyguard. Why would Dwayne need a bodyguard? I need a bodyguard, he doesn't need a bodyguard. And he's bigger than his bodyguard. But he's lovely, and great to work with. He's great and very professional.
Are you a fan of 3D? Do you like the 3D in this?
Michael Caine: I've never seen a 3D movie. This is a couple of firsts for me. I'm a real grandfather, I've only been a grandfather for a couple of years, but I'm playing a grandfather for the first time. And I'm doing a 3D movie, which is very modern and odd since being a grandfather is very old, and the other one, 3D, is very new. I've seen myself in 3D down on the monitors there. It's good. I look even uglier (Laughs).
Have you found that shooting in 3D affects your process at all?
Michael Caine: No, not at all.
You have entered into an iconic status as an actor. Do you feel that, when you meet people and encounter film fans, they have this wild affection for you?
Michael Caine: Oh, yeah. As I said, I don't have a bodyguard. People regard me as being like them, so there's never any animosity. When I meet people, they act like they know me as a friend, because I don't play people like James Bond. I play guys just like you.
When you work with younger actors like Vanessa and Josh, do they have to get over a certain intimidation factor, early on?
Michael Caine: Not a whole lot of that goes on. I'm very aware of anything like that. I like to work out of relaxation, so if I sense any nerves on the set, I immediately tell jokes or other things to relax a set. Sometimes, actors like to work out of tension, but the basis of Stanislavski, the one line that struck me was, 'The rehearsal is the work, and the performance is the relaxation.' All the tears and everything go into the rehearsal.
Is there an expectation from some of the other actors who look to you as a mentor?
Michael Caine: No. When I was a younger actor, I always used to ask old actors and successful actors for advice. Every single one of them said, 'Give it up.' So, I say to young actors, 'Don't even ask me for advice, and if any other old actor gives you advice, don't listen.' The worst thing about advice is it's free. If you have to pay for it, then it might be worth something.
What still gets you excited every day when you show up on set to go to work? What winds you up?
Michael Caine: It's like a sort of drug, in a way. It's getting it absolutely right and knowing you couldn't do it any better. If you get to that stage, it's great. You get to where it's very amusing, which is what we were doing all day yesterday down here. Dwayne and I had a lot of fun with the scene down there yesterday, which was completely different than the way it was written. It's the same words, just coming from a different point of view.
Do you have to put the same kind of work into this as you would with any other role?
Michael Caine: No, it's not bloody King Lear (Laughs). You have to put in the attention to detail in what you're doing, because everything is for effect. It's either comedy or drama or something is going to come up. I disappeared behind a load of flowers, but i don't know if they're going to do the bumblebee scene here because I think it's done in green screen. They're worrying how to get up this cliff, and I say I have a great idea and I disappear into all those flowers. Then, eventually, he comes up riding a bumblebee and he says, 'You've all got to get one. When you mount them, it's very easy, but don't look at them in the eye.' It's comedy and comedy is very difficult to do, to time right. It's more technical than emotional.
Can you talk about taking on less films these days? There seems to be one filmmaker in particular who seems to get you every single time... (Christopher Nolan) I know what I'm attracted to in his work, but as a collaborator, what is it that keeps bringing you back?
Michael Caine: Oh, he's a wonderful guy. I love working with him. He's very secretive too. He lived near me when he did the first Batman, and he came around one morning with a script. He said, 'I want you to play Alfred, the butler, in Batman Begins. I knew who the character was, and he said, 'Do you want to do it?' I said, 'That would be great. I've never done anything like this.' I said I would read it and I'll call you Monday, this is Sunday morning. He said, 'Oh no, I'm staying. I'll have a cup of tea with your wife.' Then he took the script away. He wouldn't even let me keep the script. But he's wonderful. I think he's the new David Lean. I know David very well, I wasn't in one of his movies, but I did all the back heads of the screen tests for Doctor Zhivago. Julie Christie, who was a friend of mine, went up to play the part. She said, 'Come up and play the other part with me for the screen tests.' So I went and Lean said, 'Will you stay on?' He gave me a free hotel room in Madrid. He said, 'Would you stay on and do the rest of them?' So I stayed on and did the rest. I've always studied Lean's work. I saw in The Dark Knight, if you think in terms of an action director, and that opening scene with the bank robbery, with the masks and everything, and then you see him directing actors and Heath's opening soliloquy and ending soliloquy, it's fantastic. And he writes this stuff too. He's an extraordinarily intelligent man and director and he doesn't shout or scream or anything. You wouldn't notice him on the set.
Are there people that you show these scripts to and get feedback from?
Michael Caine: Yeah, my wife. I trust her completely. She can keep the scripts overnight.
One of the things that surprised me about Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, was that it was almost an open set. Waimea Falls Park is open to the public, and, while tourists weren't walking through shots or anything like that, passers-by could walk right by video village and other crew areas which were set up. Another thing that surprised me was the wicked bursts of rain throughout the day. It was still gorgeous weather, mid-80s with a slight breeze, but every so often, there would be these random blasts of rain, which would last for usually no longer than five minutes. When we finally got down to the shooting area, it was quite incredible to watch the crew cover up all the equipment, like a rain-prevention version of a NASCAR pit crew. While I'm sure that had to be annoying throughout the duration of a big-budget shoot, the crew were all certainly on their toes throughout the day I was there.
Actors Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens
Is it true that both you've been injured on set all ready?
Josh Hutcherson: Slightly. Not injured. Hurt, I'd say. Injury I think is a long term thing. We were doing a scene at this place called Eternity Beach, which is a beautiful location and there's this little cave that we kind of go in and check out. We got into the cave and did that scene and cut and coming back out they were like, 'Watch your heads?' I was like, 'Oh, I'm not that tall. I'm not going to hit on anything. But I stepped on a little bump, I guess and then I hit the top of my head so hard I fell straight to the ground. I didn't remember the fall and stuff. I just remember hitting my head and then being on the ground. Then Dwayne (Johnson) was like, 'Oh, my God, are you okay?'
Vanessa Hudgens: I was a few feet away and heard a massive thump. That's never a good thing. Then we were shooting a scene down on the same beach and there are just lava rocks everywhere. I was walking backwards. Very smart. Before I knew it, I was on the floor. I got up and brushed it off like nothing happened and then later on someone pointed at my leg and said, 'Is that real blood or fake blood?' Now I have a beautiful scar to show for it. We'll always remember this movie. It'll always be a part of me.
Were you guys glad to get into the jungle and do the down and dirty stuff?
Josh Hutcherson: Totally. It's really fun. We've been covered in mud now for most of the entire movie, which sounds like fun at the beginning, but then after about day thirty of being in mud it's like, 'I'm sort of over it.' But we've been filming in all these beautiful places and it's usually really nice out. For me, I'm personally a huge fan of rainy weather. So, I'm loving this right now. The whole movie crew hates it. I'm like, 'This is great.' They're like, 'Yeah, screw you.' But it's been really great. I love rainy weather.
Do you feel a big sense of responsibility to this film now that you're sort of the sole one from the original?
Josh Hutcherson: Not really. I mean, I'm really proud to be the returning one, but the cast that we have now is such a cool hodgepodge of different cultures coming together with Michael Caine, Dwayne (Johnson), Vanessa, and Luis Guzmán, this kind of whole weird, like, 'What? He's in it and he's in it?' So, it's this cool mix and I'm really proud of it, for sure.
Luis is a great character actor. How is your relationship with him on and off screen and how did you guys work on that?
Vanessa Hudgens: He is unlike anybody I've ever met before. He's just so funny. He's always cracking jokes and is always doing improv, which is a lot of fun. He's just an easy guy to get along with. You talk to him for a few minutes and you can't help but love him.
Does he allow a lot of improv on the set?
Josh Hutcherson: Yeah. He loves to go for it.
How much do you think they'll keep?
Josh Hutcherson: I think a fair amount of it. Sometimes it gets goofy and way off track and that's when it's really fun, but they'll never use some of it. A lot of times, I think, they'll use some.
This is the second really physical film for you in a row. Did Sucker Punch and all the training you did for that get you ready for this?
Vanessa Hudgens: It's completely different. That was extremely choreographed, with all the fight sequences and firing guns. There's definitely no guns in this one.
Josh Hutcherson: Except for The Rock's arms. I love calling him The Rock.
Vanessa Hudgens: We're riding bees in this one. So, no, it's different. This is fun. This is just kind of like running around and having a good time. It doesn't requuire as much.
How is the action in this one compared to the action that you did in the first film?
Josh Hutcherson: It's actually oddly kind of similar. Some of the set pieces, or not the set pieces, but throughout Journey 1 there are similarities to this that kind of parallel each other. Riding the bees is kind of like being on the mine cars and being chased by the dinosaur is like being chased by the lizard. So, there are things that are similar, and so the sets themselves are in a way kind of familar.
How quickly did you adjust to the fact that you're sharing scenes with Michael Caine?
Vanessa Hudgens: Oh, my God, yeah.
Josh Hutcherson: There's a scene we've shot, we finish it today and started shooting it yesterday, and he's so amazing.
Vanessa Hudgens: Epic.
Josh Hutcherson: He comes up and he gets all serious and intense and I'm like, 'Oh, wow. Sorry.'
Vanessa Hudgens: I get genuinely distracted by him in scenes. They'll be having a scene together and I'm watching and I just get so sucked in and I'm like, 'Oh, snap out of it.' He's amazing and I adore him.
Josh Hutcherson: We've decided that we're going to ask him to adopt us as grandchildren.
Vanessa Hudgens: We're just waiting for the right moment.
Josh Hutcherson: You have to ease into that one.
How is it working with the new 3D on this one? They said this time it's a little less obtrusive, more streamlined?
Josh Hutcherson: It is. I mean, 3D, definitely, is an amazing technology that's come so far since the beginning of it, but definitely still has a ways to go, too. I think it's definitely a work in progress and we're learning new things everyday. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get set up because sometimes the 3D will go down and you have to figure out how to fix it and it's all computer stuff. So, they have this genius with computers on set that's always fixing everything, but it's amazing technology. The fact that you can actually sit down...and now they have 3D TV's. So, you can actually watch video playback in 3D, right there through like a TV screen. It's so cool.
Because of the pressure that shooting in 3D brings, do you feel pressure to make sure that every single take you do you get right so that it's technically right?
Josh Hutcherson: Well, there are times, definitely, where after you do a take and you messed it up and do the next take, they're like...the camera will go down and they're like, 'Oh, God. We should've gotten it last time,' but there's not that much added pressure, honestly.
Is this one going towards a different type of audience than the first film or will it be for the same audience?
Josh Hutcherson: Very similar, a very similar audience. Families with maybe ten, nine year olds and up, I'd say. What's cool about these movies is that there is some humor in there that I think older people will find funny, too. So, it's not more like another animated movie where you take your kids to it. I think that adults will actually enjoy it as well.
Would you be willing to do a third one of this?
You may have noticed in the trailer, there is a scene where Josh and Vanessa are riding a large bumblebee. The scene we got to watch them shoot was right before that. It starts out with Michael Caine leading Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Hutcherson, Luis Guzmán, and Dwayne Johnson into a clearing, as they realize they have to get to the top of an enormous cliff. Michael Caine has a solution, though, as he runs off into the brush. Although we don't actually see it, he is supposed to come up riding this enormous bumblebee as a solution to their cliff-scaling problem. If you can't get a kick out of Michael Caine riding a giant, imaginary bumblebee, then I don't know what you can get a kick out of.
That wraps up Part 1 of my set visit for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which arrives in theaters nationwide February 10. Be sure to check back for Part 2 of my set visit, where we speak with Dwayne Johnson and director Brad Peyton.