You don’t get two actors more different than Michael Caine and Katie Holmes. The English-born Caine is a veteran actor and Oscar winner best known for many decades of truly beloved work in such film classics as “Zulu”, “Funeral in Berlin”, “Alfie”, “The Ipcress File”, “Get Carter”, “The Italian Job”, “The Ladykillers”, “A Bridge Too Far”, “Quills”, “Educating Rita”, “The Fourth Protocol”, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, “The Cider House Rules”, “The Quiet American”, and the upcoming “Bewitched”.
The very American and still young Holmes on the other hand is still not widely known short of her memorable role as Joey Potter on the teen TV series “Dawson’s Creek” and roles in a variety of small to medium films like “The Gift,” “Phone Booth,” “Go,” “Abandon,” “The Ice Storm,” “Wonder Boys,” and “Disturbing Behavior.”
In “Batman Begins”, Caine takes on the part of Alfred Pennyworth, the ever loyal butler and somewhat surrogate father of Bruce Wayne who helps his master out but isn’t afraid to pop in with a barb or two about his Batman antics. Holmes plays the new character of Rachel, an assistant in the district attorney’s office who’s also the childhood love of Bruce. Together though they recently sat down with press in Los Angeles to talk about their roles in this restart to the franchise:
Question: Were you fans of the Batman franchise before becoming involved with the film?
Caine: Well, they were all sort of different. They all sort of came out at different times, so there was nothing to be a fan of. But I saw them all and liked most of them, I must say, yeah. But when I got this script, it was called Batman Begins, and I wondered about that. And then when I read the script I realized it’s true: Batman begins. It’s a whole new thing and a whole new way, the way Chris has done it. It’s what made me do it. It wouldn’t be much point to just playing an ordinary butler in another Batman – coming in and saying, “Dinner is served.” But the way it was written and the way it was treated – my respect for Christopher Nolan as a director, having seen the other two pictures he made. I was also intrigued that the man who directed Insomnia and Memento would be directing a big budget movie like this, and they trusted him with it. You know, $180 million. But I figured he could do it, and it was so different that I loved it. I’ve seen the picture now and I really love it.
Question: Thinking about Alfred in the comics and Rachel in the new film… how did each of you approach the characters?
Caine: Do you want to start that one?
Holmes: It was a thrill to get the role of Rachel. What I liked about her was her strength and her – she’s the type of person that you can tell she’s worked hard for everything she’s ever got. And she’s very tough and she wants to save Gotham City and make a difference. So, I just – there was so much backstory already there: She grew up with Bruce; she grew up in that house; her mom was a servant. So it was pretty much all there on the page. It was fun to think about different experiences Rachel and Bruce had together growing up and how that came into play as they got older, added into their closeness.
Caine: My one… I did a back story on mine. I wanted to be the toughest butler you’ve ever seen, not the normal English, suave butler. And so I made him an SAS sergeant, which is a very, very tough British army unit. He’s wounded; he didn’t want to leave the army. He became the sergeant in charge of the sergeant’s cantina or sergeant’s mess as it’s called in the British army. And he got found by Bruce Wayne’s father, who wanted the toughest butler he could find, and that’s what he got. And I used the voice of my original sergeant when I joined the British army. It’s his voice. That’s the back story, and I’m waiting for Christopher Nolan to do “Alfred: The Beginning.”
Question: Are either of you signed for a another installment?
Caine: Only mentally.
Holmes: Yes, exactly.
Caine: We’d both do it in a minute. But we’re not signed.
Question: How was the experience filming the movie?
Caine: It was great fun. It was a good movie to work on. And it was quiet. There’s none of the shouting and bawling. He’s a very quiet man, Christopher. When he directs – you know, I’m a bit deaf – I kept saying, “What did he say?”
Holmes: I did the same. I know.
Caine: He’s so quiet. You think, “I’m going deaf.” But I’m not. He’s just quiet. What you get from Christopher is he’s very quiet, but you better do exactly what you’re supposed to do, otherwise his voice might get louder. So, you do it and hope he doesn’t notice anything. And that’s it. He’s a wonderful director.
Holmes: A wonderful leader on the set.
Question: Christian Bale saw himself as an animal the first time he saw himself in costume. What was your impression?
Caine: He looked like an animal, didn’t he? He looked like a bat… And we made him. No, Alfred and Batman make the uniform. Obviously, we didn’t make the uniform. The first time I saw it, I opened a cupboard on the set, and it was in there and made me jump. It was just sitting there. I think it’s the most sinister Batman outfit I’ve ever seen. It’s very sinister. Very hard, and it’s not shiny. Batman was always shiny. And the Batmobile was [always] shiny. But this looks like, you know …
Caine: The Batmobile looks like you’d be safer on the outside than driving it. You could die driving the bloody thing. Better to run away from it.
Question: What do your characters fear and what do you fear?
Holmes: I don’t think Rachel fears anything in this movie. And I don’t fear anything, so it works out.
Caine: My main fear in the movie is that Batman will lose his moral convictions and get carried away with the power he has. In real life, I’m afraid of heights – and people who get moral convictions. … Adolf Hitler in London.
Question: Katie, how do you stay grounded?
Holmes: I’m happy.
Question: What makes you happy?
Holmes: I’m so excited about Batman coming up this summer. I just saw the movie last week and I’m thrilled with it and excited to be promoting it and happy for the world to see it. I’m really happy about my personal life – totally in love. I’m a very lucky woman.
Question: What did Tom [Cruise] think about Batman?
Holmes: He loved it. He loved the movie.
Question: We saw him in the hotel… Did he come out to support you?
Holmes: Yeah, yeah.
Caine: They were kissing in the corridor.
Holmes: (Giggles) Yes, we were.
Question: Did you say anything to them?
Caine: Oh, I’ve known Tom a long time. I know him pretty well.
Question: Michael, you literally wrote the book on acting. Is there anything left for you to learn on a movie set?
Caine: I learn the whole time. I think it would be dull if I thought I was going to work and wouldn’t find something new. We always learn. What did I learn on this movie? Stay out of the way of the bats… keep your head down.
Question: Katie, after getting over the intimidation of working with these actors, where do you want to go from here?
Holmes: I’m really proud of this film and I had such a great time working with these amazing actors. I’m excited to find – I like being part of good movies and telling stories that mean something to me. I also like playing characters that I look up to.
Question: The cast is almost entirely British. Why did [Christopher Nolan] cast an American as the love interest?
Holmes: You’ll have to ask him.
Caine: The market..
Holmes: But I’m glad… It’s me, Michael, it’s me!
Caine: I didn’t mean it like that.
Question: What was the first movie you saw Michael in? How do you get over the intimidation of working with him?
Caine: I’ve come up in the world because I’m now called “Alfred.”
Holmes: Alfie was my first movie, and Michael, he made me laugh.
Caine: We had a lot of laughs on the movie. You have to.
Question: Your Alfie was a bigger hit than the remake…
Caine: I’m kind of sad really, because Jude Law is a friend of mine and I would hoped it would be a hit for him. I want everyone to be a success, and I especially want him to be a success, because I want to do a remake of Sleuth with him and if that had been a big hit, we would have gotten the money easier. We’ve got a rewrite by Harold Pinter and it’s a very interesting – anyway, it doesn’t matter. But Jude is a wonderful actor anyway. My view is that you should always remake failures because then you’ve got nowhere to go but up. They can’t say, “It’s not as good as that.” You make a piece of crap, they say “Well, it’s a piece of crap like that was.” (Laughs)
Question: Any thoughts on how you’d like to see your characters developed for sequels?
Caine: Longer. Bigger… I’d like to be a bigger character.
Holmes: Yes, more screen time.
Caine: More screen time… Yes.
Question: What was it like working with Christian?
Caine: Oh, he’s great to work with. Completely dedicated. Physically, if you saw what he did with himself, he’s so big. I’d seen him in American Psycho and when they said, Christian, I said, “He’s kind of thin for Batman.”
Holmes: And he got thinner.
Caine: I didn’t know about it. Otherwise, I would have freaked out if I had seen that… The Machinist. But then when I walked on the set there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger standing there. I went, “Oops!”
Question: Katie, is there another comic franchise that you’d like to see yourself involved in… Wonder Woman or something like that?
Holmes: I really like… I loved working on this movie, Batman Begins. I loved this story and I’d love to do another Batman movie.
Question: Cillian was creepy in the movie. How was that acting opposite him?
Holmes: He was creepy in the movie, wasn’t he?
Caine: He was incredible, wasn’t he? I’d never come across him before. I never even met him in the movie. I met him the other day in London when we were doing this.
Question: He looked kind of short next to you…
Holmes: Oh. (Laughs)
Caine: It’s not your fault.
Holmes: I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it.
Question: It seemed like you hardly had any eye contact with him in your scenes…
Holmes: Well, that’s because he was playing a criminal. That’s why. It was wonderful working with Cillian. He’s a great actor.
Caine: You see, I didn’t work with him.
Holmes: He was great. We had a nice time.
Caine: Boy… he was creepy in the movie.
Holmes: I didn’t like that mask… I mean, I liked it, but it was creepy.
Question: for both of you… what was your most surreal moment on the set?
Caine: For me, it was when I walked into the Batcave for the first time, which was a set at Shepperton studios on this big sound stage. Which, coincidentally, was the first place I ever played a scene anywhere in any movie. It was the same place. It was so weird. I made a tiny little film called A Hill in Korea, a British Army picture, when I was very young and I had eight lines in the picture and I screwed up six of them. It was on this stage that I said the very first line in a movie and then there was this great big bat place. And then, I said “Those are great false bats in the ceiling.” He said, “They’re not false Michael, they’re real. They’re asleep. Don’t wake them up, whatever you do.” And then the waterfalls started, and everything. It was this massive set, really massive.
Holmes: I think the first time I walked into Gotham City, because that was in this huge hanger.
Caine: Oh, that was incredible. It was an airship hanger. Remember those old airships? That was big, that would take two airships and that massive Gotham set was about an eighth of that building, wasn’t it? There was masses of it left over. It’s an incredible place.
Holmes: It was so much fun. I felt like I was…
Caine: I’ve got news for you about the sequel and I haven’t told anyone this… They haven’t pulled that set down.
Holmes: I know.
Caine: There may be a sequel. (Laughs)
Holmes: We should just go hang there…
Caine: Yeah. The set is still there. And it’s really Chicago. It was very funny. I’d just done a picture in Chicago called The Weatherman with Nicolas Cage, which is not out yet. And then I went straight back to Chicago to shoot, and I was in exactly the same place, but it was Gotham City. And it was quite weird. Very strange.