Michael Caine for “The Prestige”

He is still an Oscar winning legend, a teller of tales and a movie star who knows how to court the press. Arriving to interviews with a twinkle in eye and ready to share a laugh or two, the venerable busy actor, who co-stars in The Prestige, talks acting and remakes to Paul Fischer.

Question: So… you can pick and choose what you want to do because you have, you know, money. You know, you did Jaws Returns and all that kind of stuff.

Caine: I did do Jaws Returns as a co-star. I only talk about movies that I starred in, I was in Jaws for ten minutes, it’s not my responsibility. [Laughter]

Question: So when you do pick something now, what is the most important priority for you?

Caine: It’s an offer I can’t refuse. I don’t want to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning and go out and do something I don’t want to do with people I don’t want to be with. I don’t need to pay the rent. It’s okay. I don’t have a mortgage. And the phone bill’s okay – it’s not very heavy. And so I just do offers, pictures that I really can’t refuse, and this was one. for a start I’ve got Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale, and then you’ve got this script which – if you’ve done as many scripts as I have, you know, a lot of them are pretty similar, and then you get something as different as this you’ve got to… you sort of think it’s your lucky day. It’s like your birthday or something. And this… this was one of those. It’s an offer I can’t refuse but it’s nothing to do with money.

Question: But you could have refused Batman for instance.

Caine: No, I love Batman.

Question: Why is that?

Caine: Oh, because thought it was great, because to me the butler is the human representative of all of us in the middle of the movie with all these extraordinary characters, which is sort of a specialty of mine. I’ve always played very human sort of characters. So for me that was great. And I’d never been in one of those great big blockbusters. You know, of all the pictures… I’d never been in one of those massive great deals. I think there was $180 million, and I thought this would be great. And also it’s an old aged pension. [Laughter]. When Michael Gough who played the butler before me…the last time he played it he was 83. [Laughter]

Caine: It’s true. So I’ve got 10 years. The way they make ’em I’ll make about three. [Laughter]

Question: Have you seen anything on the second one yet?

Caine: No. No. I know it’s called The Dark Knight. I know it’s all about the Joker. I know the Joker is Heath Ledger. And that’s all I know. He won’t tell you anything. Christopher won’t tell you anything.

Question: But you are doing the Sleuth remake?

Caine: I’m doing the Sleuth remake. That’s with Jude Law. And that’s being directed by Kenneth Branagh with a script by Harold Pinter.

Question: How different is it from the wonderful movie that you did?

Caine: Yeah, it’s very, very different indeed. Kenneth Branagh and I were having lunch the other day and a guy came by and saw us and said are you two doing a remake of Sleuth, he said, no. He said we’re doing a movie based on the plotline of Sleuth and we’ve stolen the title. That’s it. It’s very different, but the plotline obviously has to be the same.

Question: Really?

Caine: Well I’ll give you a quick difference. Olivier’s house in the original was a very nice English country house…

Question: With all those mazes.

Caine: Yeah, and all that. And you go in and it’s a very nice old English country house with lovely chincy furniture and all that. In this it starts off with a very nice English country house, just the same, and then you go in and the entire place is marble, minimal, and in the middle is a glass elevator that goes up to the roof. That’s the start. Everything from then on is different.

Question: Is it fun to play the role that Olivier played?

Caine: Well I’m not playing the role that Olivier played. I’m playing a role that had been written by Harold Pinter. Olivier played a role written by Peter Shaffer. for instance, I haven’t re-run Sleuth to see how it went, you know, because I wouldn’t want anything to do with Larry’s performance. It’ll be very much different. It’ll also be nearer to reality because Larry, you know, was sort of very flamboyant and that character played by me would not be quite as flamboyant.

Question: How do you like playing a role in something like Prestige of serving in the background as opposed to the lead character?

Caine: Well I think you don’t regard yourself as that because what happens is, is when you are in front of a camera – I don’t care if you’ve only got one line – when you speak you’d better be a star and you’d better get it right, and you’d better be the person, otherwise you’re never going to work again. What happens with me is that I used to be a leading man so I got the girl, lost the girl and then I got her back, you know, and I did that… Everybody tried to make me as good looking as possible with the nicest clothes, but that can become boring, especially if you don’t want to do it anymore, and also if you’ve become older you obviously can’t play that. So then you get the really interesting parts. What I do now is so much more interesting from an acting point of view than what I did before. And there’s always a moment in your life when you realize it. You don’t quite realize it, you go along… I remember I was sent a script and I read the part of the young lover and everything, and I sent it back to the producer and I said this is far too small, I don’t want to be bothered with this. And he sent the script back and said read the father. [Laughter]

Caine: So that was it. I suddenly went ‘read the father’, oh… And, you know, my wife said to me, well, you’re 50, you’ve got two daughters, what do you think you are. [Laughter]

Question: It must be a tribute to you that there are so many of your films being remade or have been remade…

Caine: Well you wonder about it, don’t you. I was talking to a man over there who said to me did you know that they’re doing a musical of The Man Who Would be King.

Question: I didn’t know that.

Caine: I didn’t know that. I don’t know whether it’s true or not. I don’t know quite how you’re going to do it. There’d be lots of Arab dancing in it with all those women. Get those blue berber women out of the mountains again. They’re good.

Question: Do you like looking at your old stuff?

Caine: I never look at anything. The only thing I ever look at – and I find myself, I get sucked into it – is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. And, you know, I’m usually going through and if I see Dr. Schaffhoussen walking in I think, wait a minute, I’ve got look at this for a minute and then I’m stuck there.

Question: Did you see the play?

Caine: No, I’m going to see the play. I’m going to New York next week and I’m going to see the musical.

Question: Now I know that in the first Batman film you put in a lot of background story yourself that you created for Alfred…

Caine: Yeah.

Question: Are we going to see a little bit more of this character, you know, the background of the character?

Caine: No, that was just for me. I wanted it to be a very sharp, sort of military delivery in that. I wanted to be a servant but tough, and so I figured if he’d been injured in the SAS, which is like your SEALS, you know, very tough, and then he stayed on and got a job in the Sergeant’s mess, so therefore he knew how to do drinks and serve, but you’ve still got this guy who is inherently a trained killer. That’s what I wanted. And that’s how I played him. I don’t know whether anyone else noticed.

Question: Did you learn any good tricks while making Prestige?

Caine: Yeah. Yeah. I learned to let the camera come around on Hugh and then you can get home early. [Laughter]