Interview: Michael Caine, The PrestigePosted by: Sheila Roberts
Magicians have long had need for close assistance. Whether behind the scenesâ€”
As for his character, Caine describes him as "a teacher, a father and a guide to Angier.â€ He continues: "He finds Angier, helps him to create his best tricks, and then watches as it all goes terribly wrong.â€ In creating his nuanced portrait, Caine even altered his highly recognizable voice. "Cutter is an older man, and in those days, they smoked like chimneys and drank like fish, so I brought his voice down into the throat with a kind of cough in it,â€ he explains. "And his accent is very thick and rather menacing.â€ Body posture was also key to Caineâ€™s reading of Cutter. "Heâ€™s a powerful man, but also very relaxed,â€ he observes. "One thing about him is that he often has his hands in his pocketsâ€”but when they come out, you better worry!â€
The filmmakers knew that Caine would make the role entirely his own. Says Nolan: "Michael Caineâ€™s character really becomes something of the heart of the movie. He has a wonderful warmth and emotion to him that draws you into the story and allows you to have a point of view on these characters without judging them too harshly.â€
At the Los Angeles press day held at the Pasadena Ritz Carlton Hotel to promote "The Prestige,â€ Michael Caine sat down with Movies Online and other journalists to discuss what it was like working with Christopher Nolan and starring opposite Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. Caine is not only a fabulous actor and person, but he has a wonderful sense of humor. We really enjoyed our time with him and appreciated his. Hereâ€™s what he had to say:
Q: Here we go.
MC: Hi, domestic press.
MC: Domestic press. Sounds sort of nice, doesnâ€™t it.
Q: It sounds domestic.
MC: Like youâ€™ve got to get your breakfast or something.
Q: The breakfast is actually not bad.
MC: No, itâ€™s not bad.
Q: So how are you?
MC: Iâ€™m good, wonderful.
Q: I hear they decided to do it in Pasadena because you wanted to come to Pasadena, is that true?
MC: I couldnâ€™t understand why we were going to Pasadena to do it.
Q: Did you even know where Pasadena was?
MC: No. Iâ€™ve been here before, but Pasadena is one of those places where you go there, you still donâ€™t know where you are.
Q: And this hotel tooâ€¦
MC: Yeah, and this hotel is extraordinary isnâ€™t it.
Q: Itâ€™s huge.
MC: You go, wow, how did this get out here.
Q: Soâ€¦ you can pick and choose what you want to do because you have, you know, money. You know, you did "Jaws Returnsâ€ and all that kind of stuff.
MC: I didnâ€™t do "Jaws Returnsâ€ and all that kind of stuff. I only talk about movies that I starred in. I was in "Jawsâ€ for ten minutes, itâ€™s not my responsibility.
Q: So when you do pick something now, what is the most important priority for you?
MC: Itâ€™s an offer I canâ€™t refuse. I donâ€™t want to go to work. I donâ€™t want to get up at 6 oâ€™clock in the morning and go out and do something I donâ€™t want to do with people I donâ€™t want to be with. I donâ€™t need to pay the rent. Itâ€™s okay. I donâ€™t have a mortgage. And the phone billâ€™s okay â€“ itâ€™s not very heavy. And so I just do offers, pictures that I really canâ€™t refuse, and this was one. For a start Iâ€™ve got Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale, and then youâ€™ve got this script which â€“ if youâ€™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 goâ€¦ you sort of think itâ€™s your lucky day. Itâ€™s like your birthday or something. And thisâ€¦ this was one of those. Itâ€™s an offer I canâ€™t refuse but itâ€™s nothing to do with money.
Q: But you could have refused "Batman,â€ for instance.
MC: No, I love "Batman.â€
Q: Why is that?
MC: Oh, becauseâ€¦ Iâ€¦ I thought it was great, "Batman,â€ 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. Iâ€™ve always played very human sort of characters. So for me that was great. And Iâ€™d never been in one of those great big blockbusters. You know, of all the picturesâ€¦ Iâ€™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 itâ€™s an old aged pension.
When Michael Gough, who played the butler before meâ€¦
MC: â€¦the last time he played it, he was 83.
MC: Itâ€™s true.
Q: So youâ€¦
MC: So Iâ€™ve got 10 years.
Q: Ten years to wait now.
MC: Iâ€™ve got 10 years. The way they make â€˜em Iâ€™ll make about three.
Q: Have you seen anything on the second one yet?
MC: No. No. I know itâ€™s called "The Dark Knight.â€ I know itâ€™s all about the Joker. I know the Joker is Heath Ledger. And thatâ€™s all I know. He wonâ€™t tell you anything. Christopher wonâ€™t tell you anything.
Q: But you are doing the Sleuth remake, right?
MC: Iâ€™m doing the Sleuth remake. Thatâ€™s beenâ€¦
MC: Yeah. Thatâ€™s with Jude Law. And thatâ€™s being directed by Kenneth Branagh with a script by Harold Pinter.
Q: How different is it from the wonderful movie that you did?
MC: Yeah, itâ€™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,â€ he said, no. He said weâ€™re doing a movie based on the plotline of "Sleuthâ€ and weâ€™ve stolen the title. Thatâ€™s it. Itâ€™sâ€¦ itâ€™s very different, but the plotline obviously has to be the same.
Q: How differentâ€¦ Really?
MC: Well, Iâ€™ll give you a quick difference. Olivierâ€™s house in the original was a very nice English country houseâ€¦
Q: With all those mazes.
MC: Yeah, and all that. And you go in and itâ€™s a very nice old English country house with lovely chinzy 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. Thatâ€™s the start. Everything from then on is different.
Q: Is it fun to play the role that Olivier [played]?
MC: Well Iâ€™m not playing the role that Olivier played. Iâ€™m playing a role that had been written by Harold Pinter. Olivier played a role written by Peter Shaffer.
Q: Peter Shaffer, right.
MC: So itâ€™sâ€¦ itâ€™s gotâ€¦ For instance, I would neverâ€¦ I havenâ€™t re-run "Sleuthâ€ to see how it went, you know, because I wouldnâ€™t. I wouldnâ€™t want anything to do with Larryâ€™s performance, you know. Itâ€™sâ€¦ itâ€™ll be very much different. Itâ€™ll also be nearer to reality because Larry, you know, was sort of thisâ€¦
Q: Very much older.
MC: â€¦very flamboyant. It wouldâ€¦ that character played by me would not be quite as flamboyant.
Q: In the opening dialogue of the film, of "The Prestige,â€ you explain the three actsâ€¦
MC: The pledge, the turn and the prestige. Yes.
Q: Exactly. And I know one of our outlets here wanted to know if youâ€™d explain the prestige to us once again.
MC: Well the pledge is that they show you something and they pledge to you that itâ€¦ (picks up one of the journalistâ€™s recorders) itâ€™s a little digital recorder, right, thatâ€™s all it is, you know. And then the turn is they do something to it and you donâ€™t notice it because youâ€™ve been misdirected. Thatâ€™s the turn. Youâ€™re not looking, probably because youâ€™re looking at Scarlett Johansson in tights.
Q: Funny that.
MC: Yeah, yeah.
MC: As you do.
Q: Thatâ€™s right.
MC: And then the prestige is his prestige in turning it intoâ€¦ to say itâ€™s not really, thatâ€™s a dove and a dove comes out. Thatâ€™s it. The pledge, the turn, the prestige. And you see these magicians â€“ better put that downâ€¦(places recorder back on table)
MC: [Inaudible] If I get a microphone I turn into a stand-up comedian. Thatâ€™s what I think I should have been.
MC: Iâ€™d just like to say [inaudible].
MC: Um, where was I? Umâ€¦ if you think in terms of the movie you see these guys doing the pledge, the turn, the prestige. What you donâ€™t know that is happening is that thereâ€™s another magician called Christopher Nolan who is doing that with you, and the whole movieâ€¦
Q: Is an illusion.
MC: â€¦is a magic trick with a pledge, a turn, and the prestige when youâ€¦ We wind up with the little girl and the Lord (a character thatâ€™s introduced towards the end of the film) and thatâ€™s it.
MC: And Iâ€™ve been talking to her the whole time, not you.
Q: Did you do a lot of that kind of research on this when you wereâ€¦ or you just relied on the script?
MC: Well you can rely on the script. I happened to, in my own life, know very great magicians myself. Cy Endfield, who directed "Zulu,â€ was the king of The Magic Castle. He invented practically every card trick youâ€™ll ever see actually. And then the other one is great friends of mine and who Iâ€™ve seen their act the whole time, which was much more apropos of this film, was Siegfried and Roy, who were two extraordinary characters, you know, who could do these great big things. And they had an engineer who would build them stuff â€“ which is what I am, you know.
Q: How do you like playing the role of serving in the background as opposed to the lead character?
MC: Well I thinkâ€¦ what it is, itâ€™sâ€¦ you donâ€™t regard yourself as that because what happens is, is when you are in front of a camera â€“ I donâ€™t care if youâ€™ve only got one line â€“ when you speak youâ€™d better be a star and youâ€™d better get it right, and youâ€™d better be the person, otherwise youâ€™re never going to work again. You know, Iâ€¦ 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 thatâ€¦ Everybody tried to make me as good looking as possible with the nicest clothes, but that can become boring, especially if you donâ€™t want to do it anymore, and also if youâ€™ve become older you obviously canâ€™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 thereâ€™s alwaysâ€¦ thereâ€™s always a moment in your life when you realize it. You donâ€™t quite realize it, you go alongâ€¦ 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 donâ€™t want to be bothered with this. And he sent the script back and said read the father.
MC: So that was it. I suddenly went â€˜read the fatherâ€™, ohâ€¦ And, you know, my wife said to me, well, youâ€™re 50, youâ€™ve got two daughters, what do you think you are.
Q: It must be a tribute to you that there are so many of your films being remade or have been remadeâ€¦
MC: Well youâ€¦ you wonder about it, donâ€™t you. I was talking to a man over there who said to me did you know that theyâ€™re doing a musical of "The Man Who Would be King.â€
Q: I didnâ€™t know that.
MC: I didnâ€™t know that. I donâ€™t know whether itâ€™s true or not. I donâ€™t know quite how youâ€™re going to do it. Thereâ€™d be lots of Arab dancing in it with all those women. Get those blue Berber women out of the mountains again. Theyâ€™re good.
Q: Do you like looking at your old stuff?
MC: I never look at anything.
Q: If [itâ€™s] on [the] tellie, you just flip the channel?
MC: No. The only thing I ever look at â€“ and I find myself, I get sucked into it â€“ is "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.â€
Q: I love that movie.
MC: And, you know, Iâ€™m usually going through and if I see Dr. Schaffhausen walking in I think, wait a minute, Iâ€™ve got look at this for a minute and then Iâ€™m stuck there forâ€¦
Q: Did you see the play?
MC: No, Iâ€™m going to see the play. Iâ€™m going to New York next week and Iâ€™m going to see the musical. Yeah, yeah.
Q: Do check out the website also, which is not related to it at allâ€¦
Q: Do check out the website for the School for Scoundrelsâ€¦
MC: Oh, I donâ€™t know what this is.
Q: Itâ€™s a group of magicians, many of whom you might actually know from The Magic Castle. School for Scoundrels.
MC: Oh, is it?
Q: Yeah. Itâ€™s a great website.
MC: You have to remember, Iâ€™ve just arrived in America and none of this stuff is going on in England so we donâ€™t know. What I do is I get The Calendar and the L.A. Times everyday about this is whatâ€™s being made, and Iâ€™m looking to see what screeners Iâ€™m going to get from the Academy. I gotâ€¦ the first screener arrived this morning.
Q: Of what?
MC: "Little Miss Sunshine.â€
Q: Itâ€™s very good.
MC: Yeah, I havenâ€™t seen it. I mean Iâ€™d never heard of it but that wasâ€¦
MC: And itâ€™s a big moment in the year for me. We love it in England. We get the screeners and we sit all the winter watching these movies. And Iâ€™m also a member of the Academyâ€¦ European Academy.
Q: In Britain?
MC: No, theâ€¦ Iâ€™ve already got the DVD of Volver.
Q: How is it? I havenâ€™t seen that yet.
MC: Itâ€™s fantastic. Wonderful.
Q: Now I know that in the first Batman film you put in a lot of background story yourself that you created for Alfredâ€¦
Q: Are we going to see a little bit more of this character, you know, the background of the character?
MC: No, that was just for me. In order to justify--- what I wanted to beâ€¦ I wanted to useâ€¦ he has a very sharp, staccato military delivery in that. I wanted to be a servant but tough, and so I figured if heâ€™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 Sergeantâ€™s mess, so therefore he knew how to do drinks and serve, but youâ€™ve still got this guy who is inherently a trained killer. Thatâ€™s what I wanted. And thatâ€™s how I played him. I donâ€™t know whether anyone else noticed.
Q: Did you learn any good tricks while making "The Prestige?â€
MC: Yeah. Yeah. I learned to let the camera come around on Hugh and then you can get home early.
MC: No. The trick I learnedâ€¦ we had to do, Hugh and I had to do the, um, the collapsing birdcage without killing the bird.
MC: We never ever did it with a live bird. We killed about eight rubber birds.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Take care.
MC: Okay. Bye, bye.
"The Prestigeâ€ opens in theatre on October 20th. I invite you to read my Review of the film, my interviews with Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, Hugh Jackman, and Christian Bale and to watch a ton of Videos right here.