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SUBJECT: Is Anybody There?

Michael Caine Michael Caine

In his eclectic career, Michael Caine has played, among other roles, a doctor, writer, secret agent, lover, teacher and butler, but his latest character in Is Anybody There? is perhaps his most poignant.

He portrays Clarence, a retired magician, who reluctantly enters a family-run old age home where he befriends Edward (Bill Milner), the 10-year-old death-obsessed son of the home’s owners. In this touching story about growing up and growing old, Clarence, after years of keeping his skills to himself, begins to teach Edward magic, and a friendship ensues that transforms both of their lives.

Did you relish this role?:
Michael CaineI loved doing this. I fell in love with the script. David Heyman, the guy that produces Harry Potter, wanted me to do it and he gave me the script. I got halfway through and I rang him and I said, ‘I'll do it.’ He said, ‘Did you like it?’ I said, "I haven't finished it yet." He said, ‘Why are you calling me before you finished it?’ And I said, ‘Because I'm crying and I wanted something to do.’ It made me cry halfway through. No script had ever done that to me before. I don't cry easily, believe me. When you've been an actor as long as I have the only reason to go to work, really, is to try and prove to yourself you're better than you were the last time.

Did you have a say in who played Edward?:
Bill MilnerNo. I didn't have a say about who played the little boy. But I did say to David, ‘If the little boy's no good we're in trouble.’ Then he brought Bill in and he was fabulous. Bill wasn't from a stage school. He hadn't done professional acting before. But he was from an amateur dramatic society and most importantly, he didn't have a stage mum. He had a very ordinary, a very nice, sweet woman (who) was his mother. She wasn't peddling her thwarted ambitions through him. He's a very natural little boy and I thought he was wonderful.

How difficult was it to learn the magic tricks for this?
It was quite difficult, especially when you're my age and I have fingers that don't work [so well], so Billy got that one [card trick] quicker than I did. It's quite difficult to do. The other things of course are tricks, machinery and gadgets and they weren’t so bad.

Did you learn anything about growing old from playing Clarence?:
Michael CaineIt gave me insight into why other people age, not me. There was a sad part of it, where for the dementia and the Alzheimer's, I was technically perfect because my best friend had just died of it. I'd just spent five years with it, so I knew exactly about Alzheimer's, and what happens with the confusion. When you get older, you have friends like that.

Are you signed to do another Batman movie?
Yes, if they do another one, I'll probably be the butler. [he laughs] I hope I'm still alive. Michael Goth, who played Batman before me, the last time he played [the butler in] Batman he was 84.

Do you think Christopher Nolan will come around to doing a third one?
I would imagine so. That would be probably The Riddler.

What did Heath Ledger's victory at the Oscars mean to you in terms of his legacy?
I thought it was very important for his family as well. I was a big fan of his from the first time I met him. I met him on the set where he invades the party we're having. But, before that, we were chatting. He had his make-up on and I was saying how fantastic I thought it was. We were just chatting quietly and then they said, ‘We're ready to shoot.’ And I had never seen the performance, and he came out of the elevator and I was absolutely stunned by the way he did it and the energy that went into it. When I saw the movie, there's an opening monologue and a closing monologue that he does which I felt if anybody's going to better that and get an Academy Award above him, I would pay good money to see that, and nobody did beat him. I'm so pleased.

That will be a tough act to follow for anyone who plays the Riddler though?
I thought it would be a tough act to follow for anybody who played against The Joker after Jack Nicholson. [he laughs] You know what I'm saying? Heath is The Joker. We'll see.

You've done three films with Christian Bale and he caught some attention recently for his rant on the sent of Terminator.
Yeah, that stunned me, that did, because he's not like that at all. I mean, I'm more like that than he is. (he chuckles) You're liable to get a volley off of me if you walk around during my takes. I would never imagine Christian doing that. It's completely out of character. I was stunned when I saw it on the news.

Do see anything missing from today's cinema?
I never see anything missing. I would go with what I want to do at any given time. It's still there for me. I can't sit here having done this picture and say, ‘I never get offered any good scripts.’ I don't get offered many because I'm a bit old for the lover and all that, so I don't get the girl anymore. I remember the change, I got a script a few years back, and I sent it back to the producer saying, ‘The part's too small.’ He sent it back to me and said, ‘It wasn't for the lover. It was for the father.’ I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Oh my God. I got old.’

Do you have a favorite character you've played?
Well, Alfie has to be the one. It was the one that made me a star. It broke open the American market for me. It came to America. I got my first nomination for an Academy Award for it. That was important. But my favorite character of all was Lawrence Jamieson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I liked him very much.

Your character in Is Anybody There? is a retired magician. Have you ever thought about retiring?
No, because I think films retire you. What happens is you say, ‘I'm going to retire,’ and then David Heyman turns up and gives you this script so you're not retiring anymore. At my age, you're usually a character like I am in Batman. You know, I'm the butler, I'm not Batman. (he laughs) So, these things turn up and you just can't refuse them. I don't have my next movie. I'm not looking for one. Someone may give me a script possibly and I will work again. If someone doesn't give me a script I want to do, I'm retired, but there won't be some great announcement or fanfare or trumpets. I just won't do anything. I'll stay at home and do what I do there which is cooking, gardening, writing and traveling

Is there anything you haven’t achieved yet?
I’ve won two supporting actors. I’ve been nominated seven times for leading actor and have never won that. So that would be an ambition, wouldn’t it? I’ve got two Academy Awards but it would look better with another one in the middle. Three would look nice, wouldn’t it?

What do you want the audience to take away from this picture?
I’d like them to take away a moving experience about life that they didn’t quite have before, about the relationships between children and adults and youngsters and the aging. It goes both ways. You see how an older person can help someone young and bring them around, and you see how a younger person should treat an older person. So I think that understanding between the two ages is very important in this picture.

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Images above © BBC Films a Heyday Films/Big Beach production
Feature © 2009 Visual Imagination.
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