The Actor’s Craft: Michael Caine’s never-ending test
Legendary two-time Oscar-winning actor Michael Caine enters into “Amour” territory in his new film, “Last Love,” which opens Friday in Los Angeles.
The 80-year-old Caine plays Matthew Morgan, a lonely American widower living in the Paris apartment he shared with his late wife (Jane Alexander), whose ghost visits him on occasion. He has less than an ideal relationship with his two adult children (Gillian Anderson, Justin Kirk), who live in the U.S.
Matthew gets a new lease on life when he becomes a friend and surrogate father to an equally lonely young dancer teacher, Pauline (Clémence Poésy). When a near-tragedy prompts his children to come to Paris, they mistakenly believe their father is having an affair.
For nearly 50 years, Caine has been one of cinema’s most accomplished actors — earning lead actor Oscar nominations for 1966’s “Alfie,” 1972’s “Sleuth,” 1983’s “Educating Rita” and 2000’s “The Quiet American” and winning supporting actor Oscars for 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” and 1999’s “The Cider House Rules.”
The British actor brought humor, gravitas and emotion to his role as Bruce Wayne’s butler/surrogate father Alfred in director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy and is collaborating with the filmmaker for the sixth time on “Interstellar.”
The effusive and witty Caine chatted about “Last Love” recently over the phone from his home in England.
I loved your last autobiography, “The Elephant to Hollywood.” Does writing come naturally to you?
Yes. I never asked for any professional help. A writer once said to me, all you have to do is write the way you talk — like you are telling a story. The only other advice I got was from Kirk Douglas. I said the lawyers kept stopping me from saying certain things, and he said you must write fiction, then you can tell the truth.
You also have nearly 500,000 followers on Twitter.
Yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it? My wife, Shakira, put me on to it. Suddenly, I’m doing messages. It’s quite amazing. You get one message from New York and one from Iceland, all in 10 seconds. I go on every so often if something happens or I’m doing something.
Let’s talk about “Last Love.” It changes tone halfway through the movie when we Matthew is dealing with not only loneliness but deep-seated depression. What drew you to the project?
As I got older, I have sort of tested myself more and more with more difficult roles. This is a very difficult role to play. It’s very sensitive; you could get it wrong in so many places. I did my best.
You understand the loneliness of the two people, which I thought was the most important thing about the picture. I asked the author of the book — it’s based on a true story — if was there anything ever sexual between you and the man. She said no, never. So the first thing I did was grow a paunch belly. I look as unattractive as I possibly could and did a very good job, I must say, because I was afraid of anything sexual coming through.
Have you finished Nolan’s “Interstellar”?
I have shot some in Calgary, and I shoot more in Los Angeles in November. I don’t have a big part in it. I play the part of the science professor. He gave me another wonderful character in this one. The thing about Christopher Nolan is that he writes so you really believe the characters. In many of these big movies, the characters are just ciphers.
You also have another film set for release next year, “Eliza Graves.” What’s that about?
It’s an Edgar Allan Poe story. It’s Ben Kingsley and me. He’s a lunatic, and I’m in charge of the asylum! I am doing a picture with Matthew Vaughn in December that’s a spoof on the secret service. And director Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty”) came to me with script called “The Future,” which I am going to do next year.
So you’re pretty booked.
I’m still around. I am hoping to stay here as long as possible.
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