Michael Caine revisits Batman’s Alfred and says it’ll be a while before he bids the acting world farewell
AT AN AGE, 79, when most of his acting peers have either long since retired or seen their careers simply fade away, Sir Michael Caine has no intention of quietly shuffling off the Hollywood stage.
In his latest film, The Dark Knight Rises, the eagerly awaited finale to director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the actor once again stars as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and guiding conscience.
The two-time Oscar winner (for Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules) recently talked about making the film and why he’ll keep on working.
This is your third time as Alfred. Is it like playing an old friend?
No, it’s like being on a wheel and winding up at the end of this massive circle. The character was developed so well. It wasn’t just your usual butler going, ‘Dinner is served.’ He’s written so well and the part just got better and better.
Fair to say he’s really the father figure in the Dark Knight stories?
Certainly, because in Batman Begins I’m the butler of Batman’s father, and then when they’re killed, I look after him. And he’s just a boy then, so I really bring him up, like a foster father. That’s the reason I did it, because there’s all that depth to Alfred. He evolves and learns a lot of lessons, and then commits an ultimate sin ... So there’s some very emotional scenes between the two of them. I wouldn’t have done it if it was just, ‘Another drink, sir?’
This finale is obviously big summer, popcorn movie entertainment, but it also deals with some very dark themes.
Oh sure. The thing is, Chris can direct a huge blockbuster with all the stunts and special effects, but he also makes you think about serious issues like terrorism and the effects of poverty and a crippled economy, and he also directs Oscar-winning performances, like Heath Ledger’s in the last one. And he writes this great material which allows an actor to do that. I’ve never seen all those elements together in one director, and I’ve worked with some great ones over the years. He’s a real one-off.
A lot of big-budget, blockbuster directors are known for being tyrants on set, but Nolan seems so mild-mannered.
He is. He’s like an extremely human computer (laughs). He’s very quiet. He knows exactly what he wants, and he lets you get on with it until there’s something he wants to add or change. And at that point, it’s done away from everyone. He doesn’t make a show of being a director or boss. All the great directors are quiet. It’s the noisy ones who’re no good.
Nolan has said this is definitely his last Batman film. Same for you?
No. I told him, ‘if they carry on without you I’ll still play Alfred anyway,’ and he said, ‘I want 10 per cent’ (laughs). But I don’t know if they’d want to cast the same people again.
Why do you think Batman is such a beloved superhero?
Because he’s the most human of them all. He doesn’t have special powers and yes, he wears a suit, but it’s not bulletproof. Everyone can relate.
Peter O’Toole just announced he’s retiring now that he’s 80-years-old. Will you ever retire?
I’ll be 80 next March, so I’m not far behind, but I have no plans to retire. I’ve slowed down a bit, but I’ve got two scripts I really want to do.
I just shot Mr. Morgan’s Last Love, a comedy about an old American professor in Paris who has a non-physical relationship with a beautiful young French girl, based on a true story. So at my age, I don’t get the girl anymore, but as long as I get good scripts like that, I’ll keep going.