Matt Adcock meets Sir Michael Caine
‘Is Anybody There?
’ – Sir Michael Caine’s new movie, explores issues such as dementia, courage and intergenerational friendship. Caine plays a cantankerous retired magician whose mischievous nature brings a wave of hope through an old people’s home where he meets Edward (Bill Milner from Son of Rambow etc).
Matt: ‘So how did you first get involved with Is Anybody There?’
Sir Michael Caine: I knew that John Crowley was a well-known theatre director in Ireland, although I'd never seen any of his productions. But then I saw two movies of his, and he had an incredible cinematic eye. I thought: "Here's a twin - here's a director that can direct actors and knows where to put a camera." It's wonderful because you rarely get the two. That's one reason, the other is that producer David Heyman, who is an old friend of mine, gave me the script. I've read many scripts that have made me laugh, and this one made me laugh as well, but I'd never read a script before that made me cry. So that's why I did it.
Matt: I read that you had a friend who suffered from dementia and sadly died. This must have been a film that was very close to your heart then?
Sir Michael Caine: I obviously brought a lot of experience of how it was to suffer from dementia because Dougie was one of my closest friends and he died while we were making the film. I hadn't really thought of it because it's not a film about a guy with dementia. It's just a film about an old magician and a little boy. So I didn't think about it honestly until I really came to the moment and then it struck me. For four or five years I was just waiting to walk in and for Dougie to ask me who I was. And one day he did. So that's as accurate a portrayal of dementia as I could do with my talent from extreme close-up experience.
Matt: How did you prepare for the role?
Sir Michael Caine: The first thing I did was to remember back to when I did little parties for my daughters. We always had a conjurer and I noticed that his hair was always parted in the middle. So the first thing I did was to part my hair in the middle. Then I met Scott Penrose, who was our real conjurer, and who taught us some tricks, and his hair was parted in the middle. I thought to myself: "I haven't even started and I've got something right!" He said to me: "Do you know why we do that? Houdini parted his hair in the middle and we are all fans of Houdini." So that's how I prepared - I started by parting my hair in the middle and wound up in tears just thinking about my friend who died of dementia.
Matt: Did you enjoy the cantankerous nature of your character?
Sir Michael Caine: I did. I've never done a really old guy like that. I'd put him at about age 84 and I've known a few old guys like that in my time.
Matt: Clarence, your character, learns some valuable life lessons from young Edward. Did you end up learning any lessons from Bill Milner?
Sir Michael Caine: I learned a most invaluable lesson inasmuch as unlike all other child actors I could absolutely trust him to be there as though I was acting with an adult actor, which was an incredible thing to know.
Matt: How was working with the older cast members?
Sir Michael Caine: There were all these old actors who'd made millions of films and such was my experience in my early acting days, I'd never been in any of them. I never got a part in British films for ages and ages. So I knew them from the screen as a fan and had that attitude. I was most impressed, though, working with Anne-Marie Duff. She's playing this little bit dowdy keeper of an old folks' home, and at the time I didn't know of her theatrical past. And suddenly I read in the Evening Standard that she's been awarded best actress for Joan of Arc at the National and my whole attitude towards her changed... I mean off-set, of course. But she's such a wonderful actress because when you think she can do that and then play this woman in our film, it's quite extraordinary.
Matt: Why do you think the population seems to be getting so disconnected and disrespectful of the older generation?
Sir Michael Caine: In my opinion, everybody is getting older and older. We have a great deal of dementia because [in the past] nobody grew old enough to get it, if you see what I mean. Someone said to me the other day: "Well, you're eventually going to live until 110." And I said: "Well, who's going to keep me? What age do I retire? 100?" How are you going to live all those years and who is going to keep you doing it? I have a couple of grandchildren now so I'm banking on them.
Matt: Edward is a little boy with an obsession. As a young boy what was your obsession?
Sir Michael Caine: Funnily enough, my obsession was cinema. From the age of three we used to have the thrupenny rush on a Saturday morning, because there was no television. It was only kids and I was taken there by two older boys when I was three. The Lone Ranger came on and that's what I wanted to be - from them on I wanted to be a movie actor; not necessarily The Lone Ranger. But it didn't start quite like that. The film came on and everything went black and I suddenly realised that someone had thrown an overcoat from the balcony and it had gone straight over my head [laughs]. I'd never been to the cinema before, so I didn't quite know what was going on. Then there were punch-ups, and then I put my feet on the back of the row in front and pushed, and the row I was in went over backwards because the boys had taken the screws out of the floor! That was my first experience of motion pictures - rather frazzled - and it has remained like that ever since!
Matt: Taking the name of the film, do you think that there ‘is there anybody there’ in the after-life?
Sir Michael Caine: I'd dearly love to think that there is somebody there and I have a lot of back-up because my father was a Catholic, my mother was a Protestant, I was educated by Jews and now I'm married to a Muslim, so I won't lose out on a technicality.
Matt: If it happened one day, how do you think you'd fare in a retirement home like the one depicted in the film?
Sir Michael Caine: I'd probably own it.
Matt: Finally, when you do make the big leap into the blue yonder what do you want written on your stone?
Sir Michael Caine: See you later, no hurry!
Matt: Thanks for your time – it’s a great film.
Read Darkmatters review here