Just because he plays “a geezer” in his new film, a cranky old performer on his last legs, don’t read any autobiography into Michael Caine’s star turn in “Is Anybody There?”
“When you’re an actor and you do a movie about being old and dying, you think, ‘This applies to other people, not me!’” Caine chortles. “It’s got NOTHING to do with me. ‘Me, getting old? To hell with that!’”
Is Anybody There?
Michael Caine, Bill Milner, Annie-Marie Duff, David Morrissey, Linzey Cocker, Karl Johnson
(Big Beach Films; US theatrical: 17 Apr 2009 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 1 May 2009 (General release); 2008)
Even at 76, Caine, legendary for his work ethic, doesn’t allow himself much time to think about his big finish. He’s still more worried about landing that next paying job.
“I’ve been very sort of lazy, lately,” he says from London. “Just finished a movie, but it was 18 months between ‘Is Anybody There?’ and this last one. I used to work constantly, but I very rarely work anymore. Clarence, my guy, is such a wonderful character, very difficult to play. I wanted to push myself. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing. I’ve never had any interest in just playing the same thing over and over, ‘Alfie Gets Old,’ you know.”
Sir Michael - he was knighted years ago - could be excused for that. His signature character, the lovable rogue title character of “Alfie” (1966) set him up nicely. The ensuing decades have built a reservoir of good will that pays off, whether he’s playing Alfred the butler in” The Dark Knight,” the cynical Brit reporter in 1950s Saigon in “The Quiet American” or The Amazing Clarence, a bitter and aged magician who befriends a boy whose life in a retirement home has given him a morbid fascination with death. The New York Times praised Caine’s performance in “Is Anybody There?” as “exceptional ... old age as the accumulation of a lifetime’s experience. In his performance the child, the youthful rogue and the forgetful codger all live at once.”
Caine has known his share of “Clarences,” he says - doddering, marginally successful show folk just hanging on. “My agent started out as a variety show talent agent. I was always meeting these old guys with him in pubs or clubs or wherever. Fascinating people.”
He had to learn a few card tricks, “but thank God for our effects people. I have the hands of The Boston Strangler these days!”
Caine just finished a thriller titled “Harry Brown,” about an aged Marine who sets out to avenge an old friend murdered by thugs. But even though he doesn’t dwell on old age and retirement, that leading man turn in did make him think about “the end.”
“The roles will come fewer and further between ... They’re not writing scripts for 76 year-old leading men. I’ve got a little part in ‘Inception’ (a sci-fi piece his ‘Dark Knight’ director Christopher Nolan is doing). And if there’s another ‘Batman’ film, I hope Chris calls. But that won’t be for two years!
“That’s how I see it happening. I just sit here and wait. And then I’ll sort of just fade away.
“But until then, I won’t worry about it. Not for a second. I get up in the morning, maybe a little slower than I used to, but with the same thought I’ve had since I was a kid. ‘Have as much fun today as you can.’”