THE DARK KNIGHT RISES directed by Christopher Nolan, screenplay by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan from a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, with Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine. A Warner Bros. release. 164 minutes. Opens Friday (July 20). For venues and times, see Movies.
Michael Caine has made five pictures with Christopher Nolan in the last eight years.
He's played Christian Bale's right-hand man in all three Batman movies and again in The Prestige, and he was Leonardo DiCaprio's sole link to home in Inception.
In all those movies, Nolan uses the avuncular actor as a sympathetic sounding board for his tormented heroes. Over the phone from the Los Angeles press junket for The Dark Knight Rises, the actor puts it even more simply.
"He calls me the heart of the film," Caine says, the Cockney rhythm of his speech putting me instantly at ease. "I'm sort of representative of us, in the audience. I say things like ‘You're gonna do what? You're gonna put a mask on and go up on the roof?' I'm always the one who sort of disbelieves, and in the end I have to give in to him because I love him so much and I want him to do what he wants to do."
Gary Oldman, who plays Commissioner Gordon in Nolan's films, once told me that actors age into respectability if they don't flame out. I ask Caine - who became a star playing flinty, disreputable anti-heroes in movies like Alfie, The Italian Job and the original Get Carter - how he feels about playing fatherly characters these days.
"Oh, I love it," he says. "I especially love my part in this last movie - which obviously I can't discuss cuz it gives all the game away," he laughs.
Fair enough, though you shouldn't expect to see Alfred suiting up to fight crime alongside Batman. "I didn't want any fights or chases in this role. It was a nice, quiet, easy part. Well, not easy," he laughs, "but brilliantly written. I loved it."
The two-time Oscar winner (for Hannah And Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules) has lightened his workload these days.
"I used to make a lot of movies many years ago," he says, "but I don't make many now."
He'll next be seen in Sandra Nettlebeck's Mr. Morgan's Last Love. ("I've seen the rough cut; it's very good," he says.) But he says he's always happy to work with Nolan; he loves the director's collaborative modus operandi and attention to story.
"You know, often on a very expensive film, you're inclined to get cheap actors cuz you're not really interested in the characters," he says. "You're interested in the special effects and the stunts and everything. But he's not like that. He writes parts that really need some acting. I'm always surrounded by terribly talented people."
That has to help, I venture.
"Oh, the most difficult thing is to work with bad actors," he laughs. "It's terrible. And I always forget my lines, cuz I'm looking at someone, going ‘What the hell's he doing?' And suddenly somebody says, ‘It's your line, Michael.'
"I never forget my lines except when I'm with a bad actor."