Two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine has done his share of horror movies. But playing a aging magician with Alzheimer's was way scarier to him and his wife of 36 years than the deep sea monster he tangles with in Jaws: The Revenge -- or anything else.
"I had to keep reminding my wife, 'This is just a movie. Don't be frightened,'" he tells me, along with a group of reporters at a Manhattan, just days before the release of Is Anybody There, which opens today.
"My best friend, Douglas Hayward, died of Alzheimer's, while I was making the film. It was terrifying. I had four or five years of experience with the disease by the time we started," says the 76-year-old star. "As I was dying [in the film], he was dying
'As I Was Dying, He Was Dying'
"That actually helped me get my performance right," he says. "On a daily basis, I could see what my character needed to do and be.
"But my wife found it so upsetting. And it's a little strange, because she's seen me killed on screen a million times. She wanted our pregnant daughter Natasha to wait until after she has the baby.
"I told her," he says with a laugh,"'It's because I'm such a bloody good actor."
In the film, Caine plays Clarence, otherwise known as "the Amazing Clarance," a performer too old to pull of the sleight of hand tricks (something we find out oh-so-well, in one unforgettable scene). And as he moves into a nursing home, obsessed with death, and his departed wife, he meets Edward (Bill Milner), a 10-year-old obsessed with ghosts.
The grouchy performer and the introverted kid form an unlikely friendship, and each confronts the unknown in his own way. This is a story that has been told many times, and it will not be unfamiliar to audiences, but rarely is it told so well, so tenderly.
"This is, without doubt, one of my favorite performances," says Caine, who describes his schedule now as "working when I want, where I want."
Of course, he will reprise his role as Alfred the Butler in the next Batman. When that will be, however, is unclear. Until then, he plans to work, but he plans to be very picky.
And if your picky, I'd urge you to see this heart-rending film.
- Michael Caine on Is Anybody There?
- Caine Accepts Lifetime Achievement Awards at ShoWest
- The Magic in Is Anybody There?
- Offbeat Hollywood: More Strange Showbiz Stories
Photo © BBC Films