In plays and over 90 films spanning six decades, Sir Michael Caine has earned a reputation as a consummate actor with a deep love for his work. The author of Acting on Film and the autobiography What's It All About?, Caine is a two-time Oscar winner, a six-time nominee, a three-time Golden Globe winner, and the holder of a British Academy Award. His staggering resume includes such films as Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules, Alfie, The Ipcress File, Sleuth, Educating Rita, The Man who would be King, The Quiet American, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Little Voice, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Noises Off!, Austin Powers in Goldmember, and now, Batman Begins, in the role of Alfred Pennyworth. At age 26, Katie Holmes has amassed an impressive list of credits, as well, including The Ice Storm, Wonder Boys, Pieces of April, Go, The Gift, Phone Booth, Muppets in Space, and The Singing Detective. Holmes is perhaps best-known for her starring role as Joey on the hit WB TV series Dawson's Creek. In Batman Begins, Holmes plays Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes. I spoke to Caine and Holmes at the L.A. Batman Begins junket.
Groucho:Alfred is a historical character in the comics, and Rachel is unique to the film. How did each of you go about formulating your approach to the characters?
Sir Michael Caine: [To Katie:] You want to start that one?
Katie Holmes: Sure...Well, you know, it was a thrill to get the role of Rachel, and what I liked about her was her strength and her—you know, she's the type of person that you can tell she's worked hard for everything she's ever gotten. And she's very tough, and she wants to save Gotham City and make a difference and so I just—there was so much back-story already there: she grew up with Bruce—she grew up in that house—her mom was a servant. So it was sort of pretty much all there on the page. And so it was fun to think about different experiences that Rachel and Bruce had together growing up and, you know, how that came into play as they got older and, you know, added into their closeness.
SMC: Me? My one, I did a back-story on mine. I wanted to be the toughest butler you've ever seen—not the normal English suave butler. And so I made him an SAS sergeant, which is a very, very tough British army unit [ed.: the British Special Air Service]. And I made—he's wounded. He didn't want to leave the army, became the sergeant in charge of the sergeant's canteen—or the sergeant's mess, as its called in the British army. And he got found by Bruce Wayne's father, who wanted the toughest butler he could find, and that's what he got. And I used the voice of my original sergeant when I joined the British army. That's his voice. Yes. That's the back-story, and I'm waiting for Christopher Nolan to do Alfred: The Beginning.
G: For both of you, what does your character fear in the movie, and what do you fear?
KH: (Pause.) Hmmn. I don't think Rachel fears anything in this movie. And I don't fear anything. (Laughs.) So it works out.
SMC: My main fear in the movie is that Batman will lose his moral convictions and get carried away with the power he has. In real life, I'm afraid of heights. And people who have moral convictions—.
SMC: (Laughs.) And might get carried away, such as Adolf Hitler and others....
G: Sir Michael, you literally wrote the book on acting. Is there anything left for you to learn on a movie set?
SMC: Oh, I learn the whole time. Yeah, yeah. I think it would be dull if I thought I was going to work and I wouldn't find something new. You know, you always learn. I learned—what'd I learn on this movie? Stay out of the way of the bats. Keep your head down.
KH: Keep your head down. (Chuckles.)—
G: For both of you, what was your most surreal moment on the set?
SMC: For me, it's when I walked into the Batcave for the first time, which was a set at Shepperton Studios on this big soundstage, which, coincidentally, was the first place where I ever played a scene anywhere in any movie. It was the same place.
SMC: But it was so weird. Yeah, I made a tiny little film called A Hill in Korea, a British army picture when I was very young. And I had eight lines in the picture. And I screwed up six of them. And it was on this stage that I said the very first line in a movie. And then there was this great big Bat-place. And then, I said, "Those are great false bats in the ceiling." He said, "They're not false, Michael. They're real. They're asleep." I said, "Well, don't wake 'em up, whatever you do." And then the waterfall started and everything—and it's a massive set. It's really massive.
G: And Katie?
KH: I think the first time I walked into the Gotham City, because that was, you know, in this huge hangar and it was—
SMC: Oh, that's incredible, too, isn't it? Yeah, that was an airship hangar. Remember the old airships? That was big—that would take two airships. And that massive Gotham set was about an eighth of that building, wasn't it?
SMC: There was masses of it left over. It's an incredible place.
KH: It was so much fun. I felt like I was—
SMC: Yeah, I've got news for you about the sequel.
KH: (Quietly) What?
SMC: I never told anyone this. They haven't pulled that set down.
KH: (Whispers:) I know.
SMC: (Whispers:) Yeah, did you know?
KH: (Whispers:) Yeah.
SMC: There might be a sequel.
KH: We should just go hang there.
SMC: Yeah-hah! The set is still there. And it's really Chicago because it was very funny: I had just done a picture in Chicago called The Weather Man with Nicolas Cage, which is not out yet. And then—.
KH: When does that come out?
SMC: And then I went back, straight back to Chicago to shoot, and I was in exactly the same place, but it was Gotham City. It was quite weird. Quite strange.
[For the complete L.A. junket press conference transcript, click here.]
[For Groucho's review of Batman Begins, click here.]