The Actors (2003) – Q&A with Michael Caine and Dylan Moran

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Movie Interview by Toby White

Michael Caine plays the role of Anthony O’Malley and Dylan Moran plays the role of Tom Quirk.


Dylan, I was wondering if your interpretation of Clive bore any resemblance to a younger Michael Caine?

DYLAN MORAN: No, no. The thought did pass through my mind but, apart from that, of the 14 million Michael Caine impersonators currently walking the planet, mine would rate very low, somewhere below the Senegalese version, so no I wasn’t trying to.

Sir Michael, I wonder if playing your character took you back to your early days in rep at all?

MICHAEL CAINE: It sure did and I based that character on every man I ever worked with in rep. I worked in rep for 9 years so I knew about 50 of those guys and they were all like O’Malley, all completely sad, complete losers and completely unaware of it. They always thought they were great and they just didn’t know but I thought they were wonderful and it was one of the reasons I wanted to play the part. And it was great for me; it was so nostalgic because I’ve not been in the theatre for 30 years.

Was it easy for the both of you to act bad Shakespeare?

DYLAN MORAN: I didn’t have any trouble finding a way in…

MICHAEL CAINE: Nor me. One of the reasons I did this was because to do a bad Richard III was such a laugh, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Following on from that, Sir Michael, can you name names of the definitive worst performance you’ve ever seen on stage and, secondly, can we tempt you back to the stage?

MICHAEL CAINE: I’ll take the second one first. No, I became a professional movie actor because it’s what I always wanted to be. I went into the theatre to learn how to act and it took me so long to learn I practically became a theatre actor. The worst performance I’ve ever seen on stage was one of these guys but when you’re as bad as these guys no one’s ever heard of you so there’s no one who is famous and successful who is this bad. It’s a contradiction in terms.

With respect, err, O’Toole in the Scottish play?

MICHAEL CAINE: Was he bad? I never saw that. I don’t remember ever seeing a dreadful performance…I saw a great drunken one, it was Wilfred Lawson and Trevor Howard and they were bombed in a Shakespeare matinee and it got very bad with the lines and that and someone shouted out, “You’re pissed!” and one of them said, “If you think I’m pissed wait until you see the Duke of Norfolk.” [Laughter]

Sir Michael, you make a great pompous speech at the end of the film, who’s the most pompous then that you’ve ever worked with?

MICHAEL CAINE: You’re trying to get me into trouble here [laughter] Err…

DYLAN MORAN: Pick somebody dead.

MICHAEL CAINE: I’m trying! I’m trying hard to think of a dead one…actually I haven’t worked with any really pompous actors. I’ll tell you why, I think you can be pompous in the theatre but I never worked with anyone famous in the theatre because I was never really successful there but in movies it’s very hard to be pompous for very long because once that guy says action you’re on your own. If you’re not concentrating on what you’re doing the other actors including myself would tear you to bits. There are quite a lot of pompous actors about but you probably know more of them than I do.

Have your acting talents ever helped you out in real life?

MICHAEL CAINE: In my case almost constantly. When I was small I lived in a fantasyland. My mother told me that from the age of ten to twelve I didn’t speak to anybody at all.

DYLAN MORAN: I think everybody does. When you’re telling people why you’re late and you’re assuring people that the place they’re trying to get to is just around the corner because you’ve been there before – we all do that all the time.

Dylan, how daunting was it for you to share the screen with Sir Michael?

DYLAN MORAN: We were thronged with Sir Michaels… I was so far out of my depth there was nothing really to do except concentrate on not drowning all the time. But everyone else is so experienced and so relaxed and they make it easy for you so you’d have to go out of your way to muck it up.

MICHAEL CAINE: I remember when I was a young nervous actor and the assistant came up to me and asked why I was nervous and said, “Don’t you realise, Michael, that everyone you see here is absolutely dedicated to making you look good on screen and to make a great movie, so what the hell are you nervous about?” It didn’t work. [Laughter]

How did you both find dressing up? And Sir Michael, how was it being in drag?

MICHAEL CAINE: I’d done drag before in a picture called DRESSED TO KILL. But that was very serious and sinister. This was much easier because it’s easier to be funny in drag. But it’s not something I like doing, I don’t like women’s clothes to wear [laughter], especially in my case I had to have knickers with a bum and hips all padded into them and they get in the way. You go through a door and get stuck. But I had good childbearing hips. [Laughter]

DYLAN MORAN: I loved dressing up. It stopped me being nervous.

Were you tempted to stay in your outfits?

DYLAN MORAN: Err, no… I have a life. [Laughter] And I was doing plenty of pretending during the day, so no.

Have either of you ever doubted your own ability, like the characters?

MICHAEL CAINE: No. Probably in rep I would imagine, I would have been as bad as the character. I remember one part I played and I had to seduce a girl by getting her drunk and I did the entire scene without taking the cork out of the bottle [laughter] so there she is getting pissed on empty glasses. In fact, that girl is now a big producer and I saw her a couple of years ago and she reminded me of that scene – she’d tell you how bad I was.

Dylan, what did you think of the film? Being a comedian, did you find the film funny?

DYLAN MORAN: I did find it funny, yes. And reading the script, it made me laugh out loud so many times that I definitely wanted to do it.

MICHAEL CAINE: One of the reasons I wanted to do it was to do a really bad Richard III, which is wonderful. For a movie actor, my whole thing is behavioural acting and underplaying and it’s so wonderful to be able to go over the top like that.

Dylan, how did you find working in film, ie doing take after take, as opposed to what you’re used to in stand up being effectively one long take? And would you want to do more movies?

DYLAN MORAN: As far as the last part goes, it’s really not up to me – it’s a question of getting that call. And I’ve done the single camera television thing before, doing lots of takes is fine, sometimes you might ask for one so, yeah, it’s all fine.

Sir Michael, you’re a wonderful raconteur, have you considered doing a one-man show?

MICHAEL CAINE: I remember I introduced John Barry at the Albert Hall [London] for a musical evening he was doing. I got two laughs in twelve minutes [laughter], they were trying to get me off. I find what he does [gestures to Dylan Moran] the most courageous thing to do, being a stand up comic. I mean, once I’ve got a mic in my hand I just need to get one laugh and I’m off but if I had to do it as a living I would be too scared.

You recently celebrated your 70th birthday, are you going to slow down?

MICHAEL CAINE: You get to 70 and you give up stuff. I gave up smoking four years ago and you say to yourself, “If I give up stuff, please let me last a little longer” and you eat healthily and try to look after yourself. But it’s so great considering the alternative [laughter]. People say, “How do you feel about getting old?” and you say, “Oh, great, I hope I continue doing it for quite a long time!” [Laughter]

Did you have a big party?

MICHAEL CAINE: I had two, one in England and a big one in LA. But it got bigger because the other guy, who’s my celestial twin, is Quincy Jones and you get in with Quincy and, well, I booked the restaurant for 150 people. The first list I got from Quincy without mine was 200 and we ended up with 450. So we took over Spargo but I only had about 100, he had 300. But he’s got a lot of friends in Hollywood.

Did you split the bill down the middle?

MICHAEL CAINE: Good God, no. He paid three quarters. Well, he’s got more money than I have. He did Michael Jackson’s THRILLER. He made more money out of that than I have in my whole career [laughter].

Sir Michael, I’m sure a lot of people thought you were robbed at the Oscars…

MICHAEL CAINE: I agree [laughs].

But were you disappointed?

MICHAEL CAINE: You have to think in degrees. I knew going in I wasn’t going to get the Oscar but I knew I got the nomination as Best Actor and that made a tremendous difference to me and my status in Hollywood. You often hear people say, “Oh, he said being nominated was enough, what a load of bullshit.” But even with two Supporting Oscars, being nominated for Best Actor does make a difference.

Like your character in the film when he gets his award, did you consider being less than gracious in defeat?

MICHAEL CAINE: [Laughs] No, no, everybody’s terribly gracious. For instance, this year, the war was coming and we didn’t know what people were going to do so Jack Nicholson rang and said let’s have a drink up at my place and Nick Cage and Adrien Brody and I went up. Daniel [Day Lewis] couldn’t make it, but we all went up to Jack’s place and had a drink and to talk about what we were going to say if we won. Anyway, we ended up getting bombed and by the next morning we were ringing round each other because none of us could remember what we’d decided to say. But that’s it, you’re terribly gracious and you can see it, you could see it when Adrien won, we all stood up and applauded and it’s genuine graciousness.