SIR MICHAEL CAINE is British spy Finn McMissile in Pixar’s latest animated feature, Cars 2.
Sir Michael talks about learning to drive at the age of 50, never retiring, and what he thinks about remakes of the films that made him a star.
MMM: You’re in the happy position of being able to pick and choose what you want to do, so what attracted you to Cars 2?
Caine: Well, in quite old age I suddenly had three grandchildren and I thought they’re never going to see me in any movies for years. You can’t go and see Harry Brown until you’re 18. So, I wanted to do something and quite out of the blue, I was called and they said Cars 2…
I’d never seen any cartoons, when you get to my age you don’t look at any cartoons. Now I spend my life watching cartoons with my grandchildren because the biggest TV is in my office and they all come in there, they won’t watch cartoons anywhere else.
So, I was interested and then they told me what it was, it was Cars 2, and I ran Cars 1, and I was absolutely stunned because I was thinking of a cartoon and for me a cartoon was Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck that I’d seen and Bambi and Snow White. I knew the men drew it and then they drew the next bit and so on.
But the word ‘cartoon’ didn’t seem to apply to this movie and I can’t think of any word which does. The Disney people told me it was an animated feature which didn’t sound quite right either because it’s better than that sounds. So, out there there’s a special word for what it is.
I saw Cars 1 and I was absolutely astonished by what they’d done in there and I couldn’t figure it out. I’m quite up on computers, I’m not one of those old dodderers, I know all about them. But I have no idea how they do what they do or they did what they did, but the picture I saw yesterday was much more advanced than Cars 1. I sat there in absolute astonishment, and it was also in 3D. I’d never seen a 3D film before. So, there was that.
But there were other things that made me want to do the movie. Alright, so there was the grand-children… but then I said, ‘Well, what am I going to be?’ They said ‘a spy’. So, I thought, ‘I started out as a spy in Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File, early in my career.’ And the story’s all about cars. I thought, ‘I did a film about cars, The Italian Job, early in my career.’ Actors are very superstitious. So I thought that’s a good omen.
Then I said, ‘What’s my name in it?’ And they told me, ‘Finn McMissile.’ That’s a great name. You know there’s going to be trouble… someone’s going to get hit. Then I thought, ‘wait a minute, what sort of a car am I?’ So, they said, ‘A 1966 pale blue Aston Martin.’ I thought, ‘That’s the coolest car I’ve ever heard of’. I didn’t read the script; I said I’ll do it. And I did it, and I saw it yesterday and I’m so glad I did.
MMM: What’s it like hearing your voice coming out of a character who looks unlike you? And what did your grandchildren think of the film?
Caine: My grandchildren actually have the car and if you press the bonnet it talks. My grandchildren call me ‘pa’, not grandpa, and this is known as ‘pa’s car’. They recognise my voice. They’re under two and three.
For me, what happens in the movie happens when you’re acting it. You watch the movie and think we’re going to see a lot of cars talking and you think ‘Oh really?’ But you gradually go in and it’s just like watching people. And when you’re acting it, you just talk like a human being, and it’s exactly the same as playing a flesh and blood character. You do nothing different except you never get to meet anybody.
He [John Lasseter] is on the computer at the other end telling you what to do on the television. So, what happens is you do it for a couple of hours every three months. And I remember John saying to me, ‘You’re done today, you’re finished.’ So, I said, ‘How long have I been doing this?’ And he said, ‘Two and a half years.’ I said, ‘Really?’ I had no idea how long I’d been doing it. But what you need is Lasseter, because he can tell you exactly what he wants… otherwise you’re going to screw it up.
MMM: Cars 2 takes your tally to more than 100 films. Do you feel like you’re getting your second wind?
Caine: I’m on about my 50th wind! I’ve been asked if I’d retire. But if you’re in the movies you don’t retire – the movies retire you. If you have no luck, probably on your first movie. [Laughs]
But I’ve been very fortunate and I’ve eventually got into a position where I’m no longer a romantic leading man, obviously, but I started out as a repertory actor playing different parts and my mentality is still that of a repertory actor and a critic. I’m my own worst critic, so I keep looking for new parts that will force me further and further to be better and better. I’d never done a proper animated film and this was again something… also I’d never done a film in 3D.
I’ll just keep going until no offers come in. The great thing about being an actor is you don’t ever have to retire because someone’s got a movie with a 90-year-old bloke in it and you’ll get a job. You don’t have to retire at 65. I saw a story in the paper people saying, ‘We’ve got to work till we’re 66!’ I’m thinking, ‘I’m 78, what are they talking about?’
The great thing about this movie I figure I’m about 34 and quite good looking, with very heavy eyelids, which I do have in real life.
MMM: Why do you think Brits make the best spies?
Caine: If you have a look, we are the best spies… read the papers! [Laughs] We sort of invented that sort of thing years ago. We were always a war-like nation and needed information. The secret service was invented at the beginning of the Second World War. And we were always very good at it. I don’t know why. I think being an island people we were very insular so we wanted to find out everything, and we did… everywhere, unfortunately.
MMM: Movie stars seem to have a long association with cars, the fast and the furious kind, you’ve already Sir Michael paid a tribute to the Aston Martin. What’s the coolest car that you have both ever driven, have owned or even now aspire to own?
Caine: I grew up in a non-car period, the Second World War, when there weren’t a lot of cars around. And I grew up in London which had an incredible public transport system with underground, buses, and taxis. So I never knew a person who owned a car until I was 25 years old. The first car I ever bought was a Rolls Royce and I couldn’t drive it. So I said I was going to learn to drive with my Rolls Royce and the insurance company said, ‘no you’re not.’ The premium was so high, it was cheaper to hire a chauffeur, so I hired a chauffeur and I never drove again until I went to live in LA and you have to drive there.
So I took a test in LA and it was very weird. The man before I took the test said, ‘the guy who’ll be taking your test is sitting outside in the car. You will only speak to him and say good morning, there’ll be no normal conversation, he will give you instructions, and you will listen to him, and that is that. There will be no personal remarks whatsoever.’
I got in the car and the guy looked at me and said, ‘I loved you in The Man Who Would Be King. You’re gonna have to be shit to not pass this test.’ So at the age of 50 I passed the test and I wasn’t a very good driver because my mind is always somewhere else thinking. I drove for 20 years until I was 70, and then I gave it up and I no longer drive.
My favourite car would be a Rolls Royce. It’s the only car I’ve ever driven. I only ever drove Rolls Royces and I don’t even like them, I just thought that’s what I was supposed to have when i was young and very flash. My wife said to me, ‘the first time I ever met you, you turned up in a convertible Rolls Royce in a white suit. I said, ‘Well, I wanted to be noticed.’ She said, you got noticed.’
My history of cars is not very good! I had a successful film, The Italian Job, and I drove in that, but only with stunt drivers so that they could miss me. In a controlled area, I drove the cars but even there I didn’t do the dangerous bits. Rémy Julienne équipe, who were the wonderful stunt team, his wife doubled me because she had short blond hair and she was a better driver than any of the guys. So I came out of it looking very good… a little bit feminine, but very a very good driver.
MMM: Going back to the world of British spies… there’ve been several James Bonds on screen, but only one Harry Palmer. Recently we’ve seen the James Bonds films rebooted with Daniel Craig, so do you think the Harry Palmer stories would benefit from a modern update, and if so, how would you feel about a young actor taking on the role that made you a superstar?
Caine: I love new younger actors taking on the physical roles. I like to stand about and give orders… that’s all I do. I’m Alfred the butler in Batman. I just serve dinner; I don’t do any flying up the sides of buildings. I’d never thought of it actually. There was one novel by Len Deighton that we didn’t film. It had a great title, it was set in Paris, and it was called An Expensive Place to Die. I would buy that novel and make that first and then go backwards, Funeral in Berlin, Billion Dollar Brain, and Ipcress File.
They should just remake crap films. I did one, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which was a real crap film which starred Marlon Brando and David Niven. It was a disaster. We re-made it and it was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. My first movie in America when Shirley MacLaine took me there was Gambit. And it’s very interesting who is remaking that – the Coen brothers are remaking that with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz. Now that could be a very good, superior remake with that pedigree, I think.