Home The Washington Diplomat May 2009 Life’s Thresholds

Life’s Thresholds


Caine and Crowley Find Out’Is Anybody There?’

In New York, The Washington Diplomat recently had the pleasure of interviewing British actor Sir Michael Caine and director John Crowley to discuss their latest film, “Is Anybody There?” Caine plays an elderly magician who’s facing Alzheimer’s, but he still has enough magic left in him to befriend and mentor Edward, a lonely and somewhat unusual young boy growing up in his parents’ old folks home. Caine considers this role to be one of his best performances in a legendary career: “I couldn’t have done it any better.”

Caine recalled that he received the script from producer David Heyman, who also produced the “Harry Potter” series and who advised Caine to see two movies directed by Crowley, “Intermission” and “Boy A.”

“I watched both of them. I was extremely impressed with both of them; they were entirely different,” Caine recalled. “Then I met John, and I was extremely even more impressed with him because I thought he could do wonders — and, of course, he did. He’s a very whimsical Irishman…. He is as tough as old nails, you know, not nasty. He’s the nicest man, but what he wants … he wants it, and he gets it.”

Caine also heaped praise on his 14-year-old co-star, Bill Milner, who plays a boy obsessed with death — even tape-recording the elderly residents in his parents’ home to find out what happens when we die. “[He] is the most self-possessed young man I’ve come across in years. People say, ‘Did you give him any advice?’ I say, ‘No, he didn’t need any.’ He gave me a couple of bits of advice, but I didn’t take any notice,” Caine said, chuckling. “But he is such a natural actor. He’s never been trained to be a theater actor, so there’s nothing artificial about him.

“And David, of course, who cast Harry Potter, is no slouch,” Caine continued. “When he said to me, ‘We’ve got this little boy…’ And I said, ‘He’d better be good cause if he’s not, we’re right in the toilet.’ But this boy was wonderful, and I love him. Bill and I, we don’t have a grownup-child relationship. We have a relationship which is almost equals. We just talk to each other — two actors with the same problem.”

Crowley explained that after directing “Intermission,” about a group of intersecting Dublin delinquents, he was ready for something different. “I was looking at a film through the eyes of a child,” he said. “Death interests me. And I’m interested in material which is not depressing about death, but the idea of examining death through the eyes of a child — and growing old and dying seemed like a rather interesting idea to examine.

“This is quite delicate. You’re dealing with essentially what is a threshold story,” Crowley explained. “You’ve got two characters at opposite ends of their lives. Each of them needs to be helped across rather major thresholds. The child needs to be helped into a degree of adulthood or into a more grownup stage of understanding that the world is maybe not as magical as he thought it was. But actually, the compensation is the magic that comes from relationships with other people.

“The old man, who’s very, very close to death and sees a kid obsessed with death, goes, ‘Sunshine, there’s plenty of time for that. Better get busy living.’ He, however, is wracked with regret over a life not lived and needs to be helped to sort of phase into his final threshold, which Bill’s character does unwittingly.”

Caine himself became famous when he was rather older, well past his late teens and early 20s — which he credits with helping him avoid the personal turmoil that so many of today’s popular young stars making tabloid headlines seem to go undergo.

“I wasn’t a success until I was 29, so I was a fully grown, properly formed man when I was 29. That was [the film] ‘Zulu.’ So, if you think you’re a 17-year-old, and you make a record, and you’ve got million, you can go berserk. None of that happened. Then eventually, I was very fortunate to marry an incredible woman — really incredible woman — my wife. And I had a very firm and steady family background. If my wife said to me, ‘I’m fed up with you working. You give it up,’ I’d give it up.”

Asked whether he believes in an afterlife, Caine responded, “No, I don’t. I’d like to think there was, but at the moment my jury is out. My wife has a suspicion there is, but I don’t discuss it with her. Otherwise, there’d be a row.”

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.