INTERVIEW: Michael Caine & Robert Duvall of "Secondhand Lions"

POSTED ON 09/19/03 AT 11:00 A.M.
By Thomas Chau in New York City

"Secondhand Lions" stars Michael Caine and Robert Duvall as two relaxed, retired old men sitting back and enjoying their golden days, while having every bit the spirit and heart of young men. Haley Joel Osment plays their young nephew who is forced to spend the entire summer with them. As the summer goes on, Osment's character, Walter, develops an appreciation for the newfound wisdom he has been given by his uncles.

Well, that's exactly how I felt listening to Caine and Duvall at "Secondhand Lions" press day.

It's been a while since I've sat in on an interview session and was completely enthralled by what the person had to say. When you get some of the younger actors these days, you sometimes either roll your eyes back or become completely bored with what they have to say. Nine out of ten times, they don't have anything interesting or inciteful to say. But Caine and Duvall both have a wisdom to them that few people in the movie industry can match up to.

Below is my interviews with both these veteran actors, each still very young in spirit.


You¡¯ve done films all over the globe so you¡¯ve done a lot of traveling. What is your favorite travel destination?

My favorite travel destination is New York. I love to come to New York. I come from a very vibrant city, which is London, and the only city I know which is more vibrant than that is New York. So everywhere else is a bit down for excitement. I love to work in New York. I have actually, though, just done a picture, ¡°The Statement,¡± for Norman Jewison and I worked in Southwest France.

You fought in the Korean War and your character in this film has so many of these types of adventures. Did you draw from that for your character?

It sort of seemed like they had already done it. I play this guy who¡¯s a gardener, which is what I am. He¡¯s a storyteller, which is what I am. He¡¯s an ex-soldier, which is what I am, so there were so many things in Garth which were based on a history that I had. Where they differed, between the two of them, was that in the beginning of the picture, they say, ¡°We are old, we are useless, and we have come back to die.¡± Well Bobby Duvall and I, who are the same age as those guys, are not old, we¡¯re not useless, and we¡¯re not going anywhere to die. We¡¯ve come back to live. (Laughs)

Is this, though, the character in your career that you¡¯ve most related to?

I¡¯ve related very close to this guy. I have a great affection for children. The only thing about him is this thing where he thinks he¡¯s going to die. He¡¯s never been married. I¡¯ve been married to the same woman for 30 years. But he¡¯s bit of a ladies¡¯ man, you can tell. (Laughs) I bet if it were 30 years ago, I¡¯d be like that too. And also, he is an archetype of a Western character that I remember from cowboy movies. And the idea of playing a Texan with a big hat, I said ¡°I¡¯m going to wear a big fat. But I don¡¯t want to wear one of those villainous ones; I want to wear a funny one and glasses. I want to be more human than that.¡±

How was it working with Duvall and Haley Joel Osment?

Well when they¡¯re both so good, it¡¯s easy. With bad actors, it¡¯s bloody hard. It¡¯s hard to get up in the morning and go in. So you watch [them] before you take the movie. It¡¯s not just about the script or the director. It¡¯s who the other actors are. When you¡¯ve got Bobby and Haley, it¡¯s a joy. As a trio, we were very good together. A lot of people asked, ¡°What¡¯s it like working with a child actor?¡± I said, ¡°I don¡¯t know. I wasn¡¯t working with a child actor. I was working with an actor who was a child.¡± He¡¯s just as mature as any of us.

So they¡¯re remaking ¡°Alfie¡± right now. Has Jude Law approached you with any advice?

No. I wouldn¡¯t give it to him anyway. (Laughs) No, Jude¡¯s a friend of mine. We were talking about remaking ¡°Sleuth¡± with me in the Oliver part, and he in mine. We¡¯re getting the script rewritten. It should be interesting, it¡¯s being written by Harold Pinter. So that could turn out right. We haven¡¯t gotten it yet but Harold was ill. It¡¯s an interesting take. Another interesting take on ¡°Alfie¡± is that it¡¯s a picture written about a male chauvinist pig in England in the 60s. It¡¯s being rewritten by a middle-aged American woman who is probably a feminist. Her rewrite of that script will be very interesting to read.

You penned your autobiography in 1993. Was it too soon?

Yeah but I¡¯m going to do another one. It was called What¡¯s it all About? which is the last line in ¡°Alfie¡± and the first line in the song. I suppose I can call the second one, This is What It¡¯s All About. I sat down the other day with a pen and wrote two pages. I said to my wife, ¡°I¡¯ve started the second stage of my autobiography. I haven¡¯t written anything else. I¡¯ve just written down two pages.¡±

Out of all the movies you have done, is there a movie in your career that you felt fell under the radar that deserved more exposure?

Well the biggest one was ¡°The Quiet American.¡± That sort of clipped the radar as it went by, but for political reasons because nobody was going to back it after 9-11. That got dumped by the company. But it wasn¡¯t something that I didn¡¯t know about. I was told [about it]. But I did manage to get it to [the] Toronto [Film Festival] and get it out because it wasn¡¯t going to be released.

What has it meant to you to be knighted?

It means a great deal to an Englishman. It doesn¡¯t mean anything to everyone else. (Laughs) It means a great deal to an Englishman because it¡¯s an honor and it¡¯s not like getting an Oscar for a movie. A knighthood is for life.

Do you get any special privileges?

No. You get to treat other people like shit but that¡¯s it. (Laughs) I now get invited to the royal box at Wimbledon and I¡¯ve never got that before. But I like to watch it on television. But there is one thing that I do that¡¯s a little snobby. Before now, when the mail comes, I never opened an envelope that has windows in it, because it¡¯s never interesting. Now, I got a second envelope that I don¡¯t open and that¡¯s when it has ¡°Mr. Caine¡± on it. I don¡¯t open letters for Mr. Caine because I know this person doesn¡¯t know anything about me! Only with Sir Michael on it¡¦


Have you ever given the ¡°What it takes to be a man¡± speech to a relative of your own?

No, never did. I think women are more prone ? I think guys don¡¯t do that so much. Men are more covered. They¡¯ll be short to the point, if anything.

How was it working with Haley Joel Osment who, being so young, has so much experience already under his belt?

He did fine. He was wonderful and always ready. I said to people directing him, ¡°Leave him alone. He knows what he¡¯s doing.¡±

Did you give him any advice?

No. I always found that the actors that did that in the past weren¡¯t so good and the better actors didn¡¯t do that.

How important is it for you to do these smaller movies every once in a while?

Smaller? This is smaller? (Laughs) This is going to make $100 million dollars! This is a pretty big movie, I think. Smaller budget you mean?

Yeah, a little under the radar¡¦

Oh, I see what you mean.

It¡¯s smaller compared to something like ¡°Gone in 60 Seconds¡±¡¦

Yeah, but ¡°Gone in 60 Seconds¡± was gone in 6 seconds. (Laughter) Don¡¯t you think that Hollywood would rather do an $80 million dollar movie than $10 or $8 million dollar movies, knowing in the back of their mind that it might fail anyway? They think so big out there. But they thought big on the other end on this one cause they kept the budget lower. Same as on ¡°Open Range.¡±

When the cameras roll, do you take as much pleasure in acting today as you did 30 years ago?

More. More relaxed. Good things are coming my way now. I get more offers now than ever. Like I got an offer the other day to perhaps do a remake of ¡°The Old Man & The Sea.¡± So, a lot of nice things, so I still take pleasure. When I don¡¯t, then maybe I¡¯ll [stop]. I¡¯d like to direct a little bit more but that¡¯s a special thing.

Do they make stars too easy nowadays? Has Hollywood made too many overnight successes?

There are some great young actors out there right now, I think better than ever. But I don¡¯t know what you mean by overnight success because that wanes anyway. Everybody wants to make films and be filmmakers and there¡¯s a certain amount of credence of rising to the top.

Hollywood has changed so much since you¡¯ve started out in this business. Has it become better or worse?

I don¡¯t know, it¡¯s hard to say. The better part is that it used to be as if it were independent filmmaking within the system. Now it¡¯s about the big blockbuster movie. I guess it encourages people to make those. I just came back from Argentina and some of the best directors and actors in the world are down there. They¡¯re talented people down there! They don¡¯t need Hollywood.

Do you think, though, that Hollywood has opened its doors to foreign films more openly today than they did several years ago?

[They] go over people¡¯s heads some. I¡¯m not saying just foreign films because we get the best foreign films but not all foreign films are great. But you know, they have that foreign film fan in Hollywood and sometimes, the foreign films are better than the American films that win the Oscar. To me, ¡°Son of the Bride,¡± the Argentine film was much better than the Yugoslavian film that won the award that year. I think people are aware of these movies. One time, I was working on a film and the producer and director said, ¡°We have the best actor,¡± ¡°We have the best producer,¡± this and that. It could be an arrogant thing. I said, ¡°You name me one director in the history of Hollywood that made a film like ¡®My Life as a Dog.¡¯ Name me one movie that came out like that.¡± Hollywood doesn¡¯t always have all the answers. They think they do, but they don¡¯t.

-----, 2003-09-19