Michael Caine has played several spies in his career, but never a car that’s a spy. In Pixar’s sequel Cars 2, he voices the character Finn McMissile, a master British spy, who is sleek and timeless. But he’s also prepared for any dangerous situation that arises, with an arsenal of gadgets and weaponry.
The actor, who is currently shooting The Dark Knight Rises in England, couldn’t make the press junket to Los Angeles, so he did the press day via satellite, sitting comfortably in his country home.
You’ve played a lot of different roles in your career, but never a car.
I have never played a car before. I drove some cars in The Italian Job, which was a movie about mini cars, but I’ve never been a car. This is a brand new experience for me and one of the reasons I did it. I’ve been in the business a long time and it’s difficult to get a brand new experience!
What was this experience like for you working with Pixar?
It was surprisingly easy to do, but it’s very strange because it’s not like making a movie where you go to a studio, it’s a very on-off affair, because you don’t see people for three or four months and then suddenly they ring and you start doing it together again, and your co-star is a director. You read the lines, you don’t have to remember any of them, and it’s good fun.
This is tailored for you, as you’re playing a master spy. We all know you as Harry Palmer, what was it like this time returning to the world of spies?
It’s one of the many reasons I did it, because it was so incredible to suddenly be offered a spy. I have a car from the sixties, it’s 1966. And I’m a 1966 Aston Martin [in this], pale blue, which I think is very, very cool. I always played cool spies when I played them, so I thought it was absolutely marvelous, I love my car. (he laughs)
The car’s name Finn McMissile, an incredible name, it’s lovely, makes me sound as though I’m dangerous. And Finn McMissile is dangerous. Wait until you see this [car], he’s really a hero. You should see the stuff that he does.
What does it mean to you as an actor to have your voice immortalized in an animated film?
It’s absolutely fabulous. I ran the first Cars when I was going to do this. I hadn’t seen it because I didn’t have any grandchildren to see it with. I thought it was absolutely stunning, the way they did things.
It’s a child’s film if you’re a child, and it’s a grown-up film if you’re a grown-up, because you just sit there in absolute amazement and say to yourself, ‘How the heck did they do this?’ I did that with the first one that I saw, and even more so with this second one.
The technology advances so fast, there are probably two, three years between these movies, and the stuff they do in this one is extraordinary.
In the past three years I’ve got three grandchildren. [Pixar] gave me a little car with my voice and I brought it back here [to England] and my grandchildren play with it, and they know it’s me. So I’ve got this tremendous bond with them through this film because, if you think about it, the films I make little children can’t go and see them.
It was a wonderful opportunity for me.
As an actor do you create a back story for your character when you just do the voice of it?
Yes, I’m a method actor, there is a back story to Finn McMissile. I always do a back story.
I play Alfred the butler in Batman, and I wanted him to be a tough butler, I wanted him to be an ex-soldier. His voice is the voice of the first sergeant I ever had, because I was a soldier. I always imagined him to be SAS, which is our special forces.
He was wounded, didn’t want to leave the army and went to work behind the bar in the Officer’s Mess, and Batman’s father came to visit a friend there and he saw him and said, ‘Would you like to be trained as a butler?’ Alfred said yes, and he went with him to America to be trained as a butler, and that’s the back story on Alfred!
How is The Dark Knight Rises going so far?
It’s fantastic. I started filming last week and I film next week, because as the butler I do a load of filming at the beginning and then everybody goes off and does all their adventures, and they come home, shot to pieces, and I patch them together when they all get back.
I think Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest directors in the world. This is my fifth movie with him and it’s such a pleasure to work with him. He’s so clever. We’ve all signed the ‘official secrets act,’ I’m lucky to be able to tell you the title of the movie!
I was doing an interview and they asked, ‘What are you doing next?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I’m doing Batman.’ And I saw Chris and he said, ‘Why did you tell him you were doing Batman? You’re supposed to keep it a secret.’
But let me tell you, the plot is really extraordinary, and I know why he wants to keep it a secret, you really need to not know until you see the movie.