Film: Michael Caine in 'The Prestige'
November 09, 2006
MICHAEL CAINE, never watches DVDs which show how cinematic illusions are created.
“It just spoils my enjoyment to know how things are done” the veteran actor told me, at a London launch for his latest film The Prestige.
Ironically in the movie, which opens at Reading cinemas this weekend, he plays a deviser of illusions for two obsessive magicians, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, who are locked in bitter rivalry.
The setting is Victorian London when, as Hugh pointed out, top magicians had the status of today’s rock stars.
And although he had to learn some sleight-of-hand for his scenes on stage in the film, he also feels that too much knowledge reduces the thrill of the illusion.
The title of The Prestige refers to the third act of any big magic trick, “when what disappeared appears again”.
The film reunites Caine and Bale, with writer-director Christopher Nolan, they worked together in Batman Begins, for which a sequel is planned.
Caine, an authentic Londoner, was impressed by Bale’s mastery of a Cockney accent, “and he did it without any help from me”.
He explained that in the movie he acts as the audience’s representative, “I’m the one who’s always asking ‘what’s going on?’”.
After half a century of acting he claims he has retired, “but sometimes you get an offer you can’t refuse, and The Prestige was definitely one of those”.
He said the essence of a magician’s skill was diverting an audience’s attention, “and in the film we have Scarlett Johansson in a costume a size too small for her and you couldn’t have a better diversion than that!”.
In preparing for his role Jackman talked to real magicians in Las Vegas, “but they were careful not to tell me anything more than I actually needed for the movie”.
He added that he and his wife were given their own show by David Copperfield – “after his official performance he took us to what looked like a sex shop, but was actually a museum of magic memorabilia”.
Although the story is fictional, it was adapted from a novel by Christopher Priest, David Bowie plays the real-life scientist Nikola Tesla, an inventor of electrical devices who was a rival of Thomas Edison.
Nolan said: “I didn’t want just an actor, I thought the role required someone with David’s extraordinary presence.”
The cast also includes screen newcomer Rebecca Hall, daughter of high-profile theatre director Peter Hall.
She said: “I was scared at the prospect of working with these big movie names but they couldn’t have been friendlier.”
Nolan said he thought many professional magicians suffered from feelings of insecurity, “because they know they have devoted their lives to something essentially trivial”.
But he does not think that even in a hi-tech age, live magic will ever lose its appeal.
Caine said goodbye with an amusing glimpse of life at home.
“I tell my wife ‘I’m an icon, it says so here in the paper’ and she replies ‘No you’re not – go and put the rubbish out!’.”