Jude Law and Michael Caine Co-star in "Sleuth" Remake
San Francisco Chronicle, 7 October 2007
At the start of "Sleuth," a sports car pulls up in front of a grand English country house and a handsome young man with a swagger gets out. He's paying a visit to a famed mystery writer, whose wife is in the midst of a torrid affair with the driver.
In the 1972 film, Laurence Olivier plays the cuckolded husband, Andrew, and Michael Caine is his rival, Milo. In the new version, opening Oct. 19, Caine appears as Andrew and Jude Law assumes the role of Milo.
Law already has starred in a remake of "Alfie" - the 1966 movie that made Caine a star - so it's apparent that producers see him as the new Caine.
A line in "Sleuth" - Milo asks Andrew, "What's it all about?" - elicited laughter from an audience at the Toronto International Film Festival. Director Kenneth Branagh swore to the local press that it was coincidental and that Harold Pinter, who wrote the script (based on Anthony Shaffer's play), wasn't referring to the memorable question from "Alfie."
Caine said he thought having Law play Alfie was "a bit odd," so if Law, one of "Sleuth's" producers, "had come to meet me with the old Shaffer script and said, 'Let's redo this,' I would have thought, 'Oh, he's remaking all my films.' But when he mentioned that Pinter had rewritten it, that changed everything," said Caine, who has a history with the Nobel Prize-winning playwright. Caine appeared in Pinter's first play, "The Room," 50 years ago.
Seated between the co-stars, one wouldn't notice any physical resemblance. Law, 34, is more classically handsome, with near perfect features. A Toronto newspaper had just voted him one of the best-dressed celebrities at the festival, and he joked that his stained jeans, dotted with holes, might disqualify him from the list.
Caine, in a classic black V-neck sweater, is rougher looking, a man's man. At 74, he's lost none of his sex appeal, a quality he shares with his "Alfie" successor.
Both see the "Sleuth" script similarly.
"It's a jewel of a theme - two men fighting over a woman," Law said. "There is something very simple about it."
"It's all about the male ego," Caine added. "The catalyst is a woman, but then it becomes pure ego."
The remake takes advantage of its leading men's sensual quality by introducing a homoerotic element. Andrew attempts to entice his wife's lover to live with him.
"Harold wrote that in," Caine said. "It wasn't in the original. I did some research and found recorded cases of a psychological condition called morbid jealously where the husband tries to seduce the lover in order to really humiliate the wife. I mean, that would be the final humiliation.
"Larry played the role more like a dangerous eccentric. You know he's just teetering on the edge of danger. But when I read about morbid jealously, I went along that line."
Did Caine and Law ever feel attracted to one another while filming those homoerotic scenes?
"We're both absolutely butch," Caine said with a laugh that filled the room. "I think if you read your newspapers, you'd find that out."
Law became tabloid fodder in 2005 when he had an affair with the nanny of his four children (from his failed marriage to actress Sadie Frost). He made a public apology to Sienna Miller, the "Alfie" co-star who was then also his fiancee. Although they claimed to be "working things out," their relationship ended last year.
Caine's romantic travails aren't as well known because the gossip- mongers were less vigilant during his bachelor days. In London's swinging 1960s, the Harley Street house he shared with Terence Stamp and 10 other single guys was party central. Once his career took off, Caine also did his share of carousing in Hollywood. All that stopped, however, when he became smitten with a model he saw in an advertisement for Maxwell House coffee in 1971. He tracked down Shakira Baksh, a native of Guyana, and they've been married since 1973. She got him to give up his heavy drinking and take up gardening, which he does at an estate in the English countryside not unlike the one in "Sleuth."
Watching Law re-create the role that Caine once played, one might wonder whether the older actor felt a twinge of regret that he wasn't still that age.
"No, because when I was very young there were no paparazzi," he said. "So I'm perfectly happy where I am, believe me."
Law's latest run-in with a paparazzo occurred in September, on the same evening that he had presented a lifetime-achievement award to Caine. While denying allegations that he assaulted a photographer outside his London home, Law nonetheless turned himself in to police.
"I got a phone call this morning that the prosecution threw the case out because they have evidence that this chap was trying to entrap me to make money," Law said.
Caine wouldn't dream of advising his co-star on how to handle the press or play Milo or anything else about his career.
"I always say advice is free because that is what it is worth," he said. "You should never listen to people older than you. They'll tell you all these bloody bum things."
He didn't get any tips from Olivier, although the older actor was an acting icon when "Sleuth" was shot. Most of Olivier's experience, however, had been onstage, while Caine already had more than 20 movies on his resume, far more than his illustrious co-star.
"Larry always played the leading part onstage," Caine said. At his home base, the National Theatre, "everybody was there to see the great man's performance. He would be in the spotlight with a red cloak on, and you're standing in the shadow with a black cloak. The reviews came out and said, 'Olivier had tremendous star quality.'
"But working in movies is different, you know. After about a week working on 'Sleuth,' Larry gave me the greatest compliment I've ever had. He said, 'I thought I had an assistant. But I see I have a partner.' And I said, 'No matter where you go with your emotions, I will never back off. I will be right there with you.' "
Caine and Law shared the same collaborative spirit making the new "Sleuth." As the only two actors in the movie, they had to be on the same wavelength.
"I was baffled when a couple of people asked me whether we were competitive," Law said. "I said, 'Are you crazy?' You have to be there for the other person, to support him and also because you know it will beef up the work with feeling - make it more demanding emotionally."
Caine found Law most accommodating as a producer.
"I had a very nice dressing room," he said, "with drinks in it and all that stuff."
But the real high came from getting to do "Sleuth" again "because, for a change, the movie is about the actors. It's not about CGI. It's not about scenery or clothes or violence. It's about acting. And you don't get many of those."