On Sunday, April 5th director John Crowley, Sir Michael Caine and his 14 year old co-star Bill Milner appeared at Jacob Burns Film Centerwith a screening of their new independent film, "Is Anybody There?” Wanting to do something seen through the eyes of a child, Mr. Crowley knew he had what wanted in discussing the intergenerational upbringing that friend and screenwriter Peter Harness had.
He grew up in a retirement home, said the director, and that served them as the film’s setting. In Mr. Harness’s screenplay, this preteen boy develops an unhealthy obsession with the after life and begins tape recording the recently dead in hopes of finding evidence of ghosts or spirits.
Nothing supernatural about it, Mr. Caine agreed to joining the project before even getting completely through the script. "I never read a script before that made me cry," he said.
Nonetheless, going about getting financing and now doing the promotion comes with the difficulty that might be expected from a film set in a nursing home with a man dying of Alzheimer’s. "Yeah, that sounds like fun," joked the knighted actor, but the film certainly made plenty of room to carry the good humor of Mr. Caine and his young co-star.
Trying to acknowledge the excitement and anxiety of playing such a big part with the likes of a Michael Caine, the teenager was cut off by his elder. "I'll say it was a big part - bigger than mine, mused Mr. Caine.
As for adjusting and playing to all the heart-wrenching scenes, the screenplay had a similar impact on him when necessary. “The script made you cry anyway,” said Bill Milner.
Unfortunately, Mr. Caine had some real life experience that he projected onto his work since his best friend recently died after a long bout with Alzheimer s. “Playing the Alzheimer’s was difficult but also easy,” he said.
Regardless, the shoot provided the family like closeness of a small production to complement the elements of sadness on film. In fact, the lead said he went back almost 50 years with most of the senior actors portrayed. All told, it took only eight weeks to complete with Mr. Caine getting his scenes done in one or two takes. "I like to go home early," he said to the approval of the audience.
It worked just fine with the director also and gave Mr. Caine the chance to reminisce on some of his directorial relationships from the past. Identifying John Huston as the best director he ever worked with, he says, because he never went on and on about any particular character. "If you do it correctly, you don't need to tell them anything," Mr. Caine relayed the directives he received 35 years ago on “The Man Who Would Be King.”
Remarkably, that led to a similar comparison to the less accomplished directorial talents of one Steven Seagal. "I'm not going to direct you at all," he said he was told by Seagal. Acknowledging the mistake of getting himself mixed up in a mess like “On Deadly Ground,” Mr. Caine knew at least how to make the best of it. "That's a good idea," he says he told the novice, "and that's what happened."
After 85 films and five decades in the business, he's really racking up the lifetime achievement awards, while revealing that now he often gets "made down" for films instead of being made up. "I've got to look like crap for this," he'll tell the makeup people, and these days they usually reply that they're not going need any makeup at all.
But he won't ever retire because that's not how it works for someone in his line of work. "You don't retire from the movies, the movies retire you," he says.
Already signed to another film, the thriller he's been writing for the last 30 years will still have to wait. Otherwise, Mr. Crowley implored this audience to do what it could do to let others know that somebody is out there. "World of mouth is crucial to the wider success of this film," he concluded.