If you’ve never been to a press conference for a movie, think of it as being a bit like a school assembly. You’re all seated in neat little rows, facing the front of a stage and paying attention. Except this time you’re in the ballroom of an expensive hotel, there’s a chandelier above your head and Christopher Nolan’s in front of you, talking about his latest film, Interstellar.
As you can imagine, press have gathered from all over the place to be present for this special occasion. Christopher Nolan films are always an event, and given that Interstellar is all about a future Earth facing ecological ruin and a space mission to find a new home for its inhabitants, there were lots of questions about astronauts, wormholes and other such weighty matters.
Nolan and the rest of the assembled cast and crew – Jessica Chastain, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Mackenzie Foy and Emma Thomas – answered those questions patiently and with professional good humour. Even the unexpected ones, like the person who asked about the quality of the catering on Interstellar versus Dallas Buyers Club (put to a slightly baffled McConaughey).
The highlight of the whole press conference, however, was undoubtedly Michael Caine. In the film, he plays Dr Brand, the scientist who spearheads the mission to the other side of the universe. In real life, he’s a constant source of wit and self-deprecating humour. So here are the amusing things Michael Caine had to say about Interstellar, the future of Earth, his attitude to the environment, and the realities of film versus digital…
What was it like working with Christopher Nolan for the sixth time?
You spend your life as an actor making pictures. Is it going to be a hit? Isn’t it going to be a hit? Because sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. I’ve made six films with Chris and every one was a hit. So whenever he asks whether I want to do a movie, I say “yes.” When he says, “Do you want to read the script?” I say, “No.” [Laughs]
It’s quite extraordinary, working with him, because he also writes. And nothing is what it seems. I remember, the first time he came to me with a script, he came to my house in the country, and said, “I’ve got a movie.” I said, “What is it?” And he said, “Batman.”
I thought to myself, “Well, I’m too old to play Batman.” [Laughs] What does he want me to play? He said, “I want you to play the butler.”
I thought, what will the dialogue be like? What will I say? “Dinner is served? Would you like a beverage?”
He said, “No, Michael. Read the script.”
So I read the script, and he wasn’t the butler. He was the foster father for Batman. Nothing is what is seems with Chris.
If you were asked to blast off on a mission to save the world, would you go?
(In case you were wondering, Jessica Chastain wouldn’t go – “I’m only good at pretending to save the world,” she said – Anne Hathaway would, while Christopher Nolan said, “With all the best intentions, I think if you have to ask some filmmakers to save the world, you’re in terrible trouble.”)
Looking to the future, do you feel positive or negative [about the state of the environment]?
I’m 81, so I’m positive. [Laughs]
The first line of your memoir reads, “The shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line.” So have you always been interested in wormholes?
I’m a very good amateur gardener, and I see a lot of wormholes. That’s what I thought they meant [in Interstellar]. I didn’t understand it until this movie, and then I met Kip Thorne, who I think invented wormholes – or did he discover them? I’m playing him in the movie, and I know a lot about wormholes now. I’ve seen the movie, and I’ve seen a wormhole. We know what’s on the other side: special effects. [Laughs]
I thought I knew what I was doing. I grew a beard just like Kip Thorne. Then I asked him lots of questions about anything that was puzzling me. Then I had my office set, which he designed. And in there was an algebraic problem which was about 50 feet long by four feet high. And I thought I might have come up against something here that I might not be good at. [Laughs]
So I said, “How many problems is that?” And he said, “It’s one.” I said, “Do you know what it means?” He said, “I wrote it.” I said, “Do you know the answer?” He said, “Yes. But it’s too difficult to tell you.” [Laughs]
So that’s when I stopped trying to be clever.
This film raises a serious ecological message, that we have to save the world. What I’d like to know is, what have you been doing to reduce your carbon footprint?
I was so poor for so long that I didn’t use anything. I didn’t drive cars, I didn’t eat very much. So I figured the world owed me a debt, so I’ve been eating very well and have had a very big car for a long time. But I still haven’t caught up with my youth. [Laughs]
What’s your favourite science fiction character?
Sandra Bullock in Gravity.
What are your thoughts on the use of film versus digital?
As an actor, my attitude towards it is, if you have film, they have to cut eventually so you don’t have to learn all that dialogue. With digital, they can just go on forever and it’s a nightmare. So I like film. Nice short takes. Because I just worked with Paolo Sorrentino. He has four cameras, and he doesn’t even rehearse because he has digital. And you just go on there, and you go fluffing through it, and he doesn’t care: you just keep going and going and going and going. Then you go home. Then you come back the next day. So I prefer film. [Laughs]
Interstellar opens on November 7th.