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One Bloody Happy Fellow

The 75-year-old Oscar winner's latest role, in
The 75-year-old Oscar winner's latest role, in "The Dark Knight," puts him back at Batman's side. Caine has been a sidekick or leading man in more than 100 films over the past five decades. (By John Hryniuk)
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By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 19, 2008

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.

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Bloody genius Michael Caine is having a bloody good time. He's got the bloody boffo house in the English countryside with the bloody huge garden. "I grow every bloody thing," he says. "I'm a bloody good cook." Sauces? Don't even get him started.

When he's not puttering about as a millionaire farmer, he's in Miami Beach or on the Riviera with his wife, the former model Shakira Baksh. "We have friends in France, and we goof off down there on the weekends." This is a man who has achieved a certain perspective at age 75. One of his favorite movies is "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," because he got to live in the South of France for three months while filming it.

"Bloody marvelous," he recalls, and when Caine says bloody "marvelous," his marvelous just sounds better than your ordinary marvelous, thanks to the bangers-and-mash accent and that smile, being this giddy, gluttony, happy, wicked smile, which works even better because his teeth are yellow with the memory of a million marvelous meals accompanied by the kind of wine that robs precocious children of their college tuitions. White veneers? Not bloody likely.

Caine is back in town to promote "The Dark Knight," the disturbing, hyperviolent continuation of the Batman story, starring Caine in a reprise of his role as Alfred the butler, with Christian Bale as the caped crusader and Heath Ledger as the Joker. Ledger's Joker is rattlingly intense, a slurring fast-cycling psychopath who got into mommy's lipstick case and daddy's razor blades. The critics agree the Ledger performance is the scariest/best thing about this summer blockbuster, and of course interest in the movie is only stoked by the sudden death of Ledger earlier this year at a Manhattan apartment, where he succumbed to an overdose.

"Lovely guy," Caine says. "So sad with an accident like that. And it was with ordinary drugs. It wasn't heroin. It was like aspirin and stuff and taking them in the wrong order, which any of us could do." Actually, according to the New York medical examiner, Ledger died from a lethal cocktail of sedatives, tranquilizers, opiates and cold medicines.

"Yeah, okay then," Caine says. He spent just a short time with Ledger. "I got to see Heath's performance close-hand, which I had never done. And I got to know him a little bit. Just on the set a bit. I was so impressed by his performance. And when I saw the movie, I was bowled over. On set, we would be chatting about this or that. Then the director would say, 'We're ready, Heath,' and then he'd go straight into that maniacal thing. I told him, 'I'm too old to play a part like that. I don't have energy to do that, what you do. Come to think of it, I don't think I had the energy to do it at your age.' It was stunning on the screen. But to be there when he was doing it . . . " He lets out a long, slow profanity.

We mention that Caine himself lived some wild years. In a recent piece in the British press, he mentions drinking bottles of vodka.

"Oh, I just drink wine with food now. Though I thoroughly enjoy it. You know, I was never an alcoholic, but it is true I was on occasion very, very drunk." The smile. "But you know, I used to go out on the town with Peter O'Toole, so I had a bloody master craftsman teaching me." (Caine was an understudy for O'Toole on the London stage.)

On this topic, the topic of drink, Caine unspools his theory of the social history of the late 20th century. Oh, we had our times, he says, "but the difference with us, we were always getting pissed, with alcohol. Booze we were. That's why the '60s were so successful. Because with booze you're all out together, drinking. What screwed up the '70s was drugs, because you had to stay at home and take the bloody drugs and you couldn't go out or you got busted by the police. The '60s got finished around 1975 when everybody was high as a kite and couldn't go out. Couldn't find their bloody shoes if they wanted to go out. You don't go out and take drugs."

Caine is dressed this afternoon in jeans and wears large gold-rimmed glasses. His skin is pink. He has most of his hair, all of his marbles. He is sitting in a $1,000-a-night suite, down the hall from the even bigger room where he is staying. He likes to tell stories, so it is a shame not to have him holding forth over a three-hour lunch. We make do.


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