Cars 2 takes us on an exciting new adventure to exotic lands across the globe as star racecar Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) teams up with his best friend, tow truck Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), and heads overseas to compete against the world’s fastest cars in the first-ever World Grand Prix. But the road to the finish line is filled with unexpected potholes, detours and bombshells when Mater, in a case of mistaken identity, is ensnared in a top secret mission orchestrated by master British spy Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine).
At a virtual press conference with Michael Caine via London, we talked with one of the film industry’s most esteemed actors about his starring role in Pixar’s newest full-length animated feature. Caine explained why it was a brand new experience for him, as an actor used to playing iconic spies, to return to the world of espionage cast as a car. He shared with us how much fun it was playing the coolest car in the movie, what it meant to have his voice immortalized in an animated film, and how much he enjoyed working with director John Lasseter, who joined the press conference briefly to thank him for his impressive performance. He also discussed what it was like returning to play Alfred in The Dark Knight Rises and revealed the unique back story he created for the character. Hit the jump for the interview.
We’ve offering you two ways to get the interview. You can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Cars 2 opens this weekend.
Q: We know you couldn’t come to Hollywood for the premiere and all of the press events because you’re shooting The Dark Knight Rises in England right now?
Caine: Yes, I’m filming.
Let’s talk about Cars 2. I know you’ve played a lot of different roles in your career but is this the first time you’ve played a car?
Caine: I have honestly never played a car before. I drove some cars in The Italian Job which was a thing about Mini cars, but I’ve never been a car. This is a brand new experience for me and one of the reasons I did it because I’ve been in the business a long time and it’s very difficult to get a brand new experience.
What was it like for you working with Pixar on this film?
Caine: Well it’s surprisingly easy to do because everybody facilitates what you’re going to do and where you want to be at and it’s very straight. It’s not like making a movie where you go through a studio. It’s a very on-off affair because you don’t see people for three or four months and then suddenly they bring you in and you’ll start doing it together again. And your co-star, even if it’s a lady, is a director because he’s doing [the other part]. It’s very simple. You read the lines. You don’t have to remember any of them and it’s good fun.
Isn’t this sort of tailored for you? You’re playing a master spy and we all know you certainly from Harry Palmer, The Fourth Protocol and many spies you’ve played before. What was it like this time returning to the world of spies?
Caine: It’s one of the many reasons that I did it because it was so incredible. Suddenly I get to be offered a spy and the car that I have is from the 60s. I’m a 1966 Aston Martin Pale Blue, which I think is very, very cool. I always played cool spies when I played them so I supposed it’s absolutely marvelous. I love my car.
It is a cool looking car. We’re looking at photos of it right now. Finn McMissile is a great name for your character.
Caine: That’s an incredible name, isn’t it? Finn McMissile. It’s lovely. It makes me sound as though I’m dangerous. I will say my missile is dangerous.
This is your first animated movie. How did you find it different from making a live action film? You mentioned you didn’t have to learn any dialogue.
Caine: Also, you never meet the other actors. You don’t do scenes with the other actors. You might meet them coming out of the studio when they finish their session and you’re going in, but I never met anybody in the movie until I went to New York. I was in New York at the Toy Fair where they had my real car, the big one, the real Aston Martin, and I was there and Emily Mortimer, who’s also in the picture, was there. She was the only person I’ve ever met who’s in the film. Usually, you strike up relationships with people but [with this] you don’t get any relationships.
What are some of your most memorable moments from working on this film and becoming Finn McMissile?
Caine: Well, the great thing, of course, first, is to be called Finn McMissile. I couldn’t resist it. And then, they said I was a spy. And then, they said you’re a 1966 Aston Martin Pale Blue and I thought this is perfect for me. But there was also something pre-that, it’s just recently in the past three years, I’ve got 3 grandchildren. And, of course, the reason I really wanted to do it was because I wanted them to see me. They know my voice. They gave me a car with my voice, a little model car, and I brought it back here and my grandchildren played with it and they know it’s me. So, I’ve got this tremendous bond with my grandchildren through this film, because, if you think about it, the films that I make, little children can’t go and see them, and so, it was a wonderful opportunity for me. And, the director is an incredible guy, by the way.
You’ve played so many memorable characters that we’ve loved, what does it mean to you as an actor to have your voice immortalized in an animated film?
Caine: It was absolutely fabulous and where it really came home to me was when I went to the Toy Fair where they unveiled my proper Aston Martin. They also showed about three-quarters of the movie and it was extraordinary. I mean, I rang [rented?] the first Cars when I was going to do this because I hadn’t seen it. I didn’t have any children to see it with. I rented Cars and I thought it was absolutely stunning the way they did things. When you watch these films, it’s a child’s film if you’re a child and it’s a grown-up film if you’re a grown-up because you just sit there in absolute amazement and say to yourself “How the heck did they do this?” I did that with the first one that I saw and even more so with the second one. You know the technology advances so fast. There’s probably two or three years between these movies and the stuff they do in this one is extraordinary. What I liked – I don’t know whether I’m supposed to give away this bit – but in the end we all wind up with Her Majesty The Queen in my country.
You mentioned you wanted to be in this movie because it was something new for you. At this point in your career, how important is it to stay in touch with the audience? You’re in The Dark Knight, a movie that young people like, and in this film you play the hero who has all these adventures.
Caine: I’m a real hero. Wait until you see this guy. He really is a hero. You can see the stuff that he does. It is very important for me. I was walking along the street the other day and a dozen Japanese girls suddenly looked at me. They were teenagers, 14 or 15. And I suddenly realized they’d seen me as the butler in Batman. Now I’m going to be outside some infant school with my grandchildren and everybody is going to hear me speaking and say “I know that voice.” I have a very original voice anyway because everybody has always impersonated me.
You were mentioning and praising John Lasseter for his investment in the film and his enjoyment of it and his crafting of the story. He is a notorious car aficionado. I’m wondering if you’re one of those gentlemen or blokes who is a car fan or if they’re irrelevant to you by and large?
Caine: Cars, for me, are transport. I’ll tell you why. I grew up in the war in London and then just after. I didn’t know anybody who had a car until I must have been 15 or 16 or 17. You know, in London, at that time, we had the Tube, the subway, and the buses, and it was great and it was cheap. So there was no reason to have a car. And I became a movie star and I’d never driven. Suddenly, when you come here, I went from penniless to quite well off. What happened to me was my first car I ever bought was a Rolls Royce and I couldn’t drive it. And I said to them, “I’ll learn to drive it” and the insurance company said “No, you won’t.” You’re not going to learn to drive in a Rolls Royce. And when I saw the premium, for me, a movie actor by the way, the insurance premium for me to learn to drive was twice the sum that I would pay a chauffeur. So I had chauffeurs all my life and I never drove a car until I went to Los Angeles. And there, you have to drive a car. So I took my driving lesson in America. But it was very funny, when I took my driving lesson, it was very official. “The inspector who’s going to judge your driving will only speak to you about technical things. You will not speak to him about anything else. There will be nothing personal. Just listen to what he says and answer what he asks and everything must be kept absolutely professional.” I got in the car very nervous. I was going to take my test and he’s sitting there and he says to me “You’re going to have to be rubbish not to pass this test. I’m looking forward to a lot more than that from the man who would be king.” So I was off and running. I’m a particularly terrible driver but I passed that test. I’ve obviously had lots of cars but I don’t drive them, especially in London. I’m not a very patient man and the idea of parking the car and looking for a space and all that stuff…it’s so…so I have a chauffeur. If you’re very famous and you’re not allowed to go on public transport because it would pose a hubbub, you get it off on your taxes so that’s alright. So I don’t drive, no, but I am a car. I never said I was a driver of a car. I *am* a car.
[The film’s director, John Lasseter, joins the press conference briefly to greet Michael Caine.]
Lasseter: Hi Michael, this is John Lasseter, I just came in to say hi. How are you?
Caine: Hi John, I’m great. You alright?
Lasseter: Yes, I’m doing great. I just wanted to bug you a little bit. So even though you were chauffeur-driven most of your life, you didn’t realize that inside Finn McMissile there is a chauffeur driving around doing all your acting scenes? You did such brilliant driving in Cars 2, it’s surprising that you didn’t realize that.
Caine: Wasn’t I great? I thought that I did some of the best driving you’ve ever seen.
Lasseter: It was brilliant.
Caine: I thought it was excellent. And also, I could do stuff that no other car can do.
Lasseter: That’s right.
Caine: I do great stuff. I’ve seen three-quarters of the movie.
Lasseter: And wait until you see the rest of the movie, it’s even more impressive.
Caine: Yeah, I was told there was even better stuff to come. But it really is very impressive if you’re a layman like me. I don’t know how you do that stuff. But you look at it and you just go “How the hell did they do that.” I think it requires a great deal of patience of which I have very little.
Lasseter: Michael, I just wanted to say that working with you was one of the highlights of my career. I really enjoyed working with you. You are one of the most amazing actors I’ve ever worked with.
Caine: Thank you, John, and you’re a fabulous director by the way. And you’re very good with actors because the relationship, when you do this kind of film, with the director is far more intimate than it is with another director on a normal movie, and you are probably the best at this.
Lasseter: Thank you, Michael. Anyway, thank you so much for being a part of this film. Car 2 wouldn’t be anything without you because Finn McMissile is an awesome character.
Caine: It was great for me. I love him.
Lasseter: I’m going to go do some more interviews myself so I just wanted to say hi.
Caine: Well thanks, John. See you later. I’ll see you in London at the premiere.
Lasseter: You bet. I’m gonna be there with my whole family.
Caine: And good luck with the premiere tonight.
Lasseter: Thank you. It’s going to be really fun here in Hollywood and I’m bringing my whole family so you’ll get to meet everybody.
Caine: I wish I was there. I couldn’t be there because I’m doing Batman and they wouldn’t let me go.
Lasseter: We want you to do Batman. We’re all big Batman fans and Albert is special. We want you to be there. We’ll see you in London, Michael. Thank you.
Caine: See you in London, John.
Lasseter: Thanks for doing this for us. I appreciate it.
Caine: Oh you’re welcome. My pleasure.
Alright, John Lasseter, special surprise guest. That was cool!
Caine: Big surprise. I didn’t expect to hear him today.
As a seasoned actor working on an animated film, are you concerned about developing your character’s back story arc or do you simply show up and say your lines?
Caine: Oh no, I’m a Method actor. I’m Stanislavski and all that stuff. There is a back story to my character. Finn McMissile, you know who he is. But, for instance, I play Alfred the Butler in Batman and I wanted him to be a tough butler and I wanted him to be an ex-soldier. His voice is the voice of the first sergeant I ever had because I was a soldier and I have this voice of this sergeant and that’s his voice. I always imagined him to be SAS which is our Special Forces. He was wounded, didn’t want to leave the army, and went to work in the Officers’ Mess doing behind the bar, and Batman’s father came to visit a friend there and he saw him and said “Would you like to be trained as a butler?,” and he said “Yes” and he went with him to America to be trained as a butler. And that’s the back story on Alfred. Yes, I always do a back story.
During your time in the booth, was it hard to adjust to a different environment where you’re acting with your voice?
Caine: No, I’ve done a lot of radio in my life. I’ve done radio plays for the BBC when I was young so I was absolutely used to that style of work, of working with the voice. I have a very distinctive voice so it’s always great for me because I open my mouth and everybody knows who it is.
Being in the booth is not strange for you, but so many times we talk to actors who are doing it for the first time and they talk about how weird it is. What is the weirdest environment you ever acted in?
Caine: The weirdest environment I ever acted in was in a movie where we were divers and it was a disaster. We were surrounded by sharks and there were three of us – Karl Malden and a young lady and me – and we were all sharing the mouthpiece for the oxygen. You think you’re going to die and you keep screaming for them to give you [oxygen] and everyone’s breathing and everything and then you’re making a shot. I mean, we didn’t have a lot of dialogue underwater. We just screamed and shouted and we were surrounded by sharks which were obviously put in later. But that was the weirdest I ever did. I was underwater sharing the mic with the leading lady whose name escapes me, and Karl Malden, the actor. Very weird!
In terms of preparing for the character, did you do anything with your voice to enhance the character?
Caine: Yes. His accent is obviously English because he’s English. It’s what I call ‘working class posh’. Because I figured he is extremely clever. You see that in the movie how clever he is, but I imagine him as being working class but he went to very posh schools because he was so clever. Therefore, you’ve got this accent, the voice that I use for him is, in the English terms, upper middle class, but not aristocratic.
A lot of us are very exciting to see you returning to play Alfred in the next Dark Knight movie. I know Mr. Nolan is very guarded with story, but could you at least tell us how filming has been going so far?
Caine: Oh, it’s fantastic. I started filming last week and I film next week, because as the butler, you know, I do a lot of filming at the beginning and everybody goes off and does all the adventures and they all come home shot to pieces and I patch them together when they all get back. Christopher Nolan, I think, is one of the greatest directors in the world and I’ve been lucky enough. This is my fifth movie with him. It’s such a pleasure to work with him and he is so clever. We’ve all signed the Official Secrets Act. I’m lucky to be able to tell you the title of the movie. I remember I did an interview and somebody said “What are you doing next?” and I said “I’m doing Batman.” And I saw Chris and he said “Why’d you tell them you were doing Batman?” “Because I am.” “You’re supposed to keep it a secret.” I said “I couldn’t keep that a secret.” Let me tell you, the plot is extraordinary, really extraordinary, and I know why he wants to keep it a secret. You really need not to know until you see the movie, which by the way, goes for Cars 2.
You mentioned you were a Method actor. How did you use the Stanislavski method to become your character in this film?
Caine: You use your own experiences in life and you use what Stanislavski called ‘sense memory’ which is where you use things from your own life to make you laugh or cry. But you also do something which is very practical which is [something] Stanislavki said. He said “The rehearsal is the work. The performance is the relaxation.” So what that means is that by the time you get to the performance, you’ve rehearsed it until you’re blue in the face. And with the line, if someone said “Can you remember it?,” you couldn’t say any other line because you’ve said it a thousand times, a quarter of a million times, and you are so relaxed about it. That’s the secret of Stanislavski. The rehearsal is the work. And also, you don’t study other actors. You sit on the subway and study real people. I do a lot of stuff. I watch the news all the time and I’m always watching real people react to things. I remember when the young lady [Christa McAuliffe] died while going into space. It went up in space. I think it was 7 and it was the first young woman and the thing exploded and they cut to her parents who were watching. Now me included, I include myself in this, and every other actor, would have gone “Oh my God!” If you were playing the parents, you’d scream and burst into tears. Those two people stood there for five minutes absolutely still. They never moved. CNN has that news footage. They just stood there looking at the sky and they did nothing. They didn’t cry, they didn’t shout, they didn’t scream, they didn’t laugh. But, of course, as a movie actor, you can’t stand there for five minutes and do nothing, so I would have added a bit of stuff.
What was it like working with John Lasseter and how did he make this experience special for you?
Caine: The big thing is you go in there and you don’t know what you’re doing. I mean, when I started, I didn’t know what the car was. I didn’t even know the sort of thing [such as] what I looked like. But what he does, and he’s such an enthusiast, I know he’s an enthusiast for cars, but he’s also an enthusiast for these animated films, and he is completely involved in it. So, anything you want to know, and he is full of absolutely every sort of information, and he works on just slight inflections. He would say “The car hit a little bump there. Can you do that?” And every minute detail. He’s so clever at directing his actor. I just said he’s one of the best directors I’ve worked with and I’d never met him in real life. I mean, I have now. But for a long time I hadn’t. I’ll tell you a funny thing on these movies. You go there every 3 or 4 months or something and you do a couple of hours. You go and then you come back and in the end when they said to me “This is your last time. You’re done now, Michael.” I said “Oh that’s great. How long have I been on this film?” He said “Nearly 2 years.” It’s something that goes in and out of your life for two years. You always have it waiting for you and then you’ve got this thing of watching the movie which I did, or three-quarters of it.
Now that you’ve done this voiceover for Cars 2, has it whetted your appetite for more voiceover work? Would you like to do more and possibly more with Pixar?
Caine: Oh yeah, I would do it. I was just waiting for people to ask me. I did do one before this. It was called Gnomeo & Juliet. It was just the thing because it was my friend, Elton John, and David Furnish, his partner. We’re very close friends and he said “Would you do a voiceover on my picture?” So I said yes and it turned out to be a very successful picture. But I have never been asked to do anything and I’d like to do a funny voice. I haven’t done a funny voice yet. In Gnomeo & Juliet, I was Juliet’s father. So it was a bit of an accent like myself because he was a Cockney gardener.
Why do you think that 60’s iconic spy still remains so potent with film audiences today?
Caine: I think it’s because they were real. The thing with the iconic spy is you had the thing with James Bond who was so obvious he couldn’t possibly be a spy because he drew so much attention to himself which is one way of being a spy. There are spies who are the consorts to the king or something like that. And then, there’s the other type of spy which was the ordinary guy. I did my own shopping in the supermarket buying mushrooms, but there was a reality to it because there was the spy dying on with Russia. A friend of mine met Putin, and he was head of the KGB, and he said “Tell Mr. Caine we used to watch those movies and laugh because he was such a clever spy.” He said “We were never that clever.”
Earlier you mentioned A Man Who Would Be King that recently came out on a new high definition disc and just the other day I was watching A Bridge Too Far. When was the last time your own career ambushed you while you were going about your life and you were surprised by stumbling across one of your own films on TV or disc and said “That’s a really good film”?
Caine: There were a couple of films — I’m trying to think of the titles now — that sort of came and went. There was one I did in New York and then I saw it on television and it was very good. But sometimes these movies don’t take off, you know? It’s the wrong moment and everything. I remember I did a movie called The Last Valley which was about the Hundred Years War and it was released in the middle of the Viet Nam War. I saw that and the greatest surprise to me was it was one of the best scores by my friend, John Barry, who just died. It was quite amazing to see that movie and hear that score and go, if only that movie had been a success, they would have found John’s score there but they never ever did.
Obviously you’ve met the Queen, how do you think the Queen would react to her portrayal in Cars 2?
Caine: I think she’d react very well. She’s a good friend. The Queen, I’ve met her a couple times and I sat next to her at a dinner once and she suddenly turned to me and she said “Do you know any jokes?” “Yeah, but not many I can tell you, Your Majesty.” “I’ll tell you one while you think of one you can tell me.” I cannot remember the joke she told me, but it was very funny. The Queen has an incredible sense of humor. I mean, you always see her being serious because she’s supposed to but she has a tremendous sense of fun.
Cars 2 opens in theaters on June 24th.