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June 13, 2005
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Michael Caine one tough butler
Michael Caine creates a tough, ex-military Alfred the butler for Batman Begins
By STEVE TILLEY -- Edmonton Sun


Christian Bale, left, is the caped crusader, a.k.a., Bruce Wayne, while Michael Caine is his trusty butler Alfred in Batman Begins, opening Wednesday.

BEVERLY HILLS, California - If the Batman Begins filmmakers are looking for someone to play the caped crusader's sidekick in the inevitable sequel, they might be able to combine two roles into one: Just give Michael Caine's butler character a superhero costume and call it a day.

In Batman Begins, opening Wednesday, Caine plays Bruce Wayne's longtime manservant Alfred, not so much as a fawning English butler as a tough-as-nails army sergeant.

Which, it turns out, was Caine's inspiration for the role.

"I wanted a very unusual, very tough butler for Batman," said the 72-year-old Caine, whose 100-plus-films resume boasts everything from Oscar-winning performances in The Cider House Rules and Hannah and her Sisters to Austin Powers in Goldmember and this month's Bewitched.

"I didn't want the usual obsequious, bowing, dinner-is-served type of person. I wanted someone extremely tough," explained Caine.

"So I did a back story on myself. He was an SAS sergeant, which is a very tough British army unit, got wounded, didn't want to leave the army, became in charge of the sergeant's mess in the canteen and therefore he knew how to serve drinks and prepare stuff, which made him attractive to Bruce Wayne's father. He wanted a very tough butler."

Um, OK. Talk about going above and beyond the call of duty when preparing for a role.

"I use the voice of the first sergeant I ever had in the army," said Caine. "Even though I was 18 at the time, which is a long time ago, it stays with you. So that's his voice in the picture."

Caine is part of an ensemble supporting cast of surprisingly heavy talent for a superhero flick, joining the likes of Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson and Ken Watanabe - each one, along with Caine, either an Oscar winner or nominee - under the guidance of Memento director Christopher Nolan.

"Christopher turned up at my house on a Sunday morning with the script and said he was doing Batman," recalled Caine. "Which I thought was extraordinary, because I know what Christopher had done with Insomnia and Memento.

"And then he made me read it, because he wouldn't leave the script. So I gave him lunch and read the script."

Caine was hooked by Nolan's very human approach to the saga of the Dark Knight, and by the delicate balance in the master-servant relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred, who is more like a family member than an employee.

"My mother was a cook in these big houses in the country during the (Second World) War, when I was evacuated, so I knew all about the butler and everything," said Caine. "And I've seen the line which masters who were very, very kind to their staff came down to."

And even if he doesn't get cast as a costumed crimefighter in the next movie, Caine can say with complete honesty that he got to play the title role in Batman Begins.

Sort of.

"In the British army, officers have a private who cleans their boots and their brasses, and he in actual fact is called a batman," he said. "So I'm Batman's batman."

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