Michael Caine as Alfred in 'The Dark Knight Rises' (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)Michael Caine, who turns 80 on Thursday, has been in more than 150 films over the span of more than 60 years, has won two Oscars, and has been nominated for at least one Academy Award in nearly every decade he has worked.
Caine has played everything from a womanizer in the original "Alfie" in 1966 to a charming British con artist in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (1988). But the role he is most famous for these days is one in which he plays a butler.
Not terribly distinguished upon first blush.
"I thought, well, I'll read it and turn it down," Caine told the Los Angeles Times last year about his role as Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.
In fact, Caine didn't know at first what role Nolan was pitching when the director visited his English countryside estate well before "Batman Begins" was released in 2005. "I thought to myself, I'm a bit old for Batman. … So, I said, 'Who am I going to play?' He said, 'The butler.' I immediately thought I'll be spending the entire series saying, 'Dinner is served' and 'Would you like a coffee?'"
Caine invented Alfred as a formerly wounded WWII soldier (Photo: Dave Hogan/Getty Images)That didn't appeal to the lauded and prolific Mr. Caine -- until he read the script. "I thought it was wonderful. … He was the foster father of young Bruce Wayne, whose parents got killed, and started to bring him up."
Throughout the series, Alfred has aided and supported Bruce, played by Christian Bale, in his darkest hours. His service of food and coffee takes a back seat to his role as Bruce's surrogate dad, mentor, and emotional backbone. It's Alfred who rescues Batman from being poisoned by Scarecrow in "Batman Begins." He spares Bruce the heartbreak of discovering that Rachel Dawes is engaged to Harvey Dent by burning her letter to him in "The Dark Knight" (2008). Alfred was perhaps most needed in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) as he urged a reclusive Bruce to fall in love with a woman or something that would distract him from his obsession with protecting Gotham. Batman is not Batman without Alfred.
Once Caine was sold on the part, he approached it with the same level of dedication as he would any gig, including his Oscar-winning roles in "The Cider House Rules" (1999) and "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986). He even invented a clever backstory for Alfred, imagining him as a former Special Air Service officer in the British Army who was severely wounded in the war (presumably WWII). He can't go back into combat so he eventually takes over dining duties for the sergeants -- one of whom is Bruce's father. "You have this very tough ex-SAS guy who knows all about drinks and service and getting sandwiches and coffee, because he had to learn it from the sergeant's mess," Caine explained last year during a press interview. "I told Chris [Nolan] that story, and he said, 'I should have written it,'" Caine recalled with a laugh.
Coincidentally, the unofficial term for a soldier-servant in the British Army is a "batman."
Watch Michael Caine in 'The Dark Knight' Clip:
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