Toronto–Michael Caine wants to be clear about this. His new movie, Sleuth (which opens in Vancouver on October 26), is not a remake of the Sleuth he made in 1972, which earned four Oscar nominations, including nods for best actor for Caine and costar Laurence Olivier, as well as one for best director for Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
The characters and plot are fundamentally the same, but the 2007 version of Sleuth–costarring Jude Law and directed by Kenneth Branagh–features an all-new script by Britain's most acclaimed living dramatist, Harold Pinter.
"I would never have remade Anthony Shaffer's script, because I thought Mankiewicz had made a marvellous job of that and I didn't see any point in remaking that," Caine says. "The attraction to me was the Pinter script. It's an entirely different thing. There isn't a single line of it that was in the other one, and Pinter had never seen the movie. Jude gave him the stage play and said, 'Write a screenplay from that.'"
In this new adaptation of Shaffer's masterpiece, Caine takes the Olivier role–a cuckolded mystery writer determined to destroy his wife's young lover. Speaking to reporters during the film's world-premiere run at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, Caine said the new script meant he never felt he was playing Olivier's part or that Law (also a producer) was playing his. "I couldn't look at Jude performing and say, 'I think I said that line better than you did,' because there weren't any lines that I said in the first [screen]play that he said. So it was just a completely different experience."
Pinter's signature style is so idiosyncratic that any elliptical work with a lot of pregnant pauses (known in the theatre world as "Pinter pauses") is called Pinteresque–a term that appears in some dictionaries.
Working on something that wasn't just Pinteresque but had been scripted by the man himself was especially appealing to Caine, because he'd appeared in Pinter's first play, The Room, at the Royal Court Theatre in 1960. That was followed by what might be the ultimate Pinter pause–a nearly 50-year break before he got another chance to work with Pinter. "Jude turns up and says, 'I've got this script by Harold Pinter.' I almost never read it. I almost said, 'I'll do it, I don't care what it is, I'll do it,'" says Caine. "If he'd have come to me with Tony's script, I'd have said, 'We can't improve on what Joe [Mankiewicz] did. Why would you make it? There's no point.'"
One remake Caine felt was pointless–so he never watched it–was Law's version of Caine's breakout hit, Alfie. "There was no point, because when they said they were going to do it, I thought, 'It's the wrong time,'" Caine says. "The sexual climate has changed. If I was redoing Alfie, I'd cast a woman, and she'd be going out slaughtering all the guys."