Toronto–In 2000, Jude Law and Michael Caine duelled for the best supporting actor Oscar. Law was nominated for The Talented Mr. Ripley and Caine won for The Cider House Rules. Seven years later, in an updated version of a modern mystery classic, Sleuth (which opens Friday [October 26]), the two actors duel on-screen as two men who love–or at least want to possess–the same woman.
Caine plays a best-selling mystery novelist with control issues, and Law is the wife's new lover. On-screen, it's a battle of egos. Off-screen, as they meet with a half-dozen reporters at a hotel to promote their movie's world premiere at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, the actors can't stop raving about each other.
Caine thinks Law's performance in Sleuth is his best work yet. "I think it's fantastic." And Caine has particular insight into the role: it's the same part he played in the 1972 version of Sleuth, opposite Laurence Olivier–a production that earned both men Oscar nominations for best actor.
Law not only praises Caine's work, he's responsible for casting him. A producer credit for a star doesn't mean he had anything to do with producing the movie, but in this case it was Law and his company, Riff Raff, that brought the project to life.
Law approached Nobel Prize–winning playwright Harold Pinter to write the script, asked Caine to star, and brought in Kenneth Branagh to direct. The key to making the remake happen, though, was Pinter. "I regard him as–after Shakespeare and Beckett–the greatest British writer," Law says. "His influence on the English language is immense."
It was Law's idea to lose the Agatha Christie-style gamesmanship of the original movie and focus on the vicious pas de deux between the two men, which might be why this version is almost an hour shorter than the original. "All that interested me really was the essence of the story, and it seemed to suit Harold and his style," Law says. "And he was also someone I just wanted to meet, to be honest. And it was an excuse to have lunch with him. And I was amazed that he said yes so quickly and loved the idea. He took my idea of concentrating on the men fighting. So, in arguably classic kind of Pinter style, he took all of that to the extreme. It was like dipping the original in acid, stripping it naked, and really getting down to the nitty-gritty”¦Even the sexuality goes much, much further, because we start using that as a weapon too."
It was the new script that attracted Caine's attention. "Michael wouldn't have done it if it had been a remake of the [Anthony] Shaffer [original], because he's done that already and he did it brilliantly," Law says. And because the script was pure Pinter, Law didn't feel he was revisiting Caine's role: "There was almost no dialogue that's similar, so I felt I was creating a character; I wasn't re-creating one."
Law and Caine became friends when they were up against each other for the Oscar. "We met and got on very well and have a couple of mutual friends in London, so we had dinner a few times," Law says. "I think we both have quite the similar approach to work. We enjoy working. We see it as a job, not as a kind of route to fame and fortune. It's quite an English approach, quite a London approach to acting. We both come from the same part of London. Obviously, there's a massive generation gap, and we've got many different friends and backgrounds, but we enjoy each other's company. From my point of view, he's just one of the best storytellers. He's great company."
Law has played one of Caine's classic roles before: Alfie, a role that made Caine famous but didn't do much for Law. "With Alfie it was stepping into a part that he had obviously made famous and it fascinated me because I'd never played a role like that, and I was just sort of intrigued to see whether it held up in a modern setting. I don't know whether it really did, but I quite like the challenge of jobs like that, just the risk. You don't triumph if you don't risk. We didn't triumph with that one."
Sleuth is already a triumph for Law, though, because he's delighted with the team he put together. "I love throwing ideas around and I like introducing people. The idea to me of Pinter and Caine was: 'God, that is a marriage made in heaven.' And I couldn't believe they hadn't done anything in 50 years. So being responsible for that gives me great pride and great fulfillment."