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The Dark Knight – Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sir Michael Caine and Aaron Eckhart interview

Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SIR Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart talk about the experience of working with the late Heath Ledger during the London press conference for The Dark Knight, as well as their own roles and appearances in Christopher Nolan’s celebrated sequel.

Q. Can you tell us about the experience of acting opposite the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight?
Aaron Eckhart: My experience was wonderful. It was the experience of loving to act myself, to watch somebody who loved his character and had the discipline to make a bold creation. I found myself acting with him and trying to keep up with him, and I was also admiring him at the same time. I watched him off camera and on camera, as an actor, to see his process. And after the day was over, I shook his hand and said: “That’s why I’m an actor, because of good guys like you.” So, I treasure that time with him.

Maggie Gyllenhaal: Every actor has to find space where they are free, in order to do good work, but I think it’s unusual to be completely free in the way that Heath was in this movie. It’s contagious. So, even though the scene I have with him is a very scary scene, and full of tension and anxiety, it also has – when I watch it anyway – this kind of thrilling feeling. Because I was thrilled to be acting with someone who was that free. It was a blast to act with him. We shot the scene all night long, and at four o’clock in the morning it was still fun to do. He inspired me.

Michael Caine: I had the briefest of encounters with him because I never actually did a scene with him. I was in a scene that he was in, and the only experience I had was talking to him between takes. But what struck me about it was that he was very calm and quite ordinary, and I’d never seen the performance on the first day. He had to come out of an elevator and invade a party that Batman and I were giving. So, I’d never seen what he’d done, and then he came out and I was completely stunned by the portrayal, as I was at the end of the film. And I was just thinking, it’s very funny the portent of that character… the week before last, for instance, I was watching Wimbledon on TV and they cut to the crowd when the tennis players were sitting down, and there were two young men in Joker make up in the audience. And that was two or three weeks ago, which gives you a rough idea of the effect of that character.

Q. Maggie, is it intimidating coming from low budget indies to a film on this scale, not least because you’re taking on a role originated by someone else [Katie Holmes in Batman Begins]?
Maggie Gyllenhaal: [Smiles] Well, in terms of playing the same role Katie Holmes played, I’m a fan of hers, I think she’s a lovely actress and I really loved what she did in the previous movie. But at the same time, I felt I’d be no good if I tried to imitate her, so I really clearly thought of her as a whole new woman and that made it much easier for me.

In terms of working on a huge movie, the truth is I often felt like it was a much smaller movie than it was. To begin with so many of the people had worked together before so they worked very, very quickly. I’d have three days off and they’d call me in and say that actually they’d shot everything they were supposed to shoot in those three days so could I come in tomorrow? That’s much more like the tiny movies that I’ve done. And also working on intimate scenes with really good actors and Chris [Nolan] directing, it didn’t feel so different. There were a couple of times, like when I walked into the zeppelin hanger with an entire city built into it, that I thought: “Wow, this is a pretty big movie!” And I feel it now [upon release], but at the time I was just doing the same thing I’ve done in every other movie I’ve done.

Q. Aaron, what was your reaction to seeing yourself with half a face when you become Two Face?
Aaron Eckhart: I was thrilled! I thought what an improvement. Seriously, I thought it was amazing and I was blown away by it – the artistry, the imagination of everyone working on this movie who was involved with that.

Q. Sir Michael, has the relationship between Alfred and Bruce changed in this movie?
Michael Caine: Yes, I look upon Alfred as a sort of father figure to Bruce and my son is getting naughtier and naughtier. And I’m getting more and more worried about that. So, that’s what’s changed [laughs].

Q. Have you ever worked on a film that’s been as hyped as this before it opened?
Michael Caine: No, I’ve never worked on a film of this kind. This is why I’m doing it. I love to do different things. And I’ve never worked on a film this successful either, so it’s fantastic.

Heath Ledger and The Joker: An appreciation