Edited by: Jack Foley/ Interview by Martyn Palmer
Q. Do you have to empathise with a character like Alfie
A. Well, I suppose it’s the same process you go
through if you were playing Macbeth; you hope that the morality
of the piece as a whole resolves it for you.
I’m only interested in playing characters that have a journey,
a sense of evolution within the piece as a whole anyway.
And I certainly think in this there is a journey that Alfie goes
on where you, as the audience, are seduced, you are invited in,
you are as much as a culprit as he is, as the women in his life,
who are suckered by this veneer, this presentation, by this energy
that he has and hopefully by the end you are apart of his dismantling,
when he finally realises that the only person who is going to
make him happy is himself.
And that’s why I refer back to
Macbeth in a way, if you embark on a classical piece like that,
you are playing a mass murderer and you are hoping still to seduce
an audience and for the audience to understand and empathise with
his actions in the hope that the writer, in this case Charles
and Elaine, resolve the issues and I believe they have done in
Q. But do you have to find some common bond with the
A. I like the idea that it’s about someone, and
this is something we are all guilty of in this day and age, of
relying on the veneer, relying on a facade, pretending everything
is alright, never asking one's self deep down, ‘am I happy?
Am I OK?’ And being surprised when things are falling down
around you and it’s like ‘why am I not happy? I’ve
got great clothes, I’m sleeping with great women or great
And yet the problems lie within and that’s at the base of
this piece and it’s incredibly interesting.
Q. Was it hard addressing the audience by speaking directly
into the camera?
A. I remember talking to someone who said was that the
most shocking thing when they saw the original back when it came
out in the sixties – Michael Caine talking to the camera.
We lost that tool because we are used to that nowadays, we’ve
seen it on TV and in other films. So we talked a lot about at
least raising the bar so that it wasn’t as comfortable as
it is in the original.
We wanted to push it as far as we could. Also I remember us talking
about the asides we get used to in theatre, I’ve done lots
of plays, classical and modern, where there is an aside, and it’s
all about a relationship with an audience.
It’s all about continually reminding one self that as an
actor that instead of talking to an audience you are talking to
yourself and therefore allowing an audience inside your head.
The interesting thing was that the camera became the constant;
the relationship with the camera was in a way my relationship
with Charles and the DP and with the designer and the props man.
And I remember thinking half way through ‘my God, I’m
very lucky because I’m being visited by these great actors
and actresses every week..’
It was like a different one every week and I got to learn from
them which was wonderful. But my constant throughout the whole
thing was the camera.
And the camera became my best mate and the others were visitors
into his world.
Q. What’s it like trying to follow in the footsteps
of Michael Caine?
A. I didn’t really feel like I was. It wasn’t
like going back and trying to replicate or mimic. I think if I’d
done that, I’d have been in big trouble, only Michael Caine
can play Michael Caine.
I remember one of the reasons I was finally educated into playing
this part by Charles and others, it was because the creed of Alfie
exists on the same level as like a Casanova or a Hamlet or a Don
Juan. There is enough there to keep going back and revisiting
You know, does it stand up 40 years on? 100 years on? And in my
opinion, you could re-visit Alfie in another 50 years and there
will still be Alfies out there, there would still be people behaving
and thinking and living like that.
I think Michael (Caine) found Alfie in him and I couldn’t
go and play Michael playing Alfie, I had to find Alfie in me.
And so I hope that whilst playing homage, we’ve also separated
ourselves from the original.
Q. But people will compare the two of you...
A. Of course and when they do I hope that they compare
Q. You said you had to find Alfie in you, what are the
A. It’s not so much the similarities. Actually,
maybe that is a better question for Charles. I wanted to make
Alfie dark and seedy and Charles kept reminding me ‘but
no one would want to go out with him..’
He kept saying, ‘you have to sell yourself..’ And
it was exhausting. You know, keep smiling and being up and being
sexy and it was all of that stuff which had sat inside me for
Q. Alfie wears some great clothes, did you have any input
on the wardrobe?
A. I didn’t really need to. I was in great hands.
Charles has impeccable taste and he was talking about how, in
the modern day, it’s all about veneer and caring, too much
about the wrong things. My one input was that when I turned up
for the wardrobe thing, there were racks of suits and shirts and
I said ‘this guy is a limo driver he can’t have bought
all of this..’
I said ‘I want three suits, five shirts, two ties, two pairs
of shoes and a pair of jeans..’ that’s it. Because
this guy hasn’t got any money.
Q. You’ve resisted
playing a big heart throb character in the past. Was that a conscious
A. Not a conscious decision. I just didn’t feel
that I had been asked to play a part that was a romantic Lothario,
appearance-driven guy. We are all so obsessed with how we look,
aren’t we? This was the first time I felt that I was able
to pull a part like this off, like there was more going on in
him and in the piece than just a kind of story about a pretty
boy and a pretty girl and they fall in love. It felt like there
was something else underneath and I liked that.
Q. Would you describe Alfie as a dandy?
A. Yeah, I think Alfie is absolutely a dandy of today,
and I think David Beckham is a perfect example of a dandy (of
today).. He is, he’s a dandy. He can afford to be, he’s
a brilliant...he enjoys what he wears.
Q. What is your own opinion of Alfie’s lifestyle
and how would you look at women having the same lifestyle as he
A. I think the interesting thing about revisiting this
film is that women can watch this film and relate to Alfie now
as much as men. I think the most interesting element is that 40
years of sexual liberation and revolution for women has brought
them to the same spot with the same thought process and inner
thinking and workings as men.
What’s my opinion? I guess the fact that I got married when
I was 22 and had three kids by the age of 30 says a lot about
my opinion on Alfie’s lifestyle.
I like to think that I had my moment on the pier outside of Manhattan
when I was about 19, when I realised that going out and going
to clubs and getting drunk and trying to go out with someone is
exhausting and it ain't going to get you anywhere.
Q. Do you remember your first date?
A. I’ve never had any confidence with women. I
can’t remember my first date, I think it was probably at
a swimming baths when I was about six (laughs). With me I was
always obsessed with the movies, so I probably went to see a film.
Q. Is there a bit of Alfie in you?
A. I think one of the best lines in the Bible is ‘treat
others as you would have them treat you..’
Q. You are working very hard at the moment. Six films
coming out, a new movie with Sean Penn just announced...
A. The funny thing is I finished Closer in March this
year and I haven’t worked since and I won’t work again
until the beginning of December.
All of these films came in a row over a period of two years and
it was the first time I had embarked on a series of films so close
together, it was simply they were all very interesting.
They were all very different with incredible directors wanting
to take me in different directions, they all seemed to compliment
and contrast with one another, and they all worked out logistically
because most of them were shot in London, where I live and my
It’s no secret I was going through a divorce, so it was
good to channel emotional energy and a lot of time into something
positive, instead of tearing my hair out.
I don’t know if it’s a shame or what that they are
all coming out within a few months, but I hope people will enjoy
the variety, I hope they will realise that they are certainly
not treading on each other’s toes.
And yes, I’m doing a film with Sean Penn and Meryl Streep
called All The King’s Men in New Orleans.
Q. How do you deal with the level of scrutiny that comes
with so many movies being out?
A. In the end, it’s not so much the effect it has
on your work, it’s more the effect it has on your private
life and therefore on your children and I’m immediately
responsible for them as their father and responsibility stretches
to how I put myself out there as a public figure, as an actor
and I know nowadays that it has repercussions on them, so I guide
myself by them and indeed have to kind of structure my life, my
living circumstances and how I portray myself for them, really.
Q. Was it difficult filming the intimate scenes in the
A. It always depends on little things like what time
of day it is and who it is. I remember doing one at seven in the
morning and everyone had just had coffee and you never felt less
sexy in your life.
It was ‘hello, nice to meet you, we are going to kiss..’
(laughs). Days like that, no one really wants to do it.
Other days, the moment and the dramatic content takes you there
and it’s the same as building up to an argument and screaming
at each other.
It’s about finding the right moment as an actor and that
is made easier by circumstance, and by the person working opposite
you and how easy they are.
It’s always awkward because in the end it turns into a technial
feat. It’s like ‘wow, that was great, but did we get
And you got it, but the lighting was wrong, or they were slightly
out of focus and then you have to go back. It’s just part
and parcel of making film.
Q. What qualities do you appreciate in a woman?
A. Humour, intelligence and I have to say, and I know
this is incredibly misogynistic, but I do love a woman who can
cook. I really do. My mum was a great cook and I like cooking,
I like food.
Q. Did you learn anything about seducing a woman that
you didn’t know before when making this film?
A. My mum was a very strong woman, a very strong influence
in my life, and she was very influential at being very nice and
polite and friendly, and I could never pull women and I realised
that I should have been an arsehole (laughs).