Jude Law and Michael Caine Uncover "Sleuth"

New York Daily News, 7 October 2007
By Joe Neumaier

Turnabout is foul play in "Sleuth." The cat-and-mouse drama, opening Friday, is a wholesale revamp of Anthony Shaffer's 1970 play, made into a film in 1972 with Laurence Olivier playing an older mystery writer and Michael Caine as the young hothead in love with the other man's wife, who becomes enmeshed in a game of one-upsmanship. In this version, directed by Kenneth Branagh, Caine, 74, now plays wile Andrew Wyke, and Jude Law, 34, is Milo, the cocky chap who visits Andrew's English estate. (Caine and Law previously shared the role of laddie cad "Alfie," in 1966 and 2004, respectively.)

In the new "Sleuth," however, Nobel-winning playwright Harold Pinter used just the core of Shaffer's play, infusing it with loads of sexual tension. Recently, Caine and Law - "Lord Oscarville" and "the movie star," as Branagh calls them - riffed with their director ("Johnny Shakespeare boy") on what it's all about.

There's more to this film than just a two-man game of, "Who's tricking who?"

Kenneth Branagh: One of the things I loved about the script is that it delivers on its thriller aspects, but rereading it, and shooting it with the boys, made me think again about what it actually meant.

Michael Caine: Plus, there's a lot of humor in it. And in acting, you really do need to be a straight man, not a comedian. The straight man doesn't try to be funny. The more human and ordinary you are when saying dialogue that's this pointed, everyone in the audience thinks, "...Geez, he said that the way we all say things."

Jude Law: And that's very much Harold Pinter's style, isn't it? He sticks a knife in with a velvet glove.

The face-to-face showdown these guys have gets very tough, even physical.

KB: We didn't want to get in the way of Pinter's style and wit, but at the same time as a writer he gives an invitation to actors to [bring] moments of heat. Here, I think there's a real wildness. When Michael suddenly explodes, you feel like a skin has been peeled off as he growls, "My wife's mine! She belongs to me!" That feels like it's coming out of something very primal.

JL: I think that's the key word: "Primal." And it was great fun to see, in hindsight, what came out of it, instead of anything that we'd planned. There are three stages to my character - first a sort-of presentation as Milo shows what he hopes to be seen as; then he performs, and shows what he's good at; and then the "reveal" of who this man is really going to be. A metamorphosis like that demands physicality.

You and Olivier didn't play the sexual dynamic that's in this one, Michael.

MC: No. The thing here is a homeoerotic subtext; in the earlier one, there was a massive class thing. And I played it in this new one as a lonely man who might want a companion, and ... the hell with the missus. Ken showed me a psychological treatise on morbid jealousy, in which there really are cases of men who tried to humiliate their wife's lover by engaging him in a homosexual relationship. Which would be the greatest humiliation for the woman, if her lover left her for the husband.

KB: And then we have this third character in the story, which is Andrew's house. It's a declaration of his personality, and used to overwhelm the younger man, in a way: "Here's my expensively designed home, here's my art collection, here's my complete mastery of everything technological, so don't think I'm not with it."

JL: Yet when [an offer comes], Milo does a very clever thing - he repeats the offer. It's like anything: If you asked, "You want to go to breakfast?" And I said, "You're ... asking me to go to breakfast," the mere repetition of it raises the stakes, without anything actually being decoded.

MC: We had three weeks of intense rehearsals. In '72, we had about five days of rehearsal. Olivier was having a nervous breakdown, 'cuz he didn't know what to do 'til he got a false moustache. It was more rehearsing a nervous breakdown!

JL: Wow!

KB: Both Michael and Jude burrowed into these roles in a way I hadn't ever seen from them previously. They are X-ray parts, and they were raw and vulnerable.

JL: I love seeing performances that don't require great physical change but that still make me say, "Did you see that?"

MC: I'm about to do a new role that actually requires a lot of change ... but when the director asked me to grow out my nose and ear hair, I said, "No, that's too much!" I'm not doing nose-hair parts. My wife said, "If you do that, I'll leave you!"

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