Acting icons, Oscar-winners and octogenarians Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman show no sign of slowing down. They have teamed up with fellow heavyweight Alan Arkin to star in the heist movie Going in Style, which tells of three retirees from an American steel factory who see their pensions taken away. With growing financial burdens and no way of paying the bills they are forced to think of the unthinkable. They plan a bank robbery.
The films is an adaptation of the 1979 movie of the same name, which featured George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, although it has been updated to highlight some of the concerns afflicting today’s retirees. It also focuses more on the heist itself as it pitches this triumvirate as a bunch of unlikely action stars.
“I get scripts all the time, but this one was special,” Caine says. “I loved the fact that it was a comedy, which I rarely get, and also the quality of the relationships. It’s a very charming film, and very funny, but it has depth. And it was a chance to work with Morgan and Alan and, really, from an actor’s point of view, how much better can it get than that?”
With Caine and Freeman having appeared in the recent Batman/Dark Knight trilogy, and both Now You See Me and its sequel, Going in Style is the sixth film to feature both men.
Do you feel that your generation has changed attitudes towards retirement? You’re both still working, for a start…
Michael Caine: I’m not sure. I work in order to do something good. I also work for money! I do get paid but I only do what I actually think is going to be good. I don’t do work that is rubbish. I don’t do commercials and that sort of thing.
Morgan Freeman: I can’t say that, unfortunately! (laughs)
Michael Caine: Actually, I did do a commercial for Sky about a year ago, which shows you how to get all the stations. They paid me a fortune to do that. That’s why I did it! I bought my daughter a house with the money!
You both look in terrific shape. Do you feel your age?
Michael Caine: My legs are all rotten in the morning. I have got sciatica but it is okay. So long as I am still here, I don’t give a toss! I just want to be here. If you get up in the morning and you get out of bed and you don’t feel anything, you are dead (laughs).
Morgan Freeman: I get up in the morning and I look in the mirror. If I didn’t do that, I’d probably think I was only about 55.
Michael Caine: I don’t look in the mirror very much. I feel about 60. I am actually 84.
Morgan Freeman: I don’t know how I feel in terms of age. People ask whether you feel your age. Well, it is the first time I am here so I can’t compare it!
Michael Caine: What I don’t like is when someone dies and they say, ‘He had a good innings.’ Had a good innings? I’m 84 and I haven’t started batting yet (laughs). Good innings, 84!! My grandfathers lived well in their 90s.
Morgan Freeman: You got long-term genes, Michael.
Michael Caine: Maybe. It is all in the genes. That reminds me of a joke my daughter told me. I sent her to a very expensive school in Beverley Hills. She came back from her first day at school and said, ‘What’s the similarity between something hereditary and diarrhoea?’ I said I didn’t know and she said, ‘They both run in your genes!’ I said, I am paying 25-grand for you to learn that (laughs)!
The guys you play in the film had to retire because they can’t work in a steel mill at their age. But with acting you can keep on going. You must enjoy that?
Michael Caine: If they need someone who is 100 you get the job!
Morgan Freeman: Lionel Barrymore worked for years in a wheelchair. I just watched him yesterday in Down to the Sea in Ships. It brought tears to my eyes.
Michael Caine: The men we play in the film have had it tough. I play Joe. He has a granddaughter whom he adores, and her mum is a single mother who works very hard but it’s not enough. Joe is just trying to make the payments on their home and keep it all going. But now the bank is going to foreclose on the house and they have to be out in 20 days. It’s tough having no money.
Both of you were poor when you were younger…
Morgan Freeman: Hell yeah. I remember one Saturday in Los Angeles I went over to a friend’s house around 11 o’clock in the morning and her first question to me was, ‘When did you eat last?’ And I said, ‘Wednesday.’ That’s poor.
Michael Caine: My father died of liver cancer in hospital. I went to collect his belongings and they gave me one pound, thirteen shillings and tuppence. It was in my father’s pocket and that’s all he had. He had no bank account. He had nothing. We had a radio which was two and sixpence a week. He didn’t even own a radio. We were renting it. The problem was that he was a gambler. And so I have never gambled in my life. Never ever.
Morgan Freeman: My grandmother had all of us one time in her house. She lived in a three-room shotgun house. She only had one child, my mother, but my mother was a rolling stone. She had five kids, and all of us seven were in that three-room house living off her. She made $30 a week for a six-day week.
Michael Caine: My mother was an office cleaner, a charlady. I worked as a labourer. I came out of the Army when I was 20 after my National Service. I wanted to be an actor, not because I wanted to be rich and famous; I knew I couldn’t be because of my background, accent, the class system in England. I was working in a factory loading butter when I came out of the Army and an old man was working with me. He said, ‘What are you doing this for?’ I said I wanted to be an actor and he told me to go up the West End, Charing Cross Road. He said that there is a newsagent there and you can buy a newspaper called The Stage. I did that and I saw a job: stage manager to play small parts and that’s what I took. It was in Horsham in East Sussex. That was the start of my professional poverty because I was earning about ten quid a week in the factory but I earned just three pounds ten a week in that theatre. The flat where I slept cost about £3 so I only had ten shillings for the rest of the week. But as the stage manager I used to hope for plays with meals because I got to order the food. So I always ordered triple the food that we needed and I would eat the rest! That was being poor!
Morgan Freeman: Even today, every time I go in to a hotel room, I turn out the lights. Look at this room – every light is on!
Michael Caine: The great lesson about being poor is you don’t want to be poor again.
Do you enjoy your money because of where you come from?
Michael Caine: Bloody hell, yes! I believe in God and a reporter asked me why. I said, ‘If you had had my life you would have to!’ There’s no other reason for it! I have had so far to this day, the best life I could possibly have thought of. Also, the great thing in my life is family. I am a big family man. I have the most wonderful family and that’s my joy. Every day for me is just a joy to wake up and see my grandchildren. It is lovely.
Going in Style is the sixth film that you both feature in. Had you become firm friends already?
Michael Caine: Yes. We both worked on the Batman films but that wasn’t like this film where we have got actual scenes together and were together the whole time. In Batman we were in different areas. We wouldn’t be called on the same day. Although I think in the first scene on Batman Begins we were both in it.
Morgan Freeman: Yes, that’s right. We didn’t have lines together. But threw each other lines every once in a while.
Michael Caine: Yes. But we have known each other a long time. We met each other years ago in the Four Seasons in New York.
Morgan Freeman: It was a brunch and he was there and I am sure that Shakira [Caine, his wife] was there that day.
Michael Caine: Yes, she was. Her brothers all live in New York.
Morgan Freeman: And we just bumped into each other and it was just a hello Michael, hello Morgan type thing. Then we would run into each other from time to time. And I am fan, a big, big fan.
Michael Caine: So am I. We are mutual fans.
What does each of you bring to the friendship?
Michael Caine: Humour. We both have a similar sense of humour.
Morgan Freeman: Respect. Solitude. I leave him alone and he leaves me alone! (laughs)
Michael Caine: Yes. We don’t exactly pop round for lunch. He lives in Mississippi and I live in London. So we don’t pop over for lunch unexpectedly. But it’s always like this with movies. You make friends on a movie and then you don’t see them for five years. Two of my best friends when I was young were Sean Connery and Roger Moore and they emigrated and I never saw them. Well, I did The Man Who Would Be King with Sean which is where that friendship showed up very well. Then I did a movie with Roger but Roger has not been very well so I have not seen him for a while.
Didn’t Roger predict your success, Sir Michael?
Michael Caine: He did. I had done a play on the BBC TV years ago and I was walking along the street with Terence Stamp who was my closest friend. We were sharing a flat. We were both out of work and were on our arses and we saw Roger Moore coming who was a big star on the television. Then he started coming towards me and I said, ‘What’s he coming here for?’ And he came up to me and said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘Michael Caine,’ and he said, ‘I saw you in a play last night. You are going to be a star, Michael.’ And he walked away. That was the first time I met Roger but years later we became very close friends.
Morgan Freeman: Gee whizz! You remind me of the time I was in Santiago, a kid in the Air Force, and on Sundays in this club we used to go to they had jam sessions. I got up and sang. I went back to my booth after and this redhead came over and she said, ‘You are really something,’ and she had a silver chain with a medal and she pointed out a St. Christopher on this medal. She said, ‘You are going to be a star and I want you to have this to remember that I said it.’ This was in 1957. And I didn’t lose it until about 1997. I lost it. I thought I had gone to bed with it on. But I have never seen it since that night. But I kept that talisman. She said I was going to be a star. Well, I am still working on it (laughs). I think there’s hope!
Going in Style opens on Friday 7 April.