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What happened when Michael Caine met Stephen Hawking

The "Interstellar" star talks about his latest collaboration with director Christopher Nolan and meeting a personal hero

What does it take for Michael Caine to get star-struck? Meeting Stephen Hawking. And he recently got to do just that. Caine's work in Christopher Nolan's new film, "Interstellar," gave him the chance to become friendly with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who in turn introduced Caine to Hawking — who himself only had one thing on his mind, as it turned out: Caine's wife.

When Christopher Nolan explained this project to you, how did you wrap your head around it?
Well, I was fascinated by it because I knew Kip Thorne's book about black holes and all that stuff, and then I found out that Kip Thorne was the technical adviser and that I was going to be — really, not playing Kip Thorne the person — but a Kip Thorne character. That's why I grew a beard, I wanted to look like Kip. And then he introduced me to Stephen Hawking, who came and saw the movie! I was so stunned, I nearly burst into tears. I mean, meeting Stephen Hawking, my God. It was incredible.

What was your interaction with him like?
He can hear every word you say, but he can only reply on the computer with a muscle in his eye. One muscle in the corner of his eye, it's down to that. I met him in the corridor with Kip, and Kip said, "Stephen's got a message for you." I said, "What is it?" He said, "He wants to meet your wife." (laughs) He loves the ladies. I introduced him to Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, my daughters. Every pretty girl that was around, I introduced him to the lot of them. He had a great time.

Getting to work with Kip had to be an added bonus, as well.
Also it's a mine of information for someone like me. I'm not an expert on astrophysics. I mean, I know quite a lot about it, of course, but I'm not an expert. There was black holes, but then there was wormholes, and I didn't understand that. You realize how dumb you are. I was all right up until the third dimension, then the fourth dimension. And then when we got to the fifth dimension, I got confused. But the people younger than me can understand it, I'm sure.

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At what point do you just assume that you're the voice of reason in Christopher Nolan's head?
I seem to be that all time, don't I? (laughs) I'm always the one who's sort of there representing the people who stayed behind. Like in "Batman," I was the realist, saying, "You're going to do what? You're going to put on a suit and go to the top of the building?" I seem to represent the people on Earth who don't go out and actually do the things. But in some cases, as in this picture, I'm the one who thinks it up.

Maybe next time he'll let you go on the mission.
No, I'm too old now. I'm 81 now. By the time we do another I'll probably be 84. (laughs) No, I think it could work, we'll see what he gets up to. You never know where Chris is going to come from. I've done it six times now, and I'll do it a seventh if he comes up with one. He will, and I'm hoping there will be something in it for me.

At this point, it would be rude of him not to include you.
Yeah, he's got to do it, hasn't he, really? Otherwise he'll upset an old guy.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick

 
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