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Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel on "Youth," Nude Scenes, and Independent Films

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On the eve of Veterans' Day, KCET Cinema Series hosted a screening of the film "Youth" and held Q&A with actors Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine at Sherman Oaks' ArcLight Cinemas. After the screening, Harvey Keitel reminded the crowd that November 10 is the birthday of the U.S. Marines. Keitel himself was a Marine. Michael Caine, who stars in the film with Keitel, mentioned his own time in the British Army, serving in Korea. The actors' shared military pasts, Caine later says, helped them connect with each other as they played close friends in "Youth."

Directed by Paolo Sorrentino ("The Great Beauty," "This Must Be the Place"), "Youth made its debut at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. In it, Caine plays a conductor named Fred Ballinger who the Queen of England requests to emerge from retirement. Keitel plays Ballinger's close friend, Mick Boyle, a director working with a group of much younger writers on his anticipated new film. Rachel Weisz co-stars as Ballinger's daughter. Paul Dano plays an actor struggling with his career and Jane Fonda makes an appearance as Boyle's muse. "Youth" opens in theaters on December 4.

Sponsored by E. Hofert Dailey Trust and the James and Paula Coburn Foundation, the KCET Cinema Series offers its members the chance to see advance film screenings followed by question-and-answer sessions led by Deadline columnist Pete Hammond. The nine-week winter series has already featured the newsroom-centric ensemble film "Spotlight" as well as "Brooklyn," starring Saoirse Ronan, and "Carol," an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's romance novel starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Listen to the entire interview or read a condensed version of Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine's conversation with Pete Hammond below.

Harvey Keitel on the difficult of summing up "Youth."

It's a little difficult to talk about this film. You've seen it, so I don't have to explain it to you. I always feel that the film, when I read the script was an offering, the way Paolo's other works were-- I'm referring to "The Great Beauty" and "Il Divo"-- and I did it for the reasons that Michael is saying and for what it meant to me, what it arose in me, what arose in me when I read the script. I'm sure you feel the same and that's why you're still sitting here. I feel maybe you could answer some of these questions and start a discussion about it because I'm at a loss.

On not sweating the haters.

Michael Caine: If you did like the picture, it's not unanimous because when we were standing over there, a man came out while we were waiting to come on and he said to me, "The worst piece of shit I've ever seen in my life." But, Harvey was great. Harvey said, "You should get another life then."

Harvey Keitel: That happened to me one time before in my life. A friend of mine in my acting class invited me to a birthday party, his birthday party, and I didn't know the people there, but this fellow was very close to me and I walked into the door. This is way, way back now, a long time ago. I forget the movie I did. And I walked in the door, I didn't know this guy and the first thing he said to me was, "I just saw your movie"-- I forget what it was, he said it was-- "It was a piece of shit." I said, "Go fuck yourself." I walked into the party, I said, "Who asked you?"

On performing nude scenes.

Michael Caine: The thing about it was that they never told us what was going to happen, which is why, if you see the looks on our faces...

I will tell you something, she was beautiful and she did this nude bit, then she had this rather difficult scene, as you saw in the picture. We all were prejudice that she was going to be rubbish. She, in actual fact, is a very, very good actress. She's a wonderful actress. I said to her when we finished the movie, don't you ever do a nude scene again, just work as an actress. Mind you, I'm a bit old guy with two daughters. I would have said the exact same thing to them.

Harvey Keitel: One thing about nude scenes and that's that actors do not do nude scenes.

They play an event and do that event with the best of their ability and where their conscious might take them, the way any of the artists in any of the arts would do. That's the way I and my colleagues look upon it.

Michael Caine: The thing about nude scenes for a man is that you would never do them though because, as an actor, you're in control of what the audience is doing and they're listening to you and everything. The moment you come on with no clothes on, you've lost their attention completely because they all start the conversation about what they're looking at. It all goes nuts. It's as big as my husbands or it's bigger than my husband's. And you're out there acting away and nobody is listening to a bloody word you're saying. Never do a nude scene if you're a male actor. Ladies, it's alright.

Harvey Keitel on "the magic of Paolo [Sorrentino]"

It's the magic of Paolo, these scenes he created, this story he wrote, this poem he wrote, this book or dance, I don't know what to call it, has so many things to reflect upon, in my life when I read the script and in everybody else's. It was magical to do everything he wrote, to be part of bringing that to life, to give me a chance to try to find myself in it the way any of the arts do when you see something worthwhile. It's to reflect upon and Paolo's work is, if nothing, that, events to reflect upon in my own life to learn more about myself and blah blah blah.

Youth Michele Garza.JPG

It's a very funny thing, from an actor's point of view, they don't shoot film anymore. After 10 or 12 minutes, you cut and then you change the reel. Now, it's all digital so you just keep going and it's a nightmare for actors. How many pages are we doing? He says, 15 and you go, "What, 15?"

I had a long scene with the queen's emissary. It was the first scene I did on the picture. He was asking me to play something for the queen and I was refusing. And I walked on the set for rehearsals and Paolo said, "we're going to shoot everything, we're just going to shoot."

I said, "We're not going to rehearse? We're going to rehearse on camera?" He said something interesting may happen. Maybe we'll get something on camera that we'll never get again. And so you do.

It makes it easy because if you fluff or anything, when you had film, you had to go back and start the scene all over again. Now, they just say, keep going. Keep going. Go back, repeat your line and keep going. So, you work in an extraordinarily relaxed atmosphere even though you're saying all the speeches and long speeches.

It takes away all the worries of the actors, so you can be this person.

Michael Caine on playing a conductor.

Oh, yeah. I had two conductors train me. When I finished with the Symphony Orchestra, the lead violinist came up to me and said, "You were better than the guy we had yesterday." I thought it was an incredible compliment. It was probably a lie, but it was a wonderful compliment.

On how Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel got to know each other.

Michael Caine: No, we never, we met once, but he didn't remember it. It was in a restaurant called Eat in New York on Madison Avenue. He came in and I said hello.

He thought I was a fan. And I was.

We just started this. What did it was the marine and the soldier.We had both been soldiers. It's not just soldiers, infantry soldiers are different from other people and so there's a sort of bond, which we had instantly. So, that worked and we worked from there.

On the bad movies that they have made.

Michael Caine: Oh, yeah, I've done a lot of them. Because you don't really know what's going to work at any given time. Also, for instance, I was in America, Shirley MacLaine had brought me over to star in a movie and I had never been in Hollywood or anything and there was a producer there that I got to know. He asked me to do a movie and I was, "Oh my God, I've been asked to do a movie." The last movie he had done was "Towering Inferno" with the two biggest stars in the world, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman and he asked me to do a movie and to play the lead and it was the biggest piece of shit I ever did, actually. It was called "The Swarm."

Harvey Keitel: I got, I run into trouble because I've done some crappy films also, but I had seen Michael had do these films that he is saying are crap and I thought he was terrific in anything he had ever done, so I tried to imitate him. That's why I've had these flops.

Michael Caine: You don't really know. It's not necessarily crap, it's just not a success. A lot of films are timing, when they came out and they died.

On working in independent films.

Harvey Keitel: I did Quentin Tarantino's first film and I did Abel Ferrara's film "The Bad Lieutenant" and people told me at that time, do not lower your price because you'll have a hard time getting your price back up. These are independent films that couldn't gather much money to make. Had I not lowered my price, those films would not have gotten made. The reason to do them is for the sake of what they are in and of themselves because you're inspired to do them. You're compelled to do them. Let's continue to do independent films because all of your stories are important. Not just Hollywood.

Michael Caine: I didn't tell anybody, but I would have done this film for nothing. But, I kept quiet.

On the biggest acting challenge in "Youth."

In the old days, movie stars came on and you saw their personality and that's what you paid to go and see-- Clark Gable and Robert Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. You didn't pay to see them play someone like you.

Harvey Keitel: When I left the movie, I said to Paolo, on my last day of shooting, according to him, I don't think I'm through filming the movie. They were all challenging scenes and very difficult for me and very beautiful for me at the same time.

Michael Caine: The whole thing was a challenge, really, because for me, as I choose the roles, as I grow older, I try to make it more difficult for myself. I'm my own critic and I try to play things, a classical composer is about as far away from me as it gets. I'm a sort of scumbag from the wrong side of the, you know what I mean, wrong side of the tracks. For me, the trick is to make it look easy and that's the hardest thing you can do in movies is make it look easy. Because all I want you to see, I don't want you to see an actor. I don't want you to see me. I want you to see a character.

That's what was different-- when I became an actor-- is people looked at me and said, "I bet if I met him, he would say hello and talk to me." I used to sit and look at Clark Gable and Robert Taylor and said, bloody hell, if I met them they would never speak to me. They're so fantastic. I wouldn't dare say anything to them.

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