While Jeremy Irons is taking over as Alfred Pennyworth next year in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Michael Caine’s version of the character from the Dark Knight trilogy is still fresh in our minds. Arguably the most important person in Bruce Wayne’s life, Caine’s Alfred had a lot more to do in this film series, both in the Batcave and out of it. Caine has since worked with director Christopher Nolan on five other movies, including Inception and Interstellar, but when it came to his Batman Begins audition, it was a weird process.
At the time, Caine and his wife were living at their country place in England, and Nolan happened to be living near there. As Caine told THR, one Sunday morning, the director knocked on their door with the Batman Begins script in hand. Introducing himself, the Nolan told Caine that he wanted him to be in the movie. Caine correctly assumed he would play “the butler,” but as he read the screenplay, he saw that this Alfred was really the “foster father” in the reboot. Caine asked Nolan if he could leave the screenplay, which led to this reply:
He said, 'No. I want you to read it while I’m still here.' And that’s the first thing I found out about Chris: he is the most secretive person on earth. I know him so well — I had dinner sitting next to him, last night, for three hours. And I know nothing about his next project.’
While the superhero movie craze hadn’t quite yet reached pop culture phenomena-status when Batman Begins was released, it was still being worked on at a time when movies like X-Men and Spider-Man were enjoying enormous success. So keeping the plot elements a secret is understandable, but the fact that he hung around Caine’s house just to make sure any details weren’t leaked out was a bit extreme. Fortunately for Nolan, Caine liked what he read and took the role, giving this series not just a unique Alfred, but also kicking off Caine and Nolan’s regular collaborations.
Following in the footsteps of Michael Gough from the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman movies, Batman Begins’ Alfred continued to perform his butler duties in this new continuity, but was also a father figure to Bruce Wayne following the young billionaire’s parents being gunned down. Despite his reservations about Bruce striking terror into the hearts of criminals while dressed like a bat, Alfred went along with this mission until The Dark Knight Rises, when he left after Bruce willingly putting himself in danger to face Bane. However, Mr. Pennyworth finally saw his “son” (for all intents and purposes) move on with his life when he spotted him with Selina Kyle at a cafe in Florence.
With the Dark Knight trilogy concluded and the DCEU moving forward, Caine’s Alfred is just a memory now, but at least we can always pop in one of the three movies to see his performance again and again. The actor dealing with Nolan’s secrecy, on the other hand, isn’t something that will go away anytime soon.