With a rather sheepish grin, director Charles Shyer admits that in the past, he’s had his “Alfie period.”
After breaking up with his previous wife, director Nancy Myers, Charles was out on the town, footloose and fancy free and somewhat phobic about committing to another long term relationship.
“I’ve been like that kind of guy, like Alfie,” he says. “But I think what changed me was that it was a road to nowhere and that’s what you realise ultimately. But to really love and count on somebody is a hard thing because it means you have to trust them and that’s difficult to do. And that’s Alfie’s problem. He finds it hard to let himself get involved.”
Charles’ relatively brief Alfie type lifestyle of serial dating ended quite quickly and he is now happily married to Deborah, a psychiatrist (“perfect for me,” he jokes) but some of those bachelor experiences have ended up on screen in his version of Alfie, which stars Jude Law in the title role as an English charmer let loose in contemporary Manhattan with only one thing on his mind - sex with as many beautiful women as possible.
“My whole thing was that I never wanted to be alone for the holidays – but then after a while it was like ‘but I don’t even know this person, what am I doing?’ And I used that in the film because Alfie doesn’t want to be alone then either.
“You know, so much of this stuff comes from your own life. The breaking up with the Sienna Miller character (Nikki) and Jude is like a scene right out of my own life. It was horrible, horrible, horrible watching from a window, this girl crying on the street. But I put it in the movie and it’s kind of cathartic.”
When co writer Elaine Pope first approached Charles with the idea of remaking the 1960s classic Alfie, which starred Michael Caine as a London based sexual predator, he was initially resistant. Charles had revisited classic films before - with great success it should be noted - with Father of the Bride and The Parent Trap and was wary of tackling another.
I didn’t want to do any more remakes, he laughs. They come to you with another remake and it’s like ‘oh no!’ Because you guys, those of you that are critics, you are already like taking aim at us when we do a remake and I don’t ******* want that, you know?
“But I wanted Alfie to be a stand alone movie. It’s like Jude says ‘if you do Hamlet, they are not going to accuse you of it..’ but if you do Alfie, it’s sacrilege’. The main thing for me with this movie was make it
a stand alone. I didn’t want to make the same movie again because they’ve already done that movie..”
Shyer’s new take is very much of it’s time. In particular the women who share Alfie’s life are vastly different from the down trodden, compliant women of the first movie. These are contemporary women who are Alfie’s equal - in many cases more emotionally mature - who know what they want
even if they do succumb to his brand of charm.
Law is joined by a sparkling array of talent in Alfie - Marisa Tomei plays single mom Julie, Nia Long is Linette, the gorgeous ex girlfriend of his best pal Marlon (Omar Epps), Jane Krakoswski is a bored housewife, Dorie, who seeks thrills and passion outside of wedlock, Sienna Miller is Nikki a
beautiful, dangerously unstable, hard drinking party girl and Susan Sarandon is Liz, a mega successful businesswoman who knows exactly what she wants and might just be more predatory even than Alfie.
The film was shot on location in New York and in the studio in London with some scenes filmed in Manchester, England, doubling for parts of Manhattan. Dave Stewart and Mick Jagger collaborated on the soundrack which features three new Jagger songs and teenage soul sensation Joss Stone with a stunning new version of Alfie.
Shyer is one of Hollywood’s most successful writer directors. His films include Irreconcilable Differences, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride II, The Parent Trap and The Affair of the Necklace.
Q. What was the thinking behind filming in Manchester, England?
A. There was no thinking behind it (laughs) I think it was ‘how do you save money?’ Honest to God, that’s what it was. It works, though, because it looks great. The movie is made with this thing called sale lease back where if you spend 70 per cent of your budget in the European Community you get 11 per cent of the budget back, so we did a lot in England.
Q. What was that like?
A. Well, originally it was like ‘well you can make London look like New York..’ And I was like ‘are you crazy?’ London looks nothing like New York. Basically we shot three or four weeks here in New York and the rest was all there and we created down town New York in Manchester and Liverpool so all of those scenes in the cafe with Marissa and all that stuff is in Manchester and I thought Sophie Becher (production designer) did such a great job. The movie has a lot of style that you can attribute to her.
Q. Did you at any point talk to Michael Caine about maybe doing a cameo?
A. I talked to him a number of times about the movie but I never wanted to do that, I think that is kind of cheesy.
Q. He is very gracious about the whole thing isn’t he?
A. Oh yeah, he loves Jude and he is coming to the premier and he’s into it.
Q. What was the collaboration with Mick Jagger like?
A. He’s amazing. The whole thing about Mick is that you realise that he is an incredibly hard worker and he’s a perfectionist and for a guy who has been doing what he’s been doing for as long as he’s been doing it, we would be at Abbey Road and he would listen to it and go ‘let me just go back, I can do those three words better...’ I mean, he and Dave Stewart just worked and worked. “I can get this guitar riff a little better...’ I would give him a note and he would go ‘let me go work on it..’
It was a fabulous collaboration. and I think he came up with some wonderful songs. When he came up with that line ‘you won’t let the love in....’ to me that encapsulated the whole movie and that’s who this
character was. I think it’s the best work Mick has done in years, it’s like Sticky Fingers period Rolling Stones and that ballad reminds me of Wild Horses. You know, the Rolling Stones are like gods to me (laughs).
Q. Did you get the ending you wanted?
A.Oh yeah, thank God. Because it’s not a Hollywood ending, it’s kind of the opposite of a Hollywood ending but I think it works for the movie. I don’t know if it’s a commercial ending but I hope people will accept it.
Q. Do men like Alfie change?
A. I don’t know. I’ve been like that kind of guy. I think what changed me was that it was a road to nowhere, that’s what you realise ultimately. I mean, to really love and count on somebody is a hard thing because it means you have to trust them and that’s difficult to do.
Q. What sort of age were you when you were like Alfie?
A. Various ages. I got divorced six, seven years ago and I went through this thing, I flipped out a little bit. But you know, you are a director, you are kind of cute (laughs) the world is your oyster.
Q. Did you find ultimately find it a rather lonely way to live?
A.Exactly. That’s exactly it. My whole thing was that I never wanted to be alone for the holidays - but then after a while it was like ‘but I don’t even know this person, what am I doing?’ People always asked me if I was scared making movies. I’ve never been scared about that, I was scared about my life, you know, scared about my life, my kids.
Q. But you re married didn’t you?
A. Yes. It’s good. She is a doctor, a psychiatrist so it’s kind of perfect for me. Her name is Deborah, she has a cameo in the movie - she’s the school teacher who walks past Alfie with the kids. She did a good job and she had never acted or anything. I thought she was great (laughs)
Q. You referred earlier to ‘new misogynism’ when you were talking about men like Alfie. What did you mean by that?
A. I think I see a rise in misogynism and somehow I see it tied into this new conservatism that has swept the country. I think women are treated worse by men now. It’s like ‘how to get laid and spend no money, how to not be with single moms, order in get laid and escape... .’ And that’s kind of like the MO. I think the movie definitely has a point of view, definitely has a message.
Q. It’s quite a moral tale really
A. It is, it’s a cautionary tale.
Q. It’s interesting watching it because you do empathise with Alfie even though he is doing some terrible things
A. But I think the difference is that you don’t sympathise with him and maybe it’s a fine line but it’s there. I mean, who doesn’t want to sleep with Nia Long (laughs). And somebody said to me ‘but he doesn’t use a condom when he sleeps with the Nia character..’ and I was like ‘come on man, that situation arises and you are going to go ‘let’s go and buy a condom..’ No, you would throw caution to the wind. I never thought he would even think about that. He’s got a chance to sleep with this hot chick on a pool table? Forget it. But you know, in a way, the fact that she is the girlfriend of his friend should have been the condom, because you don’t cross that line.
Q. The women your film are very different from the women in the original film,,,,
A. The Susan Sarandon character is like a female Alfie. A lot of the scenes are drawn from experiences Elaine and I had, like the Nikki character, the beautiful girl. I remember I went out with this model, she was so beautiful, absolutely gorgeous, and she turned into this like insane person. You know, so much of this stuff comes from your own life. The breaking up with the Sienna character and Jude is like a scene right out of my own life. It was horrible, horrible, horrible watching from a window, this girl crying on the street. But I put it in the movie and it’s kind of cathartic. I don’t see these women any more screwed up than I am or you are. I mean, we’re all kind of screwed up, aren’t we?
Q. There aren’t many actresses that can carry that kind of role, apart from Susan Sarandon..
A. She was unbelievable. And she was unbelievably sexy. When they are together on that couch you don’t think she’s older or younger, you are just with them. I’m always amazed by that but that’s because she is incredibly hot and he is too and she’s just good. She’s a five time Academy Award nominee.
Q. Her age is part of the dynamic of that relationship…
A. I know but can you look better? She is so gorgeous and she great. She also loved playing this part, loved putting on those clothes and putting on those sun glasses, she was digging it. She said ‘this is so much fun...’
Q.Was this something you had been thinking of making for a long time?
A. This was Elaine’s idea. I didn’t want to do any more remakes (laughs). They come to you with another remake and it’s like ‘oh no!’ Because you guys, those of you that are critics, you are already like taking aim at us when we do a remake and I don’t ******* want that, you know? I mean, I want it to be a stand alone movie and I don’t want to be accused of anything. It’s like Jude says ‘if you do Hamlet, they are not going to accuse you of it..’ but if you do Alfie it’s sacrilege. The main thing for me with this movie was make it a stand alone. Don’t make the same movie again because they have already made that movie already.
Q. Did you know much about Sienna Miller?
A. Nothing. She came into read in New York and I thought she was American. She has this accent and everything and then she is totally English! Now she had done this TV series called Keen Eddie that wasn’t on the air yet, she came in and read and I had this image of Julie Christie and Darling. And Sienna came in and read and within three sentences I knew we had found Nikki. I just knew. I called Elaine and called Paramount and Paramount were like ‘who? Who are you talking about?’ And that was a kind of battle to convince them and then I got Jude on board and he thought she was great and obviously months later their relationship evolved but the initial thing was that she was right for the part. And it’s a hard part, it really is, she’s beautiful and can act. There are a lot of girls who we all know who are beautiful but can’t act - she can act.
Q. When their relationship developed on set did that help or hinder you as a director?
A. Oh it was great, I mean, they are both totally professional. They are English you have to understand (laughs). It was about the work and that’s all it was about. It was fantastic. I think it only helped because it just made things easier. No, it was great, because they are great people, they really are and that’s not just bullshit that I would say, I’ve said that stuff before in interviews, but this is true.
Q. What did keeping Alfie English - an Englishman in New York - mean to your film?
A. I loved that he was away from his roots. I loved that he had nobody to turn to at the end of the day, there were no countrymen, there was nothing he grew up with, he was really alone. And I also thought that for a guy like Alfie to philosophise about Americans was kind of a cool thing. I think that the cross cultural thing works for us, I think it would have been a much smaller canvass if it had been in England, so I thought it broadened everything.