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‘Sleuth’ mystery solved

Caine, Branagh match wits at <i>Variety</i> screening

“No” was the initial answer from Sir Michael Caine when “Sleuth” producer and co-star Jude Law approached his fellow British countryman about making an updated version of the 1972 film adaptation that starred Caine and Sir Lawrence Olivier. That is, until Law said the script was penned by Harold Pinter, who a half century ago cast a young Caine in the first play he wrote.

The former schoolmate jumped at the opportunity to act in another Pinter production.

“For 50 years (Pinter) wrote all this great stuff and I wasn’t in any of them,” Caine said to a chorus of laughter from the Arclight Theater audience at Thursday’s Variety screening of “Sleuth.” “I thought, ‘Listen, I made you. This is recompense.’ ”

Caine joined director Kenneth Branagh for a short but lively Q&A session as an anxious publicist waited to shuttle the knighted Englishman to his next destination.

Much of the conversation centered on Pinter’s script. Caine explained that the other reason he changed his mind about remaking Anthony Schafer’s Tony-award winning screenplay was that the movie isn’t a remake at all. “There’s not a line in the Pinter script that’s in the original one, so for me it was not a remake. There’s nothing there. What is there is the plot.”

“(Caine) has a kind of feel for Pinter’s dialogue, this superficially naturalistic dialogue which contains such menace and such humor,” said Branagh. “Pinter made a leaner, darker script than Schafer’s brilliant version and I felt when I read it that it was psychologically dirty and that it needed great casting and that’s what it got so for me it was a very exciting ‘yes.’ “