We're fast approaching the end of all the entries I compiled for my book on the many, many films of Michael Caine. I would have stopped at The Actors, the last movie to have a complete entry in my book, but a visitor to this blog requested any available info on Secondhand Lions - so here it is. As you'll see below, this entry was written before the film was released in the US during autumn 2003. It was well reviewed, and a success for a mid-budget movie, grossing more than $40 million in North America. A lovely family film, you can see Secondhand Lions on DVD, including the original ending and other informative special features...
Cast: Michael Caine (Garth), Robert Duvall (Hub), Haley Joel Osment (Walter).
Crew: Tim McCanlies (director), David M Kirschner, Corey Sienega and Scott Ross (producers), Tim McCanlies (writer), Patrick Doyle (music), Jack Green (cinematography), David Movitz (editor), David J Bomba (production designer).
Synopsis: In the 1960s young teenager Walter is left with his eccentric uncles Garth and Hub for the summer. They regale the boy with fantastic tales about their own youth…
The screenplay for Secondhand Lions was written by director Tim McCanlies a decade ago, but his efforts to get the picture made were repeatedly thwarted by its quirky subject matter. ‘It took ten years to get this made,’ he told Variety in 2002. ‘People always loved the script, but it sort of defied easy categorisation.’ McCanlies had made a promising debut as a writer/director with Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 (1998). He also shared a BAFTA Children’s’ Award for scripting the animated featured film The Iron Giant (1999).
Producer David M Kirschner told Variety that McCanlies’ script was inspirational. ‘If you look on the ‘net, you’ll see these lists of the best scripts that have never been made – this is one of them.’ The project finally got a green light to begin shooting in 2002, thanks to financial backing from special effects company Digital Domain and New Line Cinema.
For the uncles McCanlies cast two highly regarded veterans, Caine and Robert Duvall. The pair had worked together 26 years earlier on The Eagle Has Landed (1976), and Duvall won the best actor Oscar the year Caine was nominated for Educating Rita (1983). For the teenage boy McCanlies chose Haley Joel Osment, who became a child star thanks to his performance in The Sixth Sense (1999). The boy was Oscar nominated for that role, but the best supporting actor award went to Caine for The Cider House Rules (1999).
Secondhand Lions was shot on location in Texas at Duvall’s insistence, beginning in September 2002. Caine told Premiere magazine the film was life-enhancing and funny. ‘There’s even a secondhand lion. We buy one because we didn’t want a dog. It was cheap!’ The role required Caine be convincing while speaking in a Texan accent, something he spent two months developing. ‘It’s a good accent to be funny in, especially me. You see me with a big cowboy hat, and I think I look funny right from the start.’
Caine told the L A Times about the first time he used his accent on set, in front of an all-Texan film crew: ‘I was probably as nervous as I’ve been in a long time. This role was a tremendous departure, the most American character I’ve ever played.’ He chose the role for the chance to work with Duvall and Osment, and because of the script. ‘It has to be one of the best endings I’ve ever seen in a movie.’
McCanlies admitted worrying about Caine’s accent before filming began. ‘A bad one is like nails on a blackboard to a Texan,’ the director told the L A Times. ‘A week out, I was bugging him to hear it.’ But McCanlies was happy with the results. During shooting Caine performed an eight-minute storytelling sequence in a single take. Secondhand Lions was released at US cinemas on September 26 2003.