"I'm so pleased," the Englishman, 76 – himself a double Oscar winner – tells PEOPLE of the posthumous Academy Award presented Ledger in February. "I thought that it was very important for his family as well. I was a big fan of his from the first time that I met him."
Caine – whose latest film, Is Anybody There?, opens April 17 – says he had a hunch when he watched Ledger work that the young actor would be honored come Oscar time. "I was absolutely stunned by the way that he did it and the energy that went into it," he says. "I thought if anyone is going to better that and get an Academy Award above him, I'd pay good money to see that."
Bale's BlowoutWhat did surprise Caine was his Dark Knight costar Bale's profanity-laced tirade on the set of this summer's Terminator: Salvation.
"That stunned me, because he's not like that at all," says Caine. "I would never have imagined Christian doing that. It's completely out of character."
But the veteran actor says he can relate to the meltdown. "I'm more like that than he is," he says of Bale, 35. "You're liable to get a volley off of me if you walk around during my takes."
Caine recalls losing his own cool on the set of 1970's The Last Valley after a horse-riding scene went awry: "I outdid Christian by about 30 minutes and with more language than he knew."
Riddle Me ThisCaine is expecting to return as Alfred Pennyworth for one more Batman film – if and when director Christopher Nolan, with whom he's made Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight, is ready. He jokes, "I hope I'm still alive."
Caine reveals the next Batman villain "would probably be The Riddler," and he thinks the right actor may be able to rival Ledger's indelible performance. "I thought it was going to be a tough job for anyone who played the role after Jack Nicholson" in 1989's Batman, he says. "Now Heath is the Joker. So we'll see."