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Michael Caine: “I don’t get the girl, I get the part”

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Michael Caine
Photo by Alex de Brabant
Short Profile

Name: Maurice Joseph Micklewhite
DOB: 14 March 1933
Place of Birth: London, England, UK
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Caine, what is it like to get older?

You are going to make every moment count. I mean, you better make every moment count. Live your life now; start in the morning. You mustn’t sit around waiting to die. When you die you should come into the cemetery on a motorbike, skid to a halt by the side of the coffin, jump in and say: “Great I just made it.”

So death doesn’t scare the hell out of you?

Well I always get worried when people say to me, “Oh we're having a retrospective of your work.” I always think it’s sort of a threat. You know, hurry up and die. So I always get a bit worried when those things happen and that makes me think of death, but I'm a stubborn bastard.

You just refuse to think about it too much?

You quite often see these middle aged people on television who’ve won the fight against cancer and now they want to live their lives differently and enjoy every moment. Before they just went along and now they’ve had this scare that they were going to die. I had that scare that I was going to die when I was nineteen when I was a soldier, so I have been living my life that way for sixty years now.

“You have to make sacrifices to stay alive longer.”

What happened to you as a soldier that made you appreciate every moment?

I was a soldier in Korea and I got into a situation where I knew I was going to die – like the people know they are going to die of cancer, except then we got out of it. But it lasted with me – I was nineteen. That formed my character for the rest of my life. The rest of my life I have lived every bloody moment from the moment I wake up until the time I go to sleep.

How do you always look on the bright side of life?

You’ve got to have the correct philosophy. They always ask me how I feel about getting old and I answer, “Compared to the alternative, it is fantastic.” You want to live as long as you can. What happens now is that even if you are crippled and you have to stay indoors, you can get a motorized vehicle and go around with it. You also have satellite television, computers, faxes and mobile phones. If you are paralyzed or something you can communicate all over the world without leaving your chair. That is a great thing, but I also take good care of my health. We all have been told not to smoke and take drugs in order to try and stay alive as long as possible now.

People usually have to learn from their own mistakes. Were you wild back in the day?

I mean, I did all of those things. I smoked cigarettes for a long time and fortunately I gave those up and smoked cigars and now I’ve given that up too. I also used to drink a lot and now I only drink wine in the evening with a meal and don’t drink in the daytime. You have to make sacrifices to stay alive longer.

A masterclass in film acting held by Michael Caine. Fascinating teachings on how to look into the camera - never blink!

Before you went into the army did you want to be an actor? When did you find out who you are and what you wanted to do?

It was after the war. I was in a youth club and they had all different things – basketball, amateur dramatic society, woodwork, art classes, everything. The way I found myself was, I was playing basketball with all these guys and on the way down from the gym every evening, I would look through this door with windows in it and in there was the amateur dramatic class. Every time I came down there I thought to myself, “All the prettiest girls in the club are in there and I’m upstairs with a load of guys?” (Laughs) That was the moment I decided to join the drama class.

I am sure your male friends were impressed by your decision...

All the guys thought that I was gay because I was the only guy in there. But there I was with all the prettiest girls. I got to do all the love scenes with them and got to kiss them because I was the only boy. That was great because I was trying to get laid but I was only fourteen and that way I at least got to kiss them. So that changed my life. It was women, really.

Does acting still give you the same kind of joy?

I don't do any odd script because I'm broke and I've got to pay the rent, which is what I used to do, you know. When I started I used to do every bloody film that came along because I was 30 before I made it. I was absolutely broke with a completely broke family. So I did a lot of films that weren't very good but they paid well. But that's where I learned how to do it, as well you know.

And now?

I do exactly what I want, when I want, where I want, with whom I want. Then it was the end of being a film star and becoming a film actor. I'm a film actor now. To be a film star you've got to be young and look like Brad Pitt and all that – when you get the girl. I don't get the girl anymore, I get the part.

“I choose the work I want to do and it makes me happy to go and do it.”

Did you ever think about giving up when you were broke?

No. People often ask me, “Do you ever give advice to young actors?” I say no. Never. And they say, “Why not?” And I say, “Because the only advice I ever got from more experienced older actors was to give it up.” They all looked at me and said, “Give it up Michael, you're not going to make it.” Every single person said the same thing: give it up. But I have some sort of built in insanity so I never stopped. I didn't give it up.

When did they stop telling you to give it up?

They haven't. They still tell me, “Michael give it up, you're not going to make it.”

You’re very down to earth for a film star, and you don't have an entourage outside waiting.

I sacked them all – they weren't doing enough arse kissing. (Laughs) No, socially I'm sort of a communist. I'm not impressed by the station of anybody. You all get treated exactly the same: very politely. I treat a housemaid the same way I'd treat the Queen: very polite and that's it.

You sound very content and at ease with yourself.

I am. I choose the work I want to do and it makes me happy to go and do it. Actually, I love going on a movie because it’s like the circus. My father was half gypsy so there's the gypsy thing in it. I'm never happier than packing and taking off for a new adventure. I'm a nomad and the unit is the tribe and you travel from here to there in caravans and you set up shop and you work and it’s wonderful.