By Ray Bennett
LONDON – Almost forty years ago, I created a weekly movie supplement in Canadian TV Guide called Bigscreen. I wanted a big name for the first edition and Hollywood publicist Jerry Pam facilitated a Q&A with his longtime client, Michael Caine. As Caine turns 90 today, here’s what he had to say when he was nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Educating Rita’ (above with Julie Walters).
Q: Did you think that ‘Educating Rita’ would be as well received as it has been?
Michael Caine: Yes, I did, because ‘Rita’ was a two-character play set in one room. Sometimes you see a play and you think, well, this would have to be extended to make a movie. ‘Rita’ looked like a movie that been crushed into one room. Every time anyone came in, they had to spend five minutes saying what had happened to them. In a movie, you can show it.
Q: Do you feel differently about your Oscar chances this time?
Caine: Yes, I do. I was absolutely sure with ‘Alfie’ (left) that I wouldn’t get it up against Paul Schofield in ‘A Man for All Seasons’ and I was absolutely sure with ‘Sleuth’ (pictured with Laurence Olivier below) that I wouldn’t get it up against Marlon Brando in ‘The Godfather’. This time, I think it’s a horse race. I think, probably, Robert Duvall has the edge but it really is an open field.
Q: How do you feel about the competitive aspect of the Oscars?
Caine: Well, I’ve been a completely non-compettive person throughout my life. I don’t have any sense of competition about the Oscars. I mean, it’s not the best actor or best performance, it’s the preferred performance of the year. I don’t think there is a winner.
Q: Is ‘Educating Rita’ your best work?
Caine: I think it is the best work I ever did because it’s the performance of a man who is completely unlike me, with whom I have nothing in common, and yet it’s obviously convinced people that I was that man. I’ve always tried to hide the machinery of acting so that you only see the person rather than an actor giving a performance. That’s the closest I ever came to it.
Q: How have you managed to avoid being pigeon-holed in one kind of role?
Caine: I think it’s because my early training was in repertory doing one play a week, which is fifty-tw0 characters a year. Quite subconsciously, I’ve treated motion pictures as repertory. I never, ever, saw myself as a great massive star persona who’s going to be adored for his good looks or blue eye. I always felt myself to be, rather than a star, a leading actor and if you’re a leading actor you’ve got to come up with something different every time.
Q: What impact did moving to Hollywood have on your career?
Caine: Oh, enormous, tremendous. Not only in Hollywood, or America, where I became better known obviously but from the point of view of non-American producers in England. They took much more interest in me. There was that old thing about, ‘You’re not an internarnational name.’ I always remember British war films used to be full of fading American film stars wandering around with ‘Canada’ on their shoulders. I thought I’d do the opposite: go to America and become an ‘international name’.
Q: Do you ever think of returning to live in England? What would draw you back?
Caine: I never left England until I was 46 so I was already ingrained in the English countryside. It’s the actual English countryside that would draw me back. I love the weather, which might sound kind of masochistic but I like the change of seasons. Plus, of course, there are silly things that you miss. Certain types of food. Plus, the English voice, I miss. I don’t suppose I ever will go back to live but that’s what often makes me think of it.
Q: Is it a coincidence that four of the Best Actor nominees this year are British or does Britain somehow produce superior actors?
Caine: No. I think it’s just a coincidence. I don’t think that Albert Finney or Tom Conti or Tom Courtenay or myself are any better actors than Duvall, DeNiro or Hoffman. It’s just that America has the money to make gigantic pictures, special-effects picture. Britain , of necessity, being financially strapped as far as movies are concerned, has to make small pictures and small pictures must concentrate or performnce. There are great actors here, it’s just that years ago if you wanted to find a film star, soomeone to put under contract, you went down to the beach at Malibu and found the biggest guy who could stand on his hands the longest and you put hiim under contract, which of course is entirely the wrong thing to do. The material is there; I just think that for years motion pictures went to the wrong source.
Q: Your acting is described as effortless. Do you feel underappreciated or that you’re not give credit for the hard work?
Caine: I do in a way but I don’t think you can grumble about it. It’s rather like watching Fred Astaire dance. You think, well, I can do that but of course you can’t. As opposed to watching Gene Kelly where you think, I couldn’t do that and you couldn’t either. It’s just whether you make it look difficult or make it look easy. If you make it look difficult, I do think you get more recognition quicker. But, as proven with ‘Educating Rita’, I’ve finally been recognised for the fact that I’ve cut back on the histrionics and just gone for the character. What I do is not easy. I face every new movie with complete and utter dread. To make it look effortless is absulutely draining and I’m always drained at the end of a movie.
[Robert Duvall did win the Academy Award in 1984. Caine went on to earn three more nominations winning for best actor in a supporting role for ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ (1986) and ‘The Cider House Rules’ (1999). He returned to live in England in the late 1980s.]
Seven Michael Caine guilty favourites …
Ny Ray Bennett
LONDON – Michael Caine, who is still makihg films in his 90s with ‘The Great Escaper’ due out this year, has made so many movies that some tend to get lost. Here are seven I’ve always found worth a watch even though they are of varying quality..
‘Gambit’ (1966) Caine plays a genial conman who involves Shirley MacLaine (pictured) in a fanciful plan to relieve millionaire Herbert Lom of a priceless artifact. Directed by Ronald Neame with a score by Maurice Jarre, it’s not wholly convincing but it is entertaining.
‘The Wrong Box’ (1966) is a shambolic British comedy based on a 19th century novel cowritten by Robert Louis Stevenson. Produced and directed by Bryan Forbes from a screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, it’s about two old codgers – John Mills and Ralph Richardson – trying to outlive each other to inherit a fortune. Michael Caine and Nanette Newman (above) are droll as a decorous couple who might benefit while the best laughs are provided by Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers. John Barry provides the music.
‘Deadfall’ (1968) reunites Bryan Forbes and John Barry in a reasonably solid crime yarn with Michael Caine as a cat burglar trying to rip off a wealthy man (Eric Portman) by seducing his younger wife (Giovanna Ralli, above)). It has some surprises and the odd nasty turn. Shirley Bassey sings ‘My Love Has Two Faces’ with music by Barry and lyrics by Jack Lawrence (‘Beyond the Sea’)
‘The Magus’ (1968) is a right mess directed by Guy Green with a screenplay written by John Fowles who wrote the brilliant original novel. Caine is a teacher on a Greek island who gets involved with a mysterious trickster (Anthony Quinn) and women played by Candice Bergen (above with Caine and Quinn) and Anna Karina. It is fun watching the cast try to make sense of all the nonsense.
‘Pulp’ (1972) sees Caine working again with the the British ‘Get Carter’ director Mike Hodges. It’s a very good wry comedy with Caine as a writer of cheap detective novels who is hired to write the autobiography of a notorious mobster played by Mickey Rooney. The two actors are in great form and the picture marks the last appearance of classic noir actress Lizabeth Scott.
‘The Honorary Consul’ (1983) is a flawed adaptation of the splendid Graham Greene novel about murky happenings in a south American dictatorship. Caine plays the title character, a jaded British officia whose attractive younger wife (Elpidia Carrillo) has an affair with a doctor (Richard Gere, above) who is mixed up with active dissidents. The director is John Mackenzie who made the excellent London crime tale ‘The Long Good Friday’.
‘The Quiet American’ (2003), from Australian director Philip Noyce, is a much better treatment of the Graham Greene novel than Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s jingoistic 1958 version. Michael Caine is a cynical newspaperman in Vietnam in the early Fifties who becomes increasingly concerned about the activities of a blithe and seemingly naive American played by Brendan Fraser. Both actors are excellent as, unlike in the earlier film, the point of Greene’s cautionary tale is made forcibly.