A/V Room









The Actors - Sir Michael Caine Q&A

Compiled by: Katherine Kaminsky

Q. Sir Michael, I was wondering if playing your character took you straight back to your early days in rep at all?
It took me straight back to my early days in rep, because I based that character on every old character I’d ever worked with.
I did repertory for nine years, so I knew about 50 of those guys and they were all like O’Malley; they were all completely sad, complete losers and completely unaware of it.
So they always thought they were great and they just didn’t know, they were too stupid. I thought they were wonderful, one of the reasons I wanted to play the part was because it was so nostalgic being in the theatre with stage actors, for that time, because I’ve not been in the theatre now for something like 30 years, so it was great for me.

Q. Could you possibly name names and tell us the worst performance you’ve ever seen on stage and would you be tempted back to the theatre?
I’ll take the second one first. No, I’ve become a professional movie actor, which is what I always wanted to be. I went into the theatre to learn how to act and it took me so long to learn I practically became a theatre actor instead of a movie actor.
The worst performance I’ve ever seen on stage is by one of these guys. What happens to you is that when you’re as bad as these guys, no one’s ever heard of you, so there’s no one who is famous who is this bad; it’s a contradiction in terms. You couldn’t be this bad and well-known enough for someone to name and that you’d recognise.
I don’t remember ever seeing a really dreadful performance. I saw a very drunk one, where I think it was Wilfred Lawson and Trevor Howard who were bombed in a matinee, and it was Shakespeare, and it got very bad with the lines and the dialogue and someone shouted out, ‘Your pissed’, and one of them said, ‘If you think I’m pissed, wait till you see the Duke of Norfolk’.

A. Who was the most pompous actor you’ve ever worked with?
You’re trying to get me into trouble here.
DM. Think of a dead one.
MC: I’m trying hard to think of a dead one. Actually, I haven’t worked with any really pompous actors., I’ll tell you why, I think you can be pompous in the theatre, and I never worked with anyone famous in the theatre, but in movies, it’s very hard to be pompous for very long.
Once the guy says ‘action’, you’re on your own, and if you’re not concentrating 100% on what you’re doing, the other actors, including myself, will tear you to bits.
So pompous is not a good idea in the movies. There are quite a lot of pompous actors about, but you know more of them than I do, as you interview them.

Q. Have your acting talents ever helped you out in real life?
A. In my case, almost constantly, when I was a small kid, I was always aware of what should be going on, so I would always act that role.
Also, when I was small, I lived in a fantasy land. My mother told me that from the age of 10 to 12, I didn’t speak to anybody at all, so I don’t know, she probably thought I was nuts.

Q. Just before we leave the theatre what, parts did you play in rep?
Everything. I worked up in Liverpool, rep in Sussex. I got a job out of the Stage newspaper, as an assistant stage manager, and I kept getting little parts.
I was in a company in Horsham, run by two gay men, all the other men were gay except me and so whenever there was something really Butch, like a boxer or something, I got the part, so it was rather fortunate for me, because none of them wanted to play that.
It was a bit strange in the dressing rooms, there was only one dressing room, and I was 20-years-old, and I just got little parts, and then bigger and bigger parts, and that’s how it went on for me, two, four, six, eight, 16, 32.
That’s all I did, I just worked at it for years, nine years.

Q. How long were you at Lowestoft? (Rep Theatre in Suffolk)
A year.

Q. Any stories from that time?
I got married there, that’s one story. I married my first wife there. She was the leading lady in the company. I was 22 and she was 26 and I was madly in love with her and pursued her into a disastrous marriage.

Q. Did you enjoy dressing up?
I’d done drag before in a picture called Dressed to Kill and that was very serious and sinister, so this was much easier; it’s much easier for me to be funny in drag.
It’s not something I like doing, I don’t like women’s clothes to wear. Especially, in my case, I had to have lots of padding; I’d go through a door and get stuck - you don’t realise how wide you are, I had good child bearing hips.

Q. Have you been as bad at acting as the character you play?
Probably in rep I would have been as bad as this character is, because I wasn’t trained in a drama school, I was just an ex-soldier trying to make my way. I remember, once, I had to seduce a girl by getting her drunk, and I did the entire scene without taking the cork out of the bottle.

Q. Have you ever wanted out of the industry?
A. No, it’s the most incredible thing, there’s nothing that I always wanted to do, just being an actor. I was one of the first generations who the first time I ever saw an actor wasn’t in the theatre, it was in the cinema. It was the Lone Ranger. So I wanted to be in films and for me, I thank God every day for my life, I’ve never had a bad moment in a work situation. I just enjoy it so much and I enjoy the whole process. I enjoy the travelling, it’s the most extraordinary life to lead.

Q. Did you think you would still be doing it now?
Yes I did. Well I thought, maybe I won’t because someone said ‘are you gonna retire?’ I said You don’t retire from movies, scripts stop coming. They retire you, sometimes they retire you after three movies.
It just so happened that in my case, the scripts got better and better, so it’s fine for me. The great thing about movies or acting is they also need guys of 80 and women of 90.
Jessica Tandy, in Driving Miss Daisy, won her Oscar at 82. So, it’s a great, great life. I’d recommend it.

Q. Have you been approached to do Shakespeare?
I don’t do theatre see.

Q. What about a film version?
Like Ian? Well that’s where our Richard came from, because he did it like a Fascist, so we did it one over the top and did it as a Nazi. You know, Olivier had a nose like that, I had a nose like this, it’s what all these bad people do - they copy and then exaggerate.
But you’re not going to come to me if you want to do Shakespeare. I’m not really interested in Shakespeare. I’m interested in the absolute naturalness of movies and to do that in iambic pentameter is kinda difficult.

Q. You did a master class on television some years ago for acting on screen, have you ever considered doing a one-man show?
No, I’m a bit of a ... if I can stand up and get a laugh in a speech like (gestures to Dylan Moran), I remember I introduced John Barry at the Albert Hall, he’s a great friend of mine, for a musical evening.
I got two laughs and did 12 minutes. They were trying to get me off. I’m in awe of what he does, I find it the most courageous thing to do, to be a stand-up comic. Once I get a mic in my hand, I’ve just got to get one laugh and I’m off. If I had to do it as a living, I would be too scared.

Q. You recently turned 70, does age bother you?
You get to 70 and you start giving up stuff. I gave up smoking four years ago. It’s like, ‘If I give this up, please let me last a little longer’, you know? And you take a lot of vitamins.
I eat very healthily and try to look after myself and everyone around you tries to look after you. You’re getting up there, but it’s so great considering the alternative.
You know, people say how do you feel? Oh, great, I could continue doing it for quite a long time, another 30 years will do me.

Q. Did you have a party?
Yeah, I had two. I had one in England, for my English friends, and then I had a bigger one in LA. A lot bigger, because the other guy, who is my celestial twin, we were born at exactly the same time, is Quincy Jones.
I booked the restaurant for 150 people, the first list I got from Quincy without mine was 200. We went up to 450, but I only had about 100; he had about 300. Quincy’s got a lot of friends in LA.

Q. Did you split the bill down the middle?
No, he paid three quarters. He’s got more money than I have. He did Michael Jackson’s Thriller, he made more money out of that than I did out of my whole career.

Q. A lot of people thought you were robbed at the Oscars this year...
I agree!

Q. How disappointed were you?
It’s not disappointing. I’ve already got two Oscars, both for supporting actor.
First of all, the movie wasn’t going to be released in time for the Oscars at all. So, I then got on to my mate, Harvey Weinstein, and lobbied him like mad and got it shown…
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got it shown and it got great reviews, and I got the reviews, and, eventually from a movie that wasn’t going to be shown at all, I got nominated for an Oscar.
Now, I knew that I wasn’t going to get the Oscar, but I had got to the stage where I was nominated for Best Actor. It made a difference, a tremendous difference, to my status in Hollywood.
You very often hear people saying, ‘Oh, he said being nominated is enough’. What a load of bullshit that is. It’s very important. It changed from two best supporting actor Oscars, to being nominated for best actor, that’s the difference.
The fact that it makes a difference at 70-years-old is quite amazing, but it does.

Q. You’ve played three very vain actors in The Actors, Sweet Liberty and Without A Clue, is this your view on movie actors?
No, it’s the screenwriters view on movie actors. If you get into that star quality, where you get the ego thing, the ego is like a balloon, it can be so big that you don,t notice it, because you do not realise - you’re inside the balloon, you’re not even on the outside looking in.
I was always great friends with Frank Sinatra, so we’d go up to Las Vegas and everybody said, ‘Frank’s coming down, what sort of a mood is he in? What sort of a mood is he in?’ He’s good, he’s great, it’s fine.
And one day, I said to one of these guys, I said, ‘Does anybody care what sort of a mood I’m in when I come down?’ We always say what sort of a mood is Frank gonna be in. And he said, ‘who gives a shit’.
And you have to remember, extremely rich people are surrounded by people they pay, and unless you say the right things, you’re not gonna be paid anymore. You’re going to be out of a very good, cushy job.

Q. In the film, your character is ruthless about accepting an award. Is that your experience?
No, no, no, everybody is terribly gracious. I mean, for instance, with this year’s Oscars, the war was coming and we didn’t know what we were going to say about it, so all the people nominated decided to meet the night before to discuss whether we were going to mention it in the acceptance speech.
Daniel couldn’t make it, but the rest of us could. Adrian didn’t have a speech, and I told him he stood a good chance of needing one, so we all got bombed together and wrote Adrian’s speech.
The next day, I had to call them up and say, ‘what did we decide we were going to do about the war?’. The Oscars is your own people voting for you, that’s why it’s such an accolade. It’s actors and others in the industry saying you deserve the award.

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