ven at the grand age of 85, Michael Caine has a difficult time sitting still. When the legendary British actor talks to Stellar, he is enjoying a brief respite at his flat in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood. At other times, he can be found tottering about his countryside manor in Surrey or – more likely, given he has more than 125 films on his CV and continues to work – on a film set in some far-flung location.
“The last thing I am is lazy,” Caine says. “I’m always doing something.”
Soon after this chat, he says he will head to the Czech Republic to start on a film called Medieval, which co-stars Ben Foster and Australian actor Sophie Lowe. But first, a week’s holiday. “I’ll be going on my friend’s yacht in the Mediterranean,” he says matter-of-factly, as if it’s the most common of occurrences. “Then I’ll be working on Medieval, which is about political corruption and violence in [the 1400s]. I have a large character part, as I do now; I no longer start the movie at the beginning and finish it like the hero. I have two weeks. That’s enough for me at 85. You don’t want to be James Bond for six months!”
Caine may not have played James Bond during his esteemed career, but it hardly matters; a knighthood, a BAFTA, two Oscars and three Golden Globes on, his status as one of the acting world’s living legends is secure. Only when he was forced to literally sit still did Caine have a chance to reflect on all he’s done, and share some of the wisdom gleaned from his 65 years in the business.
“I’m very fit, but I broke my ankle in March,” he tells Stellar. “I had started to write a book before that, but suddenly I was sat down watching television all day. I thought, ‘Bloody hell, I’ll be sittin’ ’ere for 12 hours a day… I’ll finish my book!’”
of memoirs. This go-round is more a rambling collection of anecdotes from his life on and off the job, and it’s the literal embodiment of a personal creed he has long endorsed.
“I like to ‘use the difficulty’,” Caine says. “You know, if there’s something bad or negative, look into it. See what you can get out of it. That’s how this book got finished.” That said, Caine offers a cheeky footnote to the experience. “Don’t ever break your ankle,” he says. “It mends, but the numbness and pain goes on for months and months. Break a leg.”
In the book, Caine owns up to some of his biggest failures. They include drinking and smoking too much in his youth; losing his “terrible temper” on set for the first and last time; agreeing to star in schlock, such as 1971’s Kidnapped (“a dud and the only film I’ve never been paid for”), or 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge, the shoot of which led to him missing the chance to pick up his first Oscar in person but also earned him enough money to buy a house.
“I always felt like every film was my last and I’d be broke,” explains Caine, whose impoverished and Dickensian upbringing during World War II only amplified those anxieties – he suffered rickets and was sent to live with families who fed him one tin of pilchards on toast a day and locked him in cupboards under the stairs. “And you have to remember that actors who wait around so long, only wanting movies with great scripts and very famous directors, end up getting to a set, haven’t worked for two years and they usually screw it all up!” Caine also embraces his big wins, like overcoming that tough childhood and maintaining a 45-year marriage to Guyanese model and actor Shakira Baksh. “I’m prejudiced, but she is the perfect woman; I can’t help saying that,” Caine says. “We all have a negative side, all of us, except for Roger Moore and Shakira. That’s why I loved Roger and it’s why I love her.”
He still looks with wonderment upon his place as both an esteemed actor and one of swinging London’s most beloved ambassadors – the charming rake in classics such as 1966’s Alfie, 1969’s The Italian Job and 1971’s Get Carter. “I didn’t know I was cool until [photographer] David Bailey published a poster of me,” Caine says. “I had on glasses,i was staring at the camera and I had a cigarette dangling straight outta my mouth towards the lens. The title of the picture was ‘ The King of Cool’. So I am pretty cool in the way I dress and everything, but I wasn’t aware that I was cool until I was told that I was cool.” Still, one wonders if even Caine,whose Zelig-like life has put him in the presence of the past century’s towering figures across all manner of professions, has grown weak in the presence of someone he found utterly, inarguably cool. “That happened to me with [Nobel Prize-winning physicist] Kip Thorne and Stephen Hawking,” he reveals. “I was walking along a corridor and there they were and it was the most incredible, wondrous thing. “Kip was the technical advisor on Interstellar , which I starred in. While we talked, he says, ‘Wait a minute, Stephen has a message for you.’ And I said, ‘What is it?’ And this man in a wheelchair blinks out one thing. He said, ‘I want to meet your wife.’”