legendary actor Michael Caine is not only a great honour, but also hugely entertaining. Enthusiastically sharing anecdotes from his life in the limelight, the 82-year-old is refreshingly outspoken and makes no big deal of being driven by money. “Unless you get paid properly there’s no point getting up in the morning,” he tells me matterof-factly, as we meet on the rooftop of the Cannes Hotel Marriott on the Croisette.
You’re here at the Cannes Film Festival in connection with your role in Paolo Sorrentino’s film Youth. Did he base the character on you?
“Yes, and it certainly took me by surprise. He even told me that he wouldn’t bother making the film if I declined to take part. I had seen The Great Beauty, for which he won an Oscar, and voted for it at the Oscar ceremony, so after reading the script for Youth I told him straight away I was interested. And for once I didn’t care about the pay.”
The movie depicts two old friends, played by you and Harvey Keitel, sharing their thoughts and worries about ageing. In one scene you’re both sitting in a pool when a naked woman walks in...
“We had no idea she would be naked. Paolo forgot to tell us, so that surprised look on our faces is entirely genuine. She was just so beautiful!”
Do you ever consider retiring?
“No, the film industry retires you. Sometime around 60, I realised that I was suddenly too old to get the girl in the films I starred in. As all the roles I was offered involved me playing the father figure, I started counting my days as an actor. I withdrew from the industry. I was living in Miami when my good friend Jack Nicholson gave me a role in his film Blood and Wine. It made me interesting again. Then there was Little Voice and The Cider House Rules, which won me an Oscar. My career was right back on track. But I was happy even as a pensioner too – I had restaurants in London and Miami and earned a couple of pounds.”
You’ve made a number of films with Christopher Nolan.
“He’s brought me so much fortune. We’ve made six movies together and they have all been box office hits. He arrived at my house one day and asked me to read a script. I looked at the first page and saw the title, Batman Begins …. I knew I was too old to play Batman so I said ’you don’t want me to play the butler, do you?’. ’ Yes,’ he said, ’I do.’”
“Those that develop me as an actor. I’m from a working class background, we were very poor. That a guy like me gets to play an internationally acclaimed conductor in Youth, that’s something I could never have imagined. Playing a conductor was actually one of the hardest things I’ve done.”
Are there any similarities between you and and the character?
“We’re both aged 82, but that’s about it. He’s my opposite in many ways. I will never stop working and I adore my family.”
What’s the best thing about ageing?
“Not having to go to discos! As a young chap I virtually lived in discotheques. They called me Disco Mike.”
What do you miss about being young?
“Nothing. I’ve been so lucky and I love my family. And I definitely don’t miss the ignorance of youth.”
Which role best defines you?
“Probably my role as Alfie in the movie with the same name. But that’s a long time ago now. 1966, I was young then.”
Do you ever re-watch your films?
“Never. Or actually, I just watched Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for the second time … It’s one of the best movies I’ve done, and filming it was fantastic. We spent three months here in Cannes. Aside from that I’m not one for looking back.”
Have you seen the scene in The Trip where a group of guys attempt Michael Caine impressions?
“Absolutely, it’s hilarious! It actually led to us doing a sketch together at the Albert Hall in London.”
What was it like arriving in Hollywood?
“Shirley MacLaine asked me to come over to do a film. I had never been in the US and stayed in the Beverly Hills Hotel for ten days without anyone getting in touch. But I enjoyed it. I used to go down to the lobby to see if I could spot any movie stars. One day John Wayne walked in and noticed me looking at him. He said: ’ You’re that guy from Alfie, aren’t you?’. I nodded and he smiled, ’ You’re going to be a star’. We became friends and one day he gave me a piece of advice: ’Never wear suede shoes when you’re famous.’ When I asked him why, he explained that ’one day, when you’re a celebrity, you’ll stand in a public toilet when the guy next to you recognises you, he’ll turn around to ask if it’s really you, and will end up taking a piss on your suede shoes.’”
Michale Caine (from above)
(1971) and (1972),