New York (AP) – Michael Caine sits down for lunch at the St. Regis Hotel in midtown New York clutching a copy of the day’s Daily News given to him by the hotel doorman, who’s earmarked a photo of Caine and his “Youth” co-star Jane Fonda.
“You wonder why I stay here,” he chuckles. “I always remember the sort of joke thing in the British paper where the journalist said to the duchess, ‘What’s the best restaurant in London?’ And she said, ‘Where you’re known, dear.’ And I apply that to a lot of what I do.”
Michael Caine. (Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP)
Caine, 82, is known just about everywhere. Some know him as the star of British classics like “Alfie,” ‘’The Italian Job” and “Get Carter.” Others know him as Batman’s butler. Some might even know him just by the ubiquitous impressions of his indelible cockney accent, like Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s dueling Michael Caines in “The Trip.”
In Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” in which he plays an aged, regretful classical composer, Caine puts a capstone on a career that has traveled from working-class upstart to cinema institution. Like most things in life, he’s enjoying it.
“I’ve been nominated (for best actor) four times and I have never won,” he says, smiling. “I fly for 11 hours to clap another actor and then go home. It’s a long way! So I’m not exactly clearing shelves. I’ve got two Oscars, anyway.”
Sorrentino, the Italian director of the Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty,” wanted Caine for his combination of authority and levity – a description that hits on Caine’s unique blend of good cheer and gravitas. Caine doesn’t share his character’s melancholy, but he’s similarly reflective, and an eager, colorful storyteller.
What am I going to do? Sit around and watch soaps on television all day? That’s why I never retired. I retire mentally every time. I regard myself retired now. I don’t have another script to do, so I’m retired. I always had this phrase that I said many times to reporters: You don’t retire in movies. Movies retire you. (AP: Yet they’re not.) That’s the point. I retire and they say, “Oh, no you’re not.”
On his breakthrough
“Alfie” was a stage play which I auditioned for and never got. I was the last choice of anybody. I shared a flat with Terence Stamp and he was offered “Alfie.” I spent two days trying to talk him into doing it. Laurence Harvey and Anthony Newley were offered it. Funny enough, everyone turned it down because there was an abortion sequence in it. It was the first time I was nominated for an Oscar. But I had seen Paul Scofield in “A Man for All Seasons,” so I didn’t even bother to turn up.
On coming to Hollywood
The first party I went to in Hollywood, Shirley MacLaine gave to welcome me to Hollywood. The first people to walk in were Gloria Swanson and Frank Sinatra. I was dumbstruck. Then she took me to dinner at Danny Kaye’s house. There were only two other people there. One was Cary Grant and the other one was Prince Philip. I’m sitting there. I’ve been in Hollywood for three weeks. I took Shirley home. She lived in the Valley. As we got near to her home, I said, “Look! Your house is on fire.” She said, “Michael, that’s steam from the pool.”
On pool scene of ‘Youth’ with a naked beauty model
Paolo never told us about that, you know. He said to Harvey (Keitel) and me, “Get in the pool. There’s no dialogue.” He said “Action!” and Madalina (Ghenea) walked in. Well that’s the best acting you’ve ever seen on our faces because that’s absolute reality.
On playing older parts
I had had great success in movies. I had done 61, 62. And I got a script and I sent it back to the producer with a note saying I didn’t want to do it, the part was too small. And he sent it back with a note saying, “I didn’t want you to read the lover. I wanted you to read the father.” That’s when, as I like to say, you stop getting the girl, but you get the part.
On one similarity with his ‘Youth’ character
There’s a scene at the doctor’s where I go to see the results of my exam and he says to me: “What’s it like feeling old?” And what struck me is the line I said to him, which is: “I don’t understand how I got here.” Six years ago I was 35. How the hell have I gotten to be 82? A reporter once said to me, “How do you feel about growing old?” And I said to him, “Well, considering the alternative, fabulous.”