Sir Michael is a very funny man, and quite a fine actor. Now 85 years old, there isn’t much he hasn’t done in his life or roles yet to play.
I just finished his second autobiography, The Elephant to Hollywood, a sequel of sorts to What’s It All About?
Not only was I reading his book, on cable this very night was Get Carter and Harry Brown, two of his more muscular films. The Get Carter film was the remake, Sylvester Stallone as Carter, and Caine had a small supporting role. Caine starred in and produced the original version. Harry Brown was a late career starring role for Caine, a vigilante of sorts like Carter, fighting for honor. These two films are much different than the randy, knockabout guy that he built a large part of career playing.
Caine tried to play a lot of average guys. In real life he was distinguished and movie star cool, but very affable. His life, according to him, was nothing like the public image most fans had about him. He intentionally sought out characters with rough edges. Even his super spy Harry Palmer, had deep flaws, and was no James Bond. Caine found acting gold in roles in rascals and imperfect characters. One of his earliest roles was Alfie, the ultimate flawed man.
Caine was often chided that he worked too much; he was frequently asked how many films he had made that day. He sometimes replied that he never quite got over being poor, and admitted taking a number of films just for the money. He tells the story of being asked about Jaws IV, a painfully bad film he had a supporting role in. He said he’s never seen the film but he often sees the home the film role financed.
In the early 1990’s, he felt that his career was over, the roles were of a lesser quality and the scripts fewer in number. Despite his recent Best Supporting Actor Oscar, he felt a significant downturn in his career, and was contemplating retirement.
Caine had made a lot of films in almost 30 years, more than 70 by his estimate. Some had been big box office hits, others very acclaimed, and many had disappeared without a trace. Not every role he took was a big studio film, many were in smaller independent films and he accepted smaller roles. He noticed that he had made the transition from movie star to “leading actor” as he called it. In essence, he became a character actor who often got top billing, or the last billed name in the cast, “And Michael Caine”. The checks still cashed, so he was good with it. However, instead of turning out B films, he would retire.
According to imdb.com, “As of 2015, films in which Caine has starred have grossed over $7.4 billion worldwide. He is ranked the ninth highest grossing box office star.” That is a very impressive career, and a lot of that wouldn’t have happened if he had retired.
One film in particular changed this plan.
Blood and Wine, a film with Jack Nicholson. It wasn’t a big hit, but it was an awakening of sorts. Caine stopped chasing the next big thing, and the need to be constantly employed. He owned restaurants around the world and had just written a best seller. Money was no longer his driving force, his family was.
He didn’t suddenly restrict himself to A List films, in fact, he just chose differently and got a different level of satisfaction from the films he did choose. Caine had huge grossing hits like Miss Congeniality, Austin Powers in Goldmember and the Batman films. He also chose smaller films like Secondhand Lions and Last Orders (two of my favorites if you are scoring at home). He was also nominated for Best Actor in The Quiet American. Not a bad series of films.
And, he also made Get Carter and Harry Brown, two films that gave him great personal satisfaction. Instead of chasing after film roles, they found him. So did the Queen who knighted him.
So, what’s it all about? (The famous line from Alfie)
“A lot of my best parts I’ve been the second choice for, so you never get too egotistical about anything.”
He once to his wife of 40-plus years that he read that he was considered an icon. She responded that others may consider him that but he blood well needed to take out the rubbish. That’s what it’s all about.