Michael Caine for “Secondhand Lions”

Sir Michael Caine was astonishing in the universally praised Quiet American, but the Oscar winning legend confesses, that the experience of trying to get that film seen is one he will never repeat. Caine will next be seen opposite Robert Duvall and Hayley Joel Osment in Secondhand Lion, playing an irascible Texan uncle, but this legendary star is no secondhand lion off the screen, as Paul Fischer discovered when he was granted a unique 1:1 audience with the legend himswlf.

Question: What has always struck me about you is that you have this incredible working class background. Where does the actor from come within you do you think?

Answer: I have no idea. There has never been an actor in my family, and I think the reason I wanted to become an actor, isI wanted to be in British films. My ambitions were very small really. It’s was a class thing. I had watched British films and I never, ever saw any working class characters that I could possibly identify with. for instance, American war films were made about privates. British war films were made about officers. It’s true, so my main ambition in going into movies was very small. I had no idea it would come this far. It was just to set the record straight and show you a real, human cockney who was not a moron, who was not grovelling, who was not dishonest and who wasn’t an ugly little thing, smoking a fag, I can’t say fag here in American.

Question: You know, that’s alright I’m Australian.

Answer: So that’s okay. So and that was it-that was the extent of my ambition in trying to get into films.

Question: Was it a realistic ambition?

Answer: No. There is quite a line in this movie. I Don’t say it, Bobby says it. He says, ?It doesn’t have to be true to believe in it?. And that’s what I did. I knew it wasn’t true, but I believed in it.

Question: Yet, ironically, as you did continue to work, the cockney aspects of you slowly started to dissipate.

Answer: Look at the first picture where I was ever noticed, was when I was a toffy nosed officer in Zulu for God’s sake, and I mean I have come right through now to playing the Times reporter in Saigon, you know, a complete Graham Green figure in the Quiet American.

Question: Right, and then you did Last Orders.

Answer: Last orders which was really almost playing my father, and it was very funny because in Last Orders I died of cancer in St. Thomas? Hospital were we shot it, which is where my father died of cancer.

Question: Really?.

Answer: Yeah-and it was a very realistic death, because I copied my father’s death.

Question: Are you more selective now than you were when you were younger?

Answer: Oh yeah, when you get to my age, you Don’t want to get out of bed at ? past 6:00 in the morning to do a lot of crap. Yeah, it’s gotta be an offer I can’t refuse. Kind of-for instance-Phillip Noyce rings you and says, ?Do you want to do the Quiet American?? you Don’t say fuck off-you know. You say, yeah, I will be there, what time.

Question: But there was that period during the seventies when you did anything and everything?

Answer: Yeah-well that was when I was trying to become a movie star, and then you go to America-you know-I wasn’t an American actor. When you get to American it is always, for me, incredible. And to actually get offered movies in America was wonderful.

Question: So having done that group of films, The Swarm, all that king of stuff- when you decided, okay, I have done all of this crap, enough it enough. I am now going to work?

Answer: When I went back to England, and I did Educating Rita and things like that. But there was always-in between all of those-there was always in that group right there like California Suite, Death Trap and all of these things-so movies like the Poseidon and the Swarm, I did for Irwin Allen, because he’d done the Towering Inferno, with the two biggest stars in the world, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. But at the same time, I became an extraordinary experienced movie actor, and I never stopped working. I was one of the most experienced movie actors in the world. So when the parts came along that were good and needed playing, it wasn’t some trembling guy who has been waiting for three years for a good part to come along. It was a guy who was filming six weeks ago.

Question: Right, but then you would approach something like that differently.

Answer: Differently, yes. Oh, yeah, it was completely different. And, but of course, now I Don’t have to work, and I just work, I think, what I call offers I can’t refuse.

Question: What gives you the greatest amount of pleasure these days?

Answer: Getting it right, getting to the end of a difficult take where you know you’ve hit everything and it’s absolutely perfect, and the director says ?cut?, and you almost hear the technicians going ‘shew?.

Question: Right.

Answer: You get that and that’s like a drug, because a shiver goes down your spine when you’ve done it.

Question: And it’s easy to do that now?

Answer: No. It’s very hard, but you can do it, you can do it.

Question: I mean, is there a character that you’ve played that you feel is a quintessential Michael Caine character?

Answer: No. I think the nearest I’ve came was when I was that age-I mean for instance I’m a father, and a very devoted father, and I devote a great deal of time to being a father-I rarely play the father.

Question: That’s a good one.

Answer: I am completely honest, I am very, very gentle, and I’ve played the toughest, most dishonest people you ever come across. The nearest character I could ever think that came to me would have been Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File. He was a saucy sod who was a bit bossy against authority, yet was intelligent enough to be in the intelligence, you know? And he was quite courageous if stuck in a difficult situation; and, and that would’ve about described me then, but then, of course, I became a very different person. I became a father; I became a person with a certain amount of power in what I do; I became a rich man. I never played rich guys. I’m never cast as a rich guy. I wish I was; I, I would get to keep the wardrobe.

Question: Because people get to see you as a working class character.

Answer: Yes, they cast me as a working, which is fine, but I mean it comes out of that class thing, it’s like Quiet American, you know, you know, Times reporter.

Question: Right. You, you seem to get into that role perfectly.

Answer: Yeah, well I, yeah, well I, I was ready to play that, I knew that, I knew, I, I knew the Far East, I even knew Graham Green; and it was all about that, because he did have a girlfriend in Vietnam.

Question: You’ve said that you wouldn’t put yourself through the kind of stress of the film experiences of Quiet American again. Is that because you’ll never find a role like that again?

Answer: No, I would do, no, if I picked a role and the producers said ?Bag it, I Don’t like it, I’m going to sling it out in January,? I say ‘sling it out in January.? I can’t be bothered, can’t be bothered. I wouldn’t do it again. It was too tough for me; nearly killed me that did; nearly killed me. The stress of it was unbelievable; unbelievable stress. And I only knew it when I got back to England recently; and I just collapsed right up until now for six weeks, having gone straight from that into The Statement. At the end of that, it was just the adrenaline and chewing gum keeping me going. I just collapsed, and, you know, I didn’t say a word for a week. And now, although we have just been, I never speak about the Quiet American. I never care to discuss it or anything.

Question: Really.

Answer: I Don’t want to know anything about it.

Question: Yet you would pleased to know that it’s an extraordinary film.

Answer: Yeah, well thank you, yeah, yeah. At least it’s out there; it’s out on DVD and people can buy it, and they’ll see it. It will be on the telly sometime; it will be on cable; it will be around.

Question: You wrote your memoirs.

Answer: Yeah, and I may do another book. Yeah. I wrote, sat down the other day, and I said to my wife, I’m gonna write two pages now of my second half of my autobiography, So I wrote them down, and she said, and she’s very critical, and she said it’s great; she said keep going. So I’m gonna keep going.

Question: So, you will have to write about the Quiet American when you do that. Will that be a cathartic?

Answer: Ah ha ha. It might be exciting for one or two people, yes. It was the Quiet American that made me think I ought to write some more.

Question: Really?

Answer: Yeah.

Question: So does Harvey Weinstein have anything to worry about?

Answer: No. No, I wouldn’t. The thing is about Harvey is that he was so great for me with Little Voice and Cider House Rules, which put me in the position where you could back me into Quiet American. So I felt I owed him. After what he did with the Quiet American, I feel we’re even. So that’s it.

Question: What do you want people to remember you for?

Answer: I Don’t, they Don’t even have to.

Question: But they probably will.

Answer: They probably will. I, I think, I think they’ll remember me for being fun, even in dramas and that, you know?

Question: Hmm.

Answer: I was fun. Because the interviews are fun or when they see me on television, I’m always getting laughs and all that.

Question: Was the knighthood something that you were expecting? And how did, the, the cockney lad from London react to that?

Answer: Oh, I thought it was great. I was very, very pleased to get the announcement. Very, it was the best thing, the best award I have ever gotten, because it’s, it’s an award for a whole life rather than for a movie, like the Academy Awards or something. This award, this award is for a complete effort of a lifetime, which is why you Don’t get it until quite late, because they want to see what you can do.

Question: But also implies that you’ve been, that it’s almost the end of a life, but it’s not for you.

Answer: Well no, because there’s a lordship yet. I haven’t got that yet.

Question: Why do you think your films seem to be the target of Hollywood remakes?

Answer: I Don’t know. I think, I like to think because they’re interesting. But I’ve remade a couple of films. I remade the Quiet American, which wasn’t very good, and I remade Bedtime Story, which was Dirty Rotten Scoundrel. I remade flops, because that is a great idea, because you’ve got nowhere to go but up but these guys are making really, remaking really successful movies, and I think they’ve got to do it very, very differently, and I, I think that’s what will happen with Alfie. It’s, it’s been rewritten by an American woman.

Question: Being so selective, now, what was it about the character in Secondhand Lions that you felt that you could offer something that was a bit different?

Answer: It was, it was, first of all, it was the type of movie that it was.

Question: Old fashioned?

Answer: Yeah. It’s so good and clean and nice, and what I liked about it was it wasn’t at all morbid. It wasn’t sentimental slush. These two guys never gave up being hard, right to the end.

Question: But it’s always about coming to terms with your age, too.

Answer: Yeah, yeah.

Question: You relate to that aspect Don’t you?

Answer: Yeah, but what I couldn’t relate to, which it was the part that, obviously, as an actor you’re playing it, was probably the line always says, you know, we’re at the end of our lives and we’re useless.

Question: Right.

Answer: And the picture was about they were at the end of their lives and weren’t useless, cause they had the boy. Well, I’ve never got to that stage of being, you know, useless and feeling. I feel it’s all great, and I, I Don’t feel old. I feel in there as though I gave a very good performance as an old man, ha, ha.

Question: An old Texan man.

Answer: An old Texan man..

Question: Now how, do you find, do you find it difficult to get into an American character.

Answer: I’ve grown up with American movies, you see, and I’ve lived in America. I lived in America for eight years. I’ve worked in America for 40 years. So, American characters are so familiar. They’re all characters that a lot of them I couldn’t play, because they’re such caricatures. But this wasn’t a caricature of a Texan. This was just a man who was a Texan.

Question: What are you going to do now? Are you taking some time off?

Answer: Yeah, I?m, I’m going to sleep when I get home on Wednesday.