‘I was never Alfie,’ says Sir Michael Caine, despite having made his name playing the Swinging Sixties lover boy on screen. ‘I was always after girls, but I was a romantic. I was always in love with someone. So I wasn’t like that, I wasn’t after a sh**. It worked out very well.’
Caine looks across his penthouse apartment at Chelsea Harbour to his wife Shakira. We’re here to talk about his book Blowing The Bloody Doors Off: And Other Lessons In Life, about to come out in paperback. In it, he admits his ‘regret and shame’ at not realising what some of his abusive male peers were doing in Hollywood in his heyday.
‘I knew Harvey Weinstein very well,’ says Caine. ‘I did three pictures with him. He never did any of that in front of me. I never saw him do anything wrong with women, but when I read what these girls were saying, it was terrible that he did that.’ A US court was recently told that Weinstein has reached a $44 million settlement with women who accused him of sexual misconduct; he still faces trial for sexual assault.
‘I knew Harvey Weinstein very well,’ says Sir Michael Caine. ‘I did three pictures with him. He never did any of that in front of me. I never saw him do anything wrong with women, but when I read what these girls were saying, it was terrible that he did that’
The #MeToo movement has swept through Hollywood in the wake of Weinstein, with allegations of misconduct being made against dozens of other famous men. Some have denied everything, like Dustin Hoffman and Michael Douglas; some, like Ben and Casey Affleck, have apologised for their behaviour; and others have seen their careers effectively come to an end – Kevin Spacey, for example.
In his book, Caine advises young actors to look for the good in any difficulty they face – and he does that now too. ‘Use the difficulty, look into it, see what came out of it that was good. Any actress going for an audition today, no producer would dare make a pass at her. Because he knows he’d be in the paper in the morning. So at least something good has come of it. Women, actresses can relax at auditions now. I mean they’ll be nervous about the audition – whether they’ll get the part – but they don’t have to worry about getting raped.’
Well that’s a step forward, I say, trying to be ironic, because I’m stunned by what he’s just said. He takes it at face value.
‘I think that’s a step forward. Yeah, I’m all for #MeToo. I’m a big admirer of ladies, for their causes and everything.’
Did he see men in the movie business he thought were dodgy? ‘Oh blimey, yeah.’
And did he ever intervene? ‘No, I was never that close to anything physical. I could see what people were going to do when I left, if I left. But no one ever did anything in front of me. Because I was very pro-feminist, you know? And they knew that, so they wouldn’t do anything in front of me.
Where did his own attitude come from? ‘I’ve always been a man for women’s lib. The thing about me and women is that I loved my mother. Very much. So every woman to me is about five per cent my mother. So they’re always treated very well. I have respect and I’m all for equal pay,’ he says, going off on a tangent.
‘Mind you, I didn’t realise pay was worse for them because I worked with Elizabeth Taylor. She got a million dollars, I got £150,000. I thought, “Wait a minute.” I didn’t complain!’
Caine is clearly still a bit old-school sometimes, but the sentiments in his book comes across as genuine. ‘I always knew – or thought I knew – about the casting couch, but, to my regret and shame, I never thought too much about it,’ he writes. ‘While I had a lot of truly terrible and mortifying auditions, I was never put in the humiliating, frightening position of being asked for, or even forced into, sex in return for a part.’
It’s a frank admission by someone who has made 130 movies – including Zulu, Alfie, The Italian Job, Educating Rita and the Dark Knight trilogy.
But then he has also been married for 46 years – ever since he saw Shakira in a coffee advert and tracked her down. Although he walks with a stick now after an accident, they’ll go off to Mayfair tonight to revisit the nightclub Tramp, where they first met up.
Wherever he goes when he’s making movies, Shakira goes too – ‘just to be with each other and to take care of the loneliness, because it can get lonely. It takes care of infidelity, which you do find in the movies. The joke [in the industry] is: infidelity doesn’t count on location. Everybody does it. Part of the job’.
But not for Caine. ‘I went somewhere for two or three days recently and that was the first time I’d ever been away on my own in 46 years.’
Don’t they ever get sick of the sight of each other? ‘Have you seen my wife? She may get sick of the sight of me, but you don’t get sick of the sight of her!’
He still relishes the glamour of his life as a movie star. ‘I was shooting a movie with Elizabeth Taylor [Zee And Co in 1972], and I went to her birthday party in Budapest. When the meal finished, all the men had gone and I found myself sitting at this table with these women. There was Susannah York. There was my wife. There was Elizabeth. There was Raquel Welch. There was Grace Kelly. That was the most beautiful table I have ever seen in my life – and probably anybody’s ever seen in their life.’
‘While I had a lot of truly terrible and mortifying auditions, I was never put in the humiliating, frightening position of being asked for, or even forced into, sex in return for a part’
Caine played a prolific lover in Alfie, and was romantically involved on screen with women in many other movies, but their scenes were never explicit. ‘I’ve been in bed [on screen] with a couple of women, but we were never fully exposed. It was suggested, but the sex was implied, because I didn’t want to do it. I just didn’t like doing those scenes. I feel embarrassed at nudity. I certainly wouldn’t appear stark naked anywhere.’
He still gets asked to undress – if not for the same reasons. ‘I had one recently. Switzerland in the autumn, I’m swimming naked in the lake and it is very cold. I get out of the lake and the script said, “Because of the cold, your penis is very small and the coach-load of tourists come by and they all sit there and start laughing at you.” ’ He shakes his head. ‘I said, “I don’t think I’m doing it.” ’
Caine was a big, strong lad straight out of National Service and the war in Korea when he appeared in Zulu and Get Carter, but he was nowhere near as ripped as today’s leading men.
‘Well, you cannot be a great big fat bloke and be a leading man. Because the girls have got to be attracted to you.’ You’ve got to have a six-pack now, haven’t you? ‘I didn’t have a six-pack,’ he says. ‘I didn’t even have a five-pack. I was closer to a three-and-a-half!’
Did he ever go to the gym?
‘Oh no. I did so much physical stuff in the Army that I was determined never to do anything physical again in my life.’
Caine was born Maurice Micklewhite in Rotherhithe in 1933, the son of a fish porter and a charlady. After all this time, how much of Maurice is left? ‘Probably nothing. I became a whole new person. I went away from poverty because I was rich. I went away from being working-class because I was an actor. My mum died, my dad died, my brother died. So I became me and that was it. A creation. And I stick to it.’
Even now, with a fortune estimated at £50 million, he dreads the thought of poverty. ‘My family was poor, and the way I excused myself for being rich suddenly is that I took care of them. I never had a conscience about being rich, because I took everybody with me.’ Mates as well? ‘No, just family. Blood. Just blood.’
Caine’s father, also Maurice, died in 1957, aged 56. His mother, Ellen, lived to see him achieve success, passing away in 1989. It was only after her death that Caine learned he had an older half-brother he’d never met, although David died three years later.
His younger brother Stanley was an actor in the Sixties, appearing in The Italian Job, but later became a writer. Stanley reportedly received a monthly allowance from Caine, who also paid for holidays. He died in 2013.
As for wives, Caine was married to actress Patricia Haines for seven years until their divorce in 1962. They have a daughter, Dominique. He married Shakira in 1973 – they have a daughter, Natasha, and three grandchildren, a boy aged ten and twins aged nine.
Caine writes movingly in his book about his father’s death: ‘As I walked out of the hospital ward, I swore I’d make something of myself and my family would never be poor again.’
What would his father have made of his success? He grimaces. ‘When I told my dad I was going to be an actor, I could see by his face that [as far as he knew anything about the theatre] I’d just said I was gay. We used to watch British films, they were always about the middle class with everybody talking like that, and they all looked a bit gay to us. I mean, they weren’t homosexuals, but it was all a bit sissy.
‘Remember, I belonged to a mob at the Elephant and Castle, where they used razors. I wasn’t exactly one of the world’s intellectuals or the most sensitive boy you’d come across.’
During the Sixties, Caine famously shared a pad with Terence Stamp, and the pair of them were seen as the most glamorous of the new wave of working-class actors. But when I mention Stamp, he frowns.
‘Terry sort of blew me out, because he joined some vegan thing and everything, and he couldn’t come see me any more. We shared a house together for two years and then suddenly he went and I never heard from him again. Ever. Where is he? I mean, he’s not in any movies, is he? Is he retired?’
He’s been in two Tim Burton films recently: Big Eyes and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. He also wrote a memoir, like Caine. ‘I won’t read that. I won’t come out of it very well.’
I interviewed Stamp a couple of years back and offer to fish out his number, but Caine declines.
‘I wouldn’t phone him.’ Even now, after all these years? ‘No. I was blown out completely. Also, he was the star and I was unknown [at the time]. I don’t know why he never remained a star, I can’t imagine. He was very handsome, a very good actor.’
We talk about how attitudes to sexuality have changed over his time in the movies, and Caine mentions Deathtrap, the 1982 thriller in which he was required to kiss Superman star Christopher Reeve, who was playing his lover. But Caine still struggled, as he writes: ‘There was a scene in which we had to kiss each other passionately and never having kissed a man before – except my dad on his cheek – I was finding it hard to psych myself up to it. I tried convincing myself it was an honour to kiss Superman. I was nervous as hell.
‘In the end we got through it, not with breathing exercises but with a bottle of brandy between us. We nailed the kiss but were both so drunk we couldn’t remember our lines!’
Caine in Get Carter, 1971. During the Sixties, Caine famously shared a pad with Terence Stamp, and the pair of them were seen as the most glamorous of the new wave of working-class actors
By the Nineties, Caine was ready to give up making movies. ‘I got a script and I sent it back to the producer saying the part’s too small. He sent it back to me with a note saying, “You’re not supposed to read the lover. You’re supposed to read the father!” I thought, “Oh s***!”
‘Then I made a couple of really daft pictures. I was 63. You no longer get the girl, but you’re not quite the great character actor. So I thought, “I’ll leave this.”
‘I opened a restaurant in Miami. I spent the winters there and the summers in England, and for about two years I didn’t do anything. And I was very happy.’
Then Jack Nicholson enticed him back with Blood & Wine. ‘That was a success, and I carried on. I won a second Oscar and made seven great pictures with Christopher Nolan.’
His first Oscar was for Hannah And Her Sisters in 1986, and his second for Cider House Rules in 1999. ‘So the lesson there is: don’t retire unless you’re absolutely sure what you’re doing!’
Since then, Caine has starred in dozens of films including Harry Brown, the Hatton Garden film King Of Thieves and Nolan’s Batman movies.
‘I have it written in my contract that I don’t have to be on set until 9.30 in the morning, because I just can’t do it. I’m too bloody old in that way. But at least my memory’s good. I don’t need lines written on the wall. Rehearsal is the work, performance is the relaxation. And that means you keep your memory.’
Some do struggle, though, like Michael Gambon, who is in King Of Thieves with him.
Caine with his wife Shakira and daughter Natasha. Wherever he goes when he’s making movies, Shakira goes too
Caine at home with his mother, Ellen, 1964. ‘I’ve always been a man for women’s lib. The thing about me and women is that I loved my mother. Very much. So every woman to me is about five per cent my mother’
‘Oh blimey. I done two pictures with him, he’s got blackboards all over the place. Oh yeah, he can’t remember any line at all, but he’s been sick I think. But he’s lovely to work with and I don’t mind. Alan in [another OAP heist movie] Going In Style… who’s the American actor?’ He can’t remember, which is ironic. Alan Arkin. ‘He had boards all over the place.’
Has he seen the new television version of the same story, Hatton Garden? ‘I haven’t seen it, I don’t want to watch it because I know the butler did it!’
He watches the news, though, so as a vocal supporter of Brexit, what does he make of the situation now?
‘Well, they made a real mess of it, didn’t they? I’m in favour of Brexit with no deal. I’ve got no regrets about being vocal about it. I felt it was a great idea and it never happened. I hope it does happen. But I’ve just given up on it now. They can do what they like. I’m 86, my eldest grandson will sort it out, believe me.
‘He’s not happy about it because the girl he’s in love with in school – who’s ten years old like him – is part-Swedish, and she’s leaving to go back to Sweden because of Brexit. So he’s very ticked off.’
Is he a good grandad? ‘I think I can boast that I’m probably the best grandad in the world.’ Caine is taking the summer off to relax with the youngsters. ‘I’m not in a hurry to do anything. If someone said to me, we don’t want you any more, you’re too old, I’d say, “That’s fine. I’ll write a book.”
‘I feel about 60. I know I fell over in my garden last winter and broke my leg and I don’t walk very well, but before that I was walking two miles a day.’
Given his true age, is he afraid of dying? ‘Yeah.’ Caine looks at me with rheumy eyes, soulful for a moment. ‘Not really. On my joke tombstone I’d have written, “See you later. No hurry.” And that’s basically it. I believe in God. I have to. Otherwise, how could I have done all this?’ He throws his hands up, referring to the career, the fame, the money – all of it. ‘The boxer Rocky Graziano wrote an autobiography called Somebody Up There Likes Me. If he hadn’t used that title, I would have.’
Michael Caine on the set of The Magus, 1968. ‘I didn’t have a six-pack,’ he says. ‘I didn’t even have a five-pack. I was closer to a three-and-a-half!’
Is there one Caine movie that people should watch when he’s gone? He thinks for a moment. ‘Yes, it’s a movie that not a lot of people in Britain saw, called Youth. I think that was one of the best movies I ever made. I won the European Academy Award for it, but I wasn’t even nominated in America or Britain. I think they thought we refuse to accept Michael Caine as someone as posh as a symphony orchestra conductor. So the snobbery is still there.’
He gives every impression of being a man at ease. ‘My grandson came into my office the other day, and he saw all the awards on a shelf that goes around the top of the room. He was sitting there for a minute and he said, “Do you know how many awards you’ve got?” I said, “No.” He told me 38. I’ve got 38 statuettes.’
Caine grins, looking happier and more proud than he ever has at a glitzy awards ceremony, and as I leave he says: ‘I guess he thinks I did all right!’
‘Blowing The Bloody Doors Off: And Other Lessons In Life’, by Michael Caine, is out now in paperback, Hodder, £8.99