In the early ’60s when Michael Caine crossed the pond to make his first Hollywood film, Zulu, he never imagined that he would spend the next few decades making over a hundred films, win two Oscars, and become a movie star. “I just did not have the looks and I had a very thick cockney accent,” he says during an early afternoon phone call from his London flat.
Ahead of the television screening of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island to mark his 87th birthday tomorrow, the British film icon spoke about the films he is making, the book he is writing, shows he follows on streaming platforms, and on working with director Christopher Nolan.
Mutual admiration society
Caine, who will be seen in Tenet this July, has been a part of every single Christopher Nolan film since Batman Begins in 2005.
The actor vividly remembers the first time he met the auteur. “He came to the front door of my house in the country with a script. I could see him through the glass but I couldn’t recognise him. The moment he introduced himself, I knew exactly who he was because I was a great fan of his three small films,” says Caine.
When Nolan mentioned that he wanted Caine for Batman, the actor was taken aback. “I told him, ‘I am too old for Batman. Do you want me to play the butler? What would my dialogues be? Would you like another beverage or more custard?’” The director then explained that he saw Alfred’s character to be a lot more than just a butler and that he was ‘the foster-father of Batman’. So, I did the movie and it was one of the greatest things I have done in my life.” It is an industry joke that Nolan thinks of Caine as a ‘lucky mascot’. The actor confirms this, saying, “All the films I have made with him have raked in over a billion dollars, so he has to have me in a film even if he has no part for me. In Dunkirk, I was only a voice-over and I got billing in the credit title.”
It is no surprise then that he is in Tenet (‘I don’t know what it means’), also starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia and Kenneth Branagh. “He [Nolan] is so secretive he won’t let me have the script. All I had was one day’s work and he gave me my pages. I did my part and shot only with John David. I haven’t heard anything since.”
While Caine often talks about how ‘there aren’t too many parts for 87-year-old men in the movies’, he has two other releases apart from Tenet this year. “There’s a modern version of Oliver Twist called Twist. It is very grown up and Rita Ora plays the Artful Dodger. Before Christmas, I did Best Sellers, a comedy movie in Montreal about an alcoholic author who has to go out and publicise his book.” The two slotted for 2021 are historical action drama Medieval and Four Kids and It (based on the eponymous 2012 novel by Jacqueline Wilson).
When he is not making films, the Alfie actor enjoys watching them. But not in theatres. “I wait for them to come on TV,” says Caine, who sent Twitter into a mini-meltdown in January when he tweeted about the Sam Mendes film, 1917. “It is one of the best war movies I have ever seen. It is very human. I would know a good war movie because I was a soldier in the Korean War,” he says.
A fan of OTT platforms, Caine has watched all the Jack Ryan adventures on Amazon and is currently watching The Crown. “I thought I knew everything about the British royalty, and every single episode (he has watched four now) has me sitting there with my mouth open, amazed about all these things I did not know. It is quite extraordinary.”
Off screen too, Caine is a raconteur extraordinaire. Over the years, he’s written multiple biographies; the last one was called Blowing the Bloody Doors Off.
He is now busy with his first attempts at fiction with a thriller, If You Don’t Want To Die. “I cannot write any more biographical books because I am 87,” he laughs, adding, “I do not read posh, intellectual fiction; I only read thrillers. I am having fun writing it, but I do not know whether anyone will have a great deal of fun reading it.”
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island will air on March 14 at 7.30 pm on Sony Pix.