Sir Michael Caine on Hollywood movies, life in Leatherhead and relaxing away from the cameras
- Credit: Photo by www.andynewboldphotogra
He may have celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year, but it’s clear that Michael Caine still retains much of the roguish charm that got him to where he is today.
“I’ve never been particularly worried about age,” he says, trademark twinkle in the eye. “It’s certainly true that the older you get, the less you worry about it. And why would I worry about life anyway? I have a fantastic life; I enjoy myself.
“The other thing is, I’ve had people telling me I’m getting old for about two decades now. What exactly am I supposed to do with this information? Fall over on the spot?”
The veteran actor is the star of well over a hundred films, from 1960’s classics The Italian Job and Alfie, through Bruce Wayne’s trusty butler Alfred in the recent Dark Knight movies, to hard-boiled parts such as council estate crusader Harry Brown. And how can we leave out the role of the eponymous anti-hero in Get Carter? During his long career, Caine has covered comic books, comedy and tragedy, and everything in between.
In his latest piece, he plays insurance magnate Arthur Tressler in Now You See Me – a tale of four magicians who use their skills to orchestrate a series of spectacular heists – proving once again that age is no barrier to doing what he does best; and considering his intention to retire “not a day before my 90th birthday”, we can expect plenty more to come.
“The fact is you don’t know when your time is up, so to speak,” he continues. “That could be in life or in your career – I’ve had periods of time when the right scripts don’t arrive. But then one does. I guess if another good script fails to come, then I won’t do anything, and I’ll be retired, but there won’t be any announcement or anything. I remember McArthur saying, ‘Old soldiers don’t die, they fade away.’ Well, old actors don’t die either; they fade away too.
“The point is, there’s no need to worry about this stuff. None.”
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Life in Leatherhead
Caine – real name Maurice Joseph Micklewhite – certainly has a philosophical view over his trade, something that enables him to enjoy the trappings without any of the insecurities. And, as he duly admits, his life is “fantastic”.
After all, when he’s not enjoying the warm winters at his apartment in Miami or staying at one of his numerous other getaway spots around the world, the actor, and his wife of 40 years, Shakira, are settled in their 200-year-old barn conversion near Leatherhead.
As he wrote in his autobiography, The Elephant to Hollywood (the title a reference to his early years in London’s Elephant & Castle area), the county of Surrey, and his beloved home in the Surrey Hills, holds a special place in his heart.
But what was it that drew him to Leatherhead in particular? Given that he could live anywhere in the world, why did he and Shakira choose this corner of Surrey?
“I love the greenery, and our house is quite secluded from view, so it’s not like I’m really bothered about the other bits,” says Caine, with a wry smile. “Certainly, we were lured to the place mainly by its seclusion.”
He tells a lovely story of when he first found the property a few years back. Walking around the grounds, having made the decision to make some major changes to the house and surrounding landscape, he considered it a sign when about 30 yellow and green parrots flew overhead. “As it turned out, they had escaped from nearby Shepperton Studios when The African Queen was being filmed!”
Whilst the rolling hills of the Green Belt were one of the things that attracted him to the area, it did mean, however, that getting the house just how he wanted it came with a few complications. Caine admits, “You love the green space of an area but that generally means you can’t do much when you’re there, as we found to our cost. Everything is protected. Not that we wanted to do much, but you are governed by a lot of Green Belt red tape!”
Certainly, an unexpected bonus was the launch of the Leatherhead Drama Festival in 2004, now said to be the UK’s largest drama festival of its type, and to which the actor was quick to lend his support.
During the course of the festival, drama groups and schools compete for the Sir Michael Caine Drama Awards – one of which, in a nod to The Italian Job, features toy Minis – and are presented at a Gala Awards Night each year. Film commitments permitting, Caine usually likes to attend in person to hand out the awards and once said that the talent on show was “stunning... such high quality – not like when I was an amateur actor!”
“I love to see the new breed of actors coming through,” he continues. “It’s all a bit different these days – they’ve all come from this school or that; they’re all keen to thrust their showreel in front of anyone who’ll watch it. But it’s a popular industry, and a very exciting one, so we shouldn’t be surprised at that.”
Always one to speak his mind, Caine has both confidence and bravado, and you sense he doesn’t suffer fools (nor journalists) gladly – yet he’s true British bulldog, of an era where style and respect came through motorcars and pubs, not showbiz parties and Tweets.
“I don’t mind the whole showbiz thing as it stands today,” he admits, “but it’s for a different generation. The trappings are great in this industry but I’m doing it these days for the picture itself. I love getting a script through and dreaming of myself in the role. I know a script is good if I find myself wanting to watch the movie. That seems to be the acid test these days.
“Certainly for Now You See Me, it’s a tale that twists and turns then hits you with a final bang. You spend the movie thinking you know what’s going on before having it all turned around at the end. I like that; it’s clever.
“And some of the tricks and stunts are remarkable – I’ve got huge respect for Isla [Fisher] and all the others. It was a fantastic picture to be a part of. It felt like something new for me.”
The film hit cinemas at the start of July, and the release brings to an end a long filming process. Next up for Sir Michael, a period of rest and relaxation back home in the peace and quiet of the Surrey countryside.
“That’s not to say we hide away from people,” he adds, “but if I’m out for a walk down the High Street I’ll wear a baseball cap and will tend to move pretty quickly. That way, by the time someone might think ‘Blimey, it’s that Michael Caine’, I’m usually about 20 yards away and off in the opposite direction!”
My Favourite Surrey…
Restaurant: We tend to invite friends and family round, to eat in.
Shop: I love gardening and there are some lovely flower shops and nurseries scattered around. I don’t have a favourite, but I love to be inspired by something I can replicate in my own garden.
View: From any window in my house, because it means I’m home, and I love being at home.
Place to visit: Norbury Park is very well kept and a nice place to walk around in the summer.