MICHAEL CAINE. Sleuth. January 13, 1973. Photo by Sylvia Norris
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Michael Caine

Michael Caine was born Maurice Micklewhite on March 14, 1933 in South London, his father was a fish market porter, his mother a cleaning woman; he was drafted in the British Army at 18 and fought in the Korean War. He succeeded in his ambition of becoming an actor, a rich and famous movie star, despite his Cockney accent and lower class background. He was not cast in his first movie, Zulu (1964), until he was nearly 30; he played a different type of spy than James Bond in The Ipcress File (1965) and Funeral in Berlin (1966), became a star after his unforgettable portrayal of a Cockney Lothario in Alfie (1966). Shirley MacLaine chose him as her co-star in the comedy caper Gambit (1966) and invited him to Hollywood. Caine told the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press about his experience: “I was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a helicopter lands on the lawn and out comes John Wayne. Shirley MacLaine gave a party for me, the first person that walked in was Gloria Swanson, and she was tiny, then I met Frank Sinatra, who flew me to Las Vegas. The next night we had Chinese food in Danny Kaye’s kitchen, the only other guests were Prince Phillip and Cary Grant.” He had fulfilled his dream of meeting the stars he had admired as a child; but he differentiates his type of acting from theirs: “The movie stars never change their look or their voice, no matter what they play. I mean, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, Henry Fonda. We leading actors change, we put on wigs.”

Caine did not play good guys; he was Jane Fonda’s shady husband in Harry Sundown (1967) by Otto Preminger, a master thief in The Italian Job (1969), a brutal gangster in Get Carter (1971). He held his own opposite Lawrence Olivier in Sleuth (1972) directed by Joseph Mankiewicz from the Anthony Schaffer play. “Lord Olivier sent me a note saying, you may be wondering how to address me because of my title, but once we meet you must always and forever call me Larry, which I did and we became very firm friends. We were such opposites that we attracted each other.” He would play the older man role in a Sleuth (2007) remake with Jude Law as the young lover. Law had played Alfie in a 2004 remake. Caine reflected in 2007: “I played Alfie as rather an ignorant dinosaur, who really didn’t understand anything about anything, least of all women; in the end he was quite confused, and it was very touching.” Caine acted with his friend Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King (1975), his favorite film, directed by John Huston from a novella by Rudyard Kipling, played a transexual killer in Dressed To Kill (1980) by Brian De Palma with Angie Dickinson, a teacher in Educating Rita (1983) by Lewis Gilbert with Julie Walters. He liked this film because “it empowered working class people and women to educate themselves, which I felt very strongly about.” He accepted the offer of his friend Bob Hoskins to play a gangster boss in Mona Lisa (1986) by Neil Jordan, he was Sherlock Holmes in the comedy Without a Clue (1988) with Ben Kingsley as Doctor Watson. He gave more comedic performances in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) by Woody Allen, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) by Frank Oz with Steve Martin.

In 1979 Caine moved to Beverly Hills, “I was living in a country with a left-wing socialist government where the taxes were 82%,” but then, “I got homesick” and 9 years later he returned to England, dividing his time between a house in Surrey and an apartment in London. “I bought a house with a garden and I discovered that I am a maniacal gardener, I spend my entire time gardening when I’m not doing anything else.” He also loves being with his family, his Kashmiri Indian wife Shakira, a beautiful model he married in 1973, their daughter Natasha and her 3 small children. He has another daughter, Dominique (Nikki) with his first wife Patricia Haines (1956-1982). “I thought, what the hell are you doing running around all over the world doing all this stuff for? I don’t need the money. What are you chasing? Why don’t you just stay here, stop, take time to smell the roses.” Caine took a break from acting to stay home, garden, cook and write his autobiography, What’s It All About (1992). While vacationing in Miami, he was enticed back by Bob Rafelson to act opposite Jack Nicholson in Blood and Wine (1996), then went on to give excellent performances in Little Voice (1998) with Brenda Blethyn, The Cider House Rules (1999) directed by Lasse Hallstrom from the John Irving novel, Quills (2000) by Philip Kaufman with Geoffrey Rush, The Quiet American (2002) directed by Philip Noyce from the 1955 novel by Graham Green. Christopher Nolan asked him to play Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler/guardian, in Batman Begins (2005), a role he reprised in The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and a mentor to young magicians Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige (2006). Caine said of Nolan as a director, “He’s very quiet, but absolutely determined. It’s like working with a steel blade covered in velvet, so you don’t get cut unless he says so. He’s a stickler for detail, very tough. It must be right and he won’t take second best at all.” The Hollywood Foreign Press honored Michael Caine with 3 Golden Globes, for Educating Rita (1983), Jack The Ripper (TV-1989), Little Voice (1999) and 9 nominations for Alfie (1967), Gambit (1967), Sleuth (1973), Hannah and Her Sisters (1987), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1989), Jekyll & Hyde (TV-1991), Mandela and De Klerk (TV-1998), The Cider House Rules (2000), The Quiet American (2003).