Sir Maurice Micklewhite

Even Knighthood Can't Erase The Past

Does the name Sir Maurice Micklewhite mean anything to you?

You probably know him better by his screen name - Michael Caine.

The actor, who was born in London in 1933 and knighted in 2000, has captivated audiences for years as the Cockney womanizer in "Alfie," the philandering husband in "Hannah and Her Sisters," and Austin Powers' father, Nigel, in "Goldmember." In 40 years, Michael Caine has made some 80 movies, but his latest, "The Quiet American," almost never made it into theaters, Ed Bradley reports.

"The Quiet American" is based on a book by Graham Greene. Set in Vietnam in 1952, it's a cautionary tale about America's early involvement in the battle in the days when it was still a French war.

But the film sparked its own war of sorts between the star and his producer. The movie was finished just days before Sept. 11, and the head of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, didn't want to release it.

"I mean, he's a very patriotic American," says Caine, who is being considered for an Oscar for his role in the movie. "And this film is critical of the people who took America – I'm not talking about the Army – long before. The agents who went into Vietnam, American agents, and started to stir up trouble."

So "The Quiet American" sat on the shelf for more than a year. Fearing that it would not be released even in time for Oscar consideration this year, Caine got Harvey Weinstein on the phone.

"And I said, 'Give us a chance.' I'm 70. How many more times am I going to get – might there be a chance here of having an Oscar nomination?"

At the London home he shares with Shakira, his wife of 30 years, Caine has two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor. Although he's been nominated three times for Best Actor, he has never won.

In "The Quiet American," Caine plays Graham Greene's hero, British journalist Thomas Fowler. Many have said he was born to play the role but Caine disagrees.

"I was the last person born to play Thomas Fowler," Caine says. "He was upper-middle class. I mean he was – I saw it as sort of autobiographical with Graham Greene."

And, Caine says, the working–class London neighborhood where he was raised is hardly "Graham Greene country."

When Bradley first interviewed Caine in 1986, they toured the rough Elephant & Castle section of London and Billingsgate Fish Market, where his father – and other relatives before that – worked. The same was expected of him.

"The headmaster at my school told me, 'You'll be a laborer all your life,'" Caine recalls. "I remember when I said I was going to become an actor, everybody said the same thing, and they all said, 'Who do you think you are?'"

To say the neighborhood was tough is an understatement. "You had what we used to call 'spivs.' which is a sort of gangster with big, wide hats," says Caine. "And they used to carry their razors in... the brims of their hats. They'd slash you with the hat."

Caine began acting at the age of 3, while helping his mother dodge bill collectors. He'd always answer the door; his mother would be behind it. "And I'd say, 'She's out.' That was my dialogue – I only had one line. And I never forgot it."

Without any formal training, but with a lot of ambition, Maurice Micklewhite set out to become the actor Michael Caine. For 10 disappointing years, he worked in regional theater and had bit parts in movies and TV. Then at the age of 30, he got his first big break in the movie "Zulu."

He hit it big in Hollywood two years later as the Cockney womanizer in "Alfie" with actress Shelley Winters. On the first day of shooting, Caine says, Winters came on the set with a glass of water.

"And I was so nervous, my mouth was going dry," Caine recalls. "It was my first scene with her. So, I had a drop of her water, and it was vodka. I just guzzled it down, because I was thirsty. I drank half a glass of vodka. And I was bombed the whole morning."

He continued drinking off the set as well, up to two bottles of vodka a day. Today, he says, he only drinks wine in moderation

Shakira helped him stop drinking. "Not that she came into my life and said, 'You've gotta stop drinking.' She didn't do anything like that. It's just having a whole new outlook on life. I thought I was destroying myself.

"And also, I put on weight, you know. I put on a lot of weight. And I thought, 'Jesus, you can't do this.' Because I was still young and playing handsome leading men and getting the girl."

Fear of returning to the poverty from which he had come has been a driving force behind some bad movie choices that he's made along the way. In 1978, Irwin Allen offered Caine the leading role in "The Swarm."

"Now Irwin Allen had just finished 'Towering Inferno' with Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, the two biggest stars in the world," he said. "And he's asking me to star in his next film. What am I gonna say? 'Why don't you go jump in the lake, Mr. Allen?' I went, 'Great.' I didn't know you could screw up bees."

Not long after making "Jaws, The Revenge" in the early 1990s, Caine became so disillusioned with the industry that he quit.

"I wrote my autobiography, I opened a load of restaurants," Caine says. "I was having a great life. And I suddenly wanted to go back to work and I couldn't get any work."

Finally, he was offered a role in "Blood & Wine," opposite Jack Nicholson, and it was the start of a second career. In 1998, he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor playing a sleazy talent agent in "Little Voice." In 1999, he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of an ether-addicted abortionist in "The Cider House Rules."

Perhaps Caine's greatest role was opposite his long-time friend Sean Connery. When "The Man Who Would Be King" was released in 1975, it wasn't a box office hit but today it stands as one of Hollywood's classics.

In 2000, Michael Caine became Sir Maurice Micklewhite. He remembers
during the ceremony, the queen said to him, "I have a feeling you've been doing what you do for a very long time."

"And I said, 'Yes, I have, ma'am.' I felt like saying, 'And so have you, haven't you?' But I thought the knighthood would be taken away immediately. I'd only had it about a minute."

Even the knighting failed to make him feel like an insider.

"Nothing would make me feel like an insider," he says. "I'm – I was born outside, and I'll probably stay outside. But, no, I felt like a – a very grateful recognized outsider."
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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