He could have picked any number of famous one-liners from his many movies. But Michael Caine picked one from the 1969 film "The Italian Job" ("You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!") as the title for his latest autobiography, "Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, and Other Lessons in Life" (Hachette).
Borrowing movie lines has worked for him before. He's already mined the film "Alfie" for his 1992 book, "What's It All About?"
Michael Caine is now 85, and doesn't get back much to the South London street where he grew up poor, and from where he was evacuated during the wartime blitz. A good thing, too: "There's a street up here which was completely destroyed," Caine said, "and what it did was it blew all the doors and windows and everything out of this street, 'cause it was a rocket."
Correspondent Mark Phillips said, "I'm tempted to make jokes about blowing the doors off."
"Blowing the bloody doors off, yeah! Well, they did blow the bloody doors off!"
Not many actors write so many books about their lives. But then, not many actors have careers that go on as long, or are as varied, as Caine's.
When asked his favorite accent to do, he replied, "Oh, blimey, I've done so many."
Maybe he's gone on so long because he spent his first decade as a young actor learning his trade, playing small theatres around Britain after he'd come back from combat in Korea. There's basically nothing he can't do, from Northern English, to Cockney, to American. "This is the way you sound to a foreigner!" he laughed.
Accents, he says, are what got him into the movies, except his was the wrong kind.
He wasn't supposed to play the posh officer in his 1964 breakthrough movie, "Zulu." But an American director saw beyond the English class system and Caine's salt-of-the-earth, Cockney accent.
"If he'd have been a British director, even if he'd been a left-wing Communist, he would never have cast me as an officer!" Caine said. "I mean, I was a real rough cockney, And so, thank you, America. You got me my first part!"
Caine has another thing to thank America for: his name. Maurice Micklewhite was standing outside a theater playing a Humphrey Bogart movie when his agent told him he needed to pick a new stage name.
"So she said, 'Tell me a name,'" he recalled. "And I looked 'round Leicester Square and it said, 'Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny.' And I went, 'Caine.' She said, 'How do you spell it?' I said C-A-I-N-E. But it was very good, 'cause the theatre next door, if I'd have done that, 'I'd have been Michael 101 Dalmatians!"
"The old ones are the good ones," said Phillips.
"Yeah, do you like the old ones, do you?" Caine laughed. "I've used that one a lot, I'm sure."
It turns out 101 is a small number when it comes to Caine's life. A career spanning six decades has produced 170 movie and TV credits, not to mention a couple of Oscars and a knighthood.
But all good things must come to an end, right?
Not if you're Michael Caine.
"I got to about 60 and I got a script, and I sent it back to the producer saying, 'I don't wanna do it. The part is too small.' He sent it back to me saying, 'You're not supposed to read the lover; you're supposed to read the father.' And I suddenly realized I had to retire."
But only briefly, until Jack Nicholson brought him a script, for "Blood and Wine."
"And I thought, 'You wanna be a character actor for the rest of your life, Michael?' And I read the script and I went, 'Yeah, I do.' Jack is my lucky charm, Jack Nicholson. I mean, it was the luckiest thing that happened to me 'cause I had no intentions of going back in and playing small parts in movies. But you see, there are no small parts in movies. When you're on the screen, you're big!"
It was a whole new career. And what better character for Caine than Batman's wizened English butler, Alfred? Caine said, "I was walking along the street the other day and there was a load of Japanese schoolgirls walking along in London. And all these young girls from Japan recognized me! You know, I was so proud!"
In fact, Caine became such a good luck charm for the cash-cow Batman series that the director, Christopher Nolan, didn't want to make a movie without him. He even fit him into his war epic, "Dunkirk," as the voice on an RAF Spitfire's radio.
Phillips asked, "You gonna keep doing this forever? Do you ever think you will kind of hang it up?"
"To me, you don't retire from movies; movies retire you," he replied.
But not yet!
"And now someone's come to me with a television series about an old people's home, obviously. And it's very funny."
"Not a rock band, an old people's home?"
"No, no. It's old people, a lot of old people. But the great thing is, I know a lot of old people. I know a lot of old actresses and a lot of old actors. So it could be fun!"
And, maybe, more material for yet another book about his long life that started back in South London, before the Blitz, where he'd have to make the long trek between his famil's flat on the very top floor and the toilet in the garden. "So, you either had good legs or wet pants!" he laughed.
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For more info:
- "Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, and Other Lessons in Life" by Michael Caine (Hachette Books), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon
Story produced by Mikaela Bufano.