- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009


With more than 100 films under his belt and two Oscars nestling on his mantel, Michael Caine could be forgiven for contemplating retirement after more than a half-century on the silver screen.

Although the 76-year-old actor's latest role is an aging magician struggling to adjust to life as a reluctant resident of an old people's home, Mr. Caine says there is no chance of his life imitating art.

“[General Douglas] MacArthur said, 'Old soldiers don't die, they just fade away,' and maybe it's the same with old actors too,” Mr. Caine tells reporters ahead of Friday's North American release of his film “Is Anybody There?”

“I don't think you ever retire from films - films retire you,” he says. “Sometimes, if you're unfortunate, after your first film.

“What happens is you say, 'I'm going to retire.' And then someone turns up and gives you this script. So you're not retiring.

“I don't have my next movie, and I'm not looking for one. But someone will give me a script possibly, and I'll work again. If someone doesn't give me a script that I want to do, I'll retire.

“But there' won't be a great announcement or fanfare of trumpets. I just won't do anything. I'll stay at home and do what I always do, which is cooking, gardening and writing.”

Born Maurice Micklewhite in 1933, Mr. Caine grew up in southeastern London, the cockney son of a charlady and a fish-market porter. He fell in love with Hollywood after seeing “The Lone Ranger” as a 5-year-old.

After changing his name, Mr. Caine secured uncredited roles in a string of films during the 1950s before his big break came in the 1964 classic “Zulu.”

One of his best-known films - “The Ipcress File” - followed before Mr. Caine shot to stardom as the morally bankrupt title character of 1966's “Alfie,” which earned him the first of six career Academy Award nominations.

Since then, Mr. Caine has appeared in dozens of beloved film roles, from the swaggering thief Charlie Croker in 1969's “The Italian Job” to Bruce Wayne's loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth in the two most recent Batman blockbusters.

Mr. Caine is contracted to reprise the role of Alfred in any follow-up to “The Dark Knight,” but he says he thinks a sequel will not happen for some time, as director Christopher Nolan is committed to other projects.

Most recently, Mr. Caine has finished work on a British crime thriller, “Harry Brown,” in which he plays an aging Royal Marine who turns vigilante after his friend is killed on a crime-ridden London estate.

For Mr. Caine, the film was a chance to re-connect with his London roots.

“It was weird for me because we went back to these estates, which fortunately are being torn down,” Mr. Caine says. “They were the estates where I came from, and there is still a mural on a wall in this estate, of me and Charlie Chaplin, who also came from there.”

While “Harry Brown” echoes Mr. Caine's role in the cult 1971 British gangster film “Get Carter,” his latest movie, “Is Anybody There?” takes the audience into a touching story about an unlikely friendship between the elder conjurer Clarence and a small boy, Edward, who lives at the home. Edward is played by young actor Bill Milner.

Mr. Caine says he agreed to do the film after reading just half of the script and being reduced to tears. “No script had ever done that to me before, and I don't cry easily, believe me,” he says. “I just thought it was a wonderful thing to do.”

Mr. Caine says he has little in common with his character in the struggle against aging and dementia, but recent experiences in his personal life helped him prepare for the role.

“The film did give me an insight into why other people age and not me,” Mr. Caine says. “But there was a sad aspect to it. For the dementia and Alzheimer's, I was technically perfect because my best friend had just died of it.

During the filming of his latest film, Mr. Caine says, “I never got the sense that Bill was a child actor. I just looked at him as if he was the same as me. And we were just friends.

“One reporter asked me the other day, 'Did you give him any advice?' And I said no, he didn't need any advice. He never looked like he needed any help. He was just wonderful.”

Talk of co-stars brings Mr. Caine to the subject of “Dark Knight” colleague Christian Bale, who made headlines earlier this year after his lengthy rant at a crew member on the set of an upcoming “Terminator” film was leaked onto the Internet.

He recalls an exchange with the late author and director James Clavell during filming of “The Last Valley” in 1970.

Mr. Clavell, who had been taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II, took Mr. Caine aside after Mr. Caine had exploded in anger on the set. (“I outdid Christian by about 30 minutes,” Mr. Caine jokes.)

“James Clavell told me that what he learned from watching the Japanese was they never lost their temper in front of strangers, because you expose too much of yourself,” Mr. Caine says . “So he gave me this long lecture about anger. And since that day, I have never lost my temper on a set. Now I go home and scream at the kids instead.”

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