CAINE: Unconsciously I started training for this part many years ago,
when I was a little boy of six and evacuated from London during the war. I was sent
outside to the country and spent six weeks with strangers, and I was not treated very
well. This film is about compassion. I have always had a great compassion for children -
and been appalled by any cruelty to them - and when I came to play Dr. Larch, I knew
exactly what the children would expect from me as a kind person, because I was still that
child anyway. To the children, the grown-up is a dangerous person, big and kind of ugly
and powerful, but he is wonderful if he loves only you. As a metaphor, each child is like
Fay Wray - the only person King Kong loves in the old film they watch every week.
Q: You have performed with a lot of great actors. How was it, for instance, to
work with Laurence Olivier in Sleuth?
A: The part in Sleuth came to me as a lot of other jobs, because Peter O'Toole
had turned it down…[laughs] and I was kind of fearful for Olivier - after all he was
such a giant, one of the greatest actors in the history of theatre. But on the first day I
realised we were in my medium which is film, and not his, which was theatre - so
everything eased up a bit. Then he was fired from his job at the National Theatre, started
taking Valium and could not remember his lines for a week.
As all actors would, I took full advantage of this, screwed him into the ground as much
as possible, then ducked and waited for him to come back at me, which he did. However, it
was a draw. But he was like a hurricane, coming out of nowhere, and suddenly you are
standing in the doorway and the house is gone. One day when we had had a very big scene
going after each other, he gave me the best compliment I have ever had as an actor. He
came up to me and said, 'I thought I had an employee - I see I have a partner.' And we
even became friends.
A star of the stage goes to the theatre, and everybody around him is there to get a
great man's performance out of him. He will stand in full spotlight, wearing a red cloak
and a crown, surrounded by all the other actors in the dark, with black shirts and
trousers. Next day the critics will say, 'What star quality he had - the moment he came on
stage you could not look anywhere else.' In the movies there is no such escape.
Q: Over the years, you have yourself become a sort of icon for a whole
generation of moviegoers. Do you have a ready explanation for that?
A: I was recently asked the same question by a young men's magazine, so I have thought
about it and reached the conclusion that audiences trust me. I come from them. For years
leading characters in films have always been gay men, intellectual men, slightly
suspicious men, ice cold men or impotent men. I am one of the few actors who - in my whole
career - has continuously played heterosexual.
Masculinity is me. There are no doubts about me. People do not look at me and say, 'He
is an actor. I wonder if he is gay or some kind of pervert,' because they know it is 'No'
to both questions. And then they particularly remember three films. In The Italian Job we
went to Italy and won the football. Pretty good for a young guy. In Alfie I seduced every
woman I ever met in the movie. Pretty good for a young guy. In Get Carter I slapped the
nose of everybody who stepped out of line. Pretty good for a young guy. Win the football,
get the girls, beat up anyone you do not like - for 30 years I have represented that to an
entire generation of English males, and believe it or not: I am proud of it [laughs].
Q: Who were your own film icons?
A: When I was a boy looking for a Michael Caine, Burt Lancaster came out, and I knew I had
met my match. I loved American war movies, not the British - and not from lack of
patriotism - but the British were about officers, and the American about ordinary
soldiers. I grew up watching Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power, extremely handsome men, and I
kept looking in the mirror and said, 'Oh, I failed here.' Humphrey Bogart and Spencer
Tracy - they never looked as if they were acting. I was always amazed at their
If you watch Bogart, he was a man who could talk - he would do six pages of dialogues
in half a minute, and tell the whole story to you, without raising his lip. My all-time
favourite films were - and are - black and white, Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront, Orson
Welles' Citizen Kane, Carol Reed's The Third Man. But the greatest of them all - and I
could be a little biased here, because both Bogart and Tracy were dead when I came to
Hollywood - was Cary Grant, whom I met, and we became great friends. I always adored him
and wanted to be like him, but I never made it ... well, maybe one day.
Q: Another icon - Sylvester Stallone - will play your part in a remake of Get
Carter from 1970. How do you feel about that?
A: I have already been offered a part in it, so I am all for it. I am sure Sly
will make a good gangster, but the film will be entirely different from ours - set in New
York, with an American cast, and a lot more stunts and special effects. The producer will
realise that the original Get Carter was made for less than it will cost him to pay for
Sly's entourage. Much more money will be slung at it, and I just hope they will sling some
of it on to me.
Q: Is there a difference between British and American humour?
A: The best sense of humour in the world is New Yorker Jewish. When the European Jews
emigrated to America, they were so happy to get out of here that they saw the funny side
in everything. The rest of us who were stuck in England had to see the funny side in
everything out of pure desperation. Opposite the American humour, the British is full of
irony, because it comes either from very, very smart people at universities or from
prisons, where ancestors of the likes of me invented it to confound the wardens [laughs].