“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” – Sir Michael Caine
Sir Michael Caine’s ability as an actor seems indelibly entwined with his universal likeability as a person. For all the method and technique involved, he is proof that having the audience on board from the get-go is half the battle. He is an expert at mingling his own inherent charms with the character that he is playing to add humanity and humility to the wide-ranging roles in which he is cast.
This diversity from Superhero movies, to comedies and even hard-hitting social commentaries, adds particular interest to the way in which he views his own back catalogue. Back in 2019, the Italian Job star down with Charles McGrath of The New York Times to discuss the movies he is most proud of.
The first on the list was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is a movie conman caper with more charm and joie de vivre than just about any other comedy in history. It is a movie that relishes the ability to coax hilarity without punching down at anyone in a mingling joy of genres.
“I had such a good time filming it that when they first came to me I thought they were joking,” Caine recalls regarding his casting in the role. It is this playful, self-evident onset fun that bleeds gloriously onto the screen. “Frank Oz [the director] came to me and said ‘it’s going to be in the south of France, and we’ll get you a villa down there for three months’, and he named where it was, and it was right between two of my best friends Leslie Bricusse the composer and Roger Moore. And he said to me ‘I’ll send you the script’ and I felt like saying ‘don’t bother’. But I did read the script and I thought it was a riot.”
Caine says that the trick to the comedy was not only because of the “fabulous” Steve Martin but that “he was nuts and I was completely serious at all time. If I was trying to be funny it wouldn’t work, especially in movies.”
The wide-ranging diversity of Caine’s filmography is then proved by his second choice, The Man Who Would Be King. As soldiers who adventure into Kafiristsan, Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer brought director John Huston’s vision scintillatingly to life. Caine declared that the three actors were already friends long before the film, but “I had never met John Huston,” Caine adds, “But he was my favourite director.”
“I got a call in a hotel one night […] and it was John Huston. And he said, ‘I’m doing a Rudyard Kipling movie, would you like to come and see me’, and I said ‘Yes, I’d love to come and see you, when shall we meet?’ and he said, ‘I’m in the bar next door’.” Thereafter, Huston revealed to Caine that he would be playing a role he previously intended to cast Humphrey Bogart in before he died. “Bogart was my favourite actor,” Caine explains, and with glee, he recalled, “I was going play a part that Bogart was going to play and I was going to be directed by John Huston!” Thus, once more the script business cropped up whereby Huston said he’d send one over and Caine replied, “It’s okay, I’ll do it, don’t worry.”
Alfie was the next movie on the list. A film that upon its in 1966 transcended success and entered the cultural mainstay at large all over the world, with the exception of France. Thus, Caine asked a French friend of his why that was the case and he received the response, “No Frenchman could believe that an Englishman could seduce ten women.”
Rounding up his selection was the Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters and the Joseph L. Mankiewicz whodunnit classic Sleuth. About the former Caine didn’t recall much about the movie itself but humorously remembered acting alongside Mia Farrow while Allen was directing. “Woody at that time was Mia’s lover,” Caine begins. “We shot the movie in her apartment. We had a scene in bed and it was her bed, and we had an intimate scene, and Woody was directing it and I looked up as I was just going to kiss and over her shoulder, I could see her ex-husband André Previn looking at me.” As it turns out, he had just popped into the apartment to check in on the children he had with Farrow, in what sounds like the most hodgepodge Allen set in history.
Lastly for Caine, Sleuth holds a special place in his heart as it gave him the opportunity to star alongside perhaps the most revered actor of all time Lord Laurence Olivier. “He gave me the greatest compliment I have ever had in my life,” Caine proudly remembers, “We did a scene, a very emotional scene. And at the end of it, he said, ‘You know Michael, I thought I had an assistant, now I know I have a partner.”
Michael Caine’s five favourite Michael Caine movies:
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
- The Man Who Would Be King
- Hannah and her Sisters