Michael Caine Reflects On His 'Hollywood' Career Michael Caine has been acting on stage and screen for more than 50 years. He shares some of his favorite memories, including the advice John Wayne gave him during his first week in Hollywood, in his memoir, The Elephant to Hollywood.

Michael Caine Reflects On His 'Hollywood' Career

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Michael Caine has been making movies so long that he's probably made more bad films than many actors will appear in over the course of a career. One of the appealing things about Caine's new memoir is that he doesn't mind admitting when a film flops. It's of a piece with the easy charm and Cockney accent that have made Caine a favorite among movie audiences and other actors.

Despite the flops, Caine is a great actor. He earned five Oscar nominations and won twice for Best Supporting Actor, for "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "The Cider House Rules." Among his other memorable films are "Alfie," "Sleuth," "The Man Who Would be King," "Educating Rita," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The Quiet American." In 2000, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Caine was born into a poor neighborhood called Elephant and Castle in South London. He eventually shed his given name, Maurice Micklewhite, and took a stage name from "The Caine Mutiny," which starred his idol, Humphrey Bogart.

Caine spoke to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies about his new memoir, "The Elephant to Hollywood."


Well, Michael Caine, welcome to FRESH AIR.

As I understand, you started acting in a community theater and kind of stayed with it.

Mr. MICHAEL CAINE (Actor): Yeah.

DAVIES: And, you know, one of the things that interests me about that is that people who come from working-class backgrounds I think have a - often have a hard time, as young people, visualizing themselves escaping that world. What made you think you could?

Mr. CAINE: I don't think I had a choice. If you're in a situation where you have nowhere to go but up, you're going to go up no matter what you do.

And I was very fortunate because - you know, we're now talking about the English class system. If you think in terms of class, I was very much lower class, absolutely the wrong kind of accent - a thick, Cockney accent. The theater would have been impossible for me.

But I decided to try it anyway, and I was very fortunate because there had never been any leading roles written for working-class people in the theater, with the exception of Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion." And she was there only as a foil for Professor Higgins, you know.

I was fortunate because writers like John Osborne and "Look Back in Anger" and all this came on. And so I managed to be able to become a lead, even though I didn't talk what you would call posh.

But very funnily for me, my first movie that I ever got attention with a part was a movie called "Zulu," where I played an extremely posh officer. So it was quite weird that I should do that.

DAVIES: You did a lot of acting in your 20s, but I was surprised to read that you suffered early on from stage fright. How would it manifest itself?

Mr. CAINE: Oh, yeah. It's not one of the glamorous sides of theater, but on first nights in the theater, there's always a bucket by the side in case you want to throw up just before you go onstage, you know. And I used to do that quite regularly.

I remember once, I was playing a psychiatrist, and I read this phrase, which stuck in my mind. It said: You become what you are afraid of. I was a very shy child. If anyone came to our house, I would hide behind the curtains. I didn't want to talk or see anybody. And I think I became an actor to overcome that fear. I became what I was afraid of, in other words.

DAVIES: How did you overcome the stage fright, or do you still get it?

Mr. CAINE: I became a Stanislavski actor, and he has a line that he says, of advice to - or learning. He says: The rehearsal is the work. The performance is the relaxation. So by the time that I've got - like, I'm a movie actor now. By the time I've got to a scene in the studio, I have rehearsed it over and over so many times that it's just second nature to me.

So you have to bring about this relaxation in a movie because the camera is so close and so sharp, and it will pick up any signs of fear. And I also have a definition of movie acting is that it's really being a character.

For instance, if you're watching me give a performance, and you turn to your companion and you say: Isn't that Michael Caine a wonderful actor? Then I've failed. You're supposed to say: I wonder what's going to happy to Harry Brown now, you know? That's it. You've got to make yourself disappear.

In theater, it's just the opposite. You really make the acting work for you. In movies, you dump the acting and become.

DAVIES: Well, let's talk about "Alfie," which was a real breakout picture for you. I mean, it really made you an international star.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

DAVIES: It got you a Best Actor nomination for the Oscars, and I thought we would listen to a scene. This is early in the film. You play Alfie, who is, of course, a young man who gads about having affairs with all kinds of women.

And this is early in the film, where you've just had a liaison with a married woman. She's in her car about to depart, and you turn and talk to the camera, although first we hear her say farewell. So let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie, "Alfie")

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MILLICENT MARTIN (Actor): (as Siddie) I've had a lovely time, Alfie.

Mr. CAINE: (as Alfie) A married woman, see? They're, every one of them, in need of a good laugh. It don't never strike their husbands. I always say: Make a married woman laugh, and you're halfway there with her. Of course, it don't work with a single bird, starts you off on the wrong foot. You get one of them laughing, you won't get nothing else.

Ms. MARTIN (Actor): (as Siddie) (Singing) La-de, la-da.

Mr. CAINE: There you are. Just listen to it. It was dead glum when I met it tonight. I listened to all its problems, then I got it laughing. It will go home laughing.

DAVIES: And that's my guest, Michael Caine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: It made me laugh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Is it still fun to hear?

Mr. CAINE: I'm sitting here laughing, yeah. I'd forgotten that line. But there, by the way, is an example of a very much thicker Cockney accent than the one I have today, because what happened on "Alfie" is I made Alfie, were I played this Cockney. Then, after the picture had been out and been a success in England, the director called me and said you've got to re-loop - which means re-record - 120 lines in the picture.

And I said what for? He said: It's going to America, and the Americans don't understand what you're talking about. So I had to do a load of re-dubbing on that.

DAVIES: Well, you know, the interesting thing about the clip that we just heard is that kind of halfway through Alfie's little narrative, he begins referring to the woman he's just, you know, had this affair with as it.

Mr. CAINE: It. Yeah.

DAVIES: Which kind of reminds us that this is not exactly a charming rogue who means no harm. He really treats these women very badly.

Mr. CAINE: Oh, yeah, yeah. And the thing about him was that he was an innocent. And in - the last line he says in the picture is: What's it all about? He doesn't understand. He doesn't understand why everybody's against him, what's going on, you know.

And if there were many men - I mean, one of my best friends was like that. He got all the girls, you know, but he was very male chauvinistic, you know, to refer to, obviously, to refer to a woman as it.

DAVIES: Well, you know, there was a time in the '60s here, I mean, after - I mean, this film was made in '66, and you - your career really took off. And you were single then, and, you know, young, single, having a grand time, plenty of, I assume, casual relationships with women. And I wonder: Did people think of you as Alfie? Did you feel like you had to be Alfie?

Mr. CAINE: No, no, no, no. People told me: You're really like Alfie. I said, no. They said: But you - wait a minute. You were going around with different girls just like Alfie and, you know, you're very similar.

And no, I said, there's been - I was a man who very much respected his mother. I remember once my wife, Shakira, my wife of 40 years, she was doing an interview, and I was in the other room. The reporter said to her, he said - and I was listening, half-listening to see whether she said anything about me.

And he said: What first attracted you to Michael? And there was a pause, and she said: The way he treated his mother. And that was me. I have tremendous respect for women.

And so, I mean, Alfie was a man who would have sex anywhere, anytime, with anybody. That was not me at all, never in a million years. I was a romantic, put it that way.

DAVIES: One of the lovely details in this book is when you had your early successes with the film "Zulu" and "The Ipcress File" and then "Alfie," that at the premieres, for your date, you invited your mom.

Mr. CAINE: One of them I invited my mother. The first one was "Zulu." And I invited my mother. There was a very big premiere in the West End, which is like Broadway in America.

And I asked my mother to go to the premiere with me, and she wouldn't go. So I went with a very beautiful girl whose name escapes me now. And going in with all the flashlights and posing with a beautiful girl, and the crowds were being held back by the police, and it was sort of a big of mayhem, you know. It was a big premiere.

And in the middle of the crowd, being pushed and shoved around, I saw my mother. And for a minute I was so angry, you know. But after we got out of the theater at the end, I telephoned her. She was home, and I said: What were you doing there? I asked you to come. She said: I thought it wouldn't be good for your career to turn up with your mother, she said.

She said: You know, I wanted you to be with a lovely girl, you know, and everything would look good. She said: But I also wanted to be there and see how it was. So that's why I went.

But then the next time, "Ipcress File," I made her come to the premiere, and I bought a mink coat for her to go in.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Michael Caine. He's written a new memoir called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Michael Caine. He's written a new memoir called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

You grew up in South London, from humble origins, kind of worked your way up. What was it like when you first went to Hollywood?

Mr. CAINE: It was quite weird, because I went there, and I was going to do a picture with Shirley MacLaine, and she wasn't there. She was working on another picture, and she was just finishing up. Until we officially had the party welcoming me to Hollywood - I didn't know this - I was in this very luxurious suite in the Beverly Hills Hotel, and no one talked to me and no one came. They just paid the bills, and that was it, you know.

And so I used to sit in the lobby looking for movie stars, which is where I met John Wayne for the first time, and we became friends - not close friends. I mean, we hardly moved in the same circles. But we became very deep acquaintances. Put it that way.

And he was very kind to me, gave me all sorts of advice, like: Talk low, talk slow and don't say too much. Don't wear suede shoes. I said: Why not wear suede shoes? He said because you'll be in the toilet, taking a pee, and a guy will recognize you, and he'll turn to you and say Michael Caine, and he will have peed all over your shoes, Michael. And so I said: All right, I won't wear white suede shoes.

DAVIES: This is the advice you got when you first came to Hollywood?

Mr. CAINE: That was my first advice from John Wayne, you know.

DAVIES: Well, I wanted to talk about another film that got you a Best Actor nomination, "Sleuth," 1972, where you appear with Laurence Olivier. And it's based on a play by Anthony Shaffer, this very intense drama. I think it's just the two of you in every single scene.

Mr. CAINE: Yes, it was.

DAVIES: He plays a wealthy guy. You're a younger man who's having an affair with his wife, and he's invited you to his home for a talk. So let's listen to a scene.

(Soundbite of movie, "Sleuth")

Mr. LAURENCE OLIVIER (Actor): (as Andrew Wyke) Well, now. I understand you want to marry my wife.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) Forgive me for raising the matter, but as Marguerite is away for a few days in the north visiting relatives, I thought this might be an appropriate moment for you and me to have a little chat.

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) I see.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) Well, is it true?

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) Yes - with your permission, of course.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) Why not? You seem to be a personable enough young man, nicely spoken, neatly dressed in brand-new country gentleman's clothing. I'm sure you won't mind me asking you a few questions about your background -parents and so forth.

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) My mother was born in Hereford, a farmer's daughter, and my father is an Italian who came to this country in the '30s from Genoa.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) In the '30s. Jewish?

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) No, Catholic, very devout. Of course, I'm not religious at all myself.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) My dear boy, you don't have to excuse yourself to me. We're all liberals here. I have no prejudice against Catholics, not even lapsed Catholics. In fact, some of my best friends are lapsed Catholics.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) But tell me about your father. Was his name Tindle, too?

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) No, his name was Tindolini, but if you had a name like that in those days, you had to make-a the ice-a cream-a.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) He was a watchmaker, and he wanted us to become English. So he changed it.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) Become English? Was he a successful man?

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) No, no. As a matter of fact, he wasn't. You can't expect to make a living these days just repairing watches. He went broke in the end. I always told him he would.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Michael Caine, in the 1972 film "Sleuth," with Laurence Olivier. Interesting there, he - Olivier is such an upper-class snoot, and you're of more humble origins. Was it intimidating at that - for you as an actor at that age to work with Laurence Olivier?

Mr. CAINE: Oh, yeah. He was the greatest actor in the world - stage, screen, everything. You know, he was incredible. I was just listening to that, and that was a supreme example of class, the way he was talking about Catholics and lapsed Catholics - some of my best friends are lapsed Catholics, you know, and that sort of thing - because in actual fact, in real life, Larry was a lord.

And before we started the film, I'd never met him. But we had to start rehearsals, and he wrote me a little letter, a very nice letter, saying: It has occurred to me that you may be - as I am a lord, you may be wondering how to address me when we meet.

And it said - and then there was a new paragraph, and he said: When we do meet, Michael, from the moment we shake hands, I will be Larry forevermore - which was lovely.

You know, he put me out of any sort of worry socially, but the idea that he had to do it is extraordinary very difficult to explain. It explains a very difficult thing, the class system in England, because if you cut to later, I did a remake of "Sleuth" playing Larry's part.

DAVIES: Right. The older character, yeah.

Mr. CAINE: And Jude - yeah, the older man, and Jude Law played the young seducer. And I was thinking about that because I am now a knight. You know, I'm Sir Michael Caine. But the idea that I would write a letter to Jude saying you may be wondering how to address me when we first meet, once we meet you may call me Michael forevermore, it showed how the class system changed over the 20 years between those two movies.

DAVIES: One of the interesting turns in your story is in 1991, when you learned that there was a half-brother that you'd never known about or known. Your parents were both dead at this point. How did you find out?

Mr. CAINE: My half-brother was in a mental institution. He was eight years older than me. Nobody - obviously, my mother knew, but nobody in my family had any inkling of this man. His name was David.

But the most extraordinary thing that we found out, when I found out about it -and oh, I'll tell you first how I found out. A newspaper in England was doing an article, a series, on the state of mental health treatment in England.

And the reporter eventually rang me and told me that I had my half-brother, because I never knew him. My mother and father were dead. And the way he found out is he was in a hospital doing his thing, you know, his program about the state of mental health. And this girl, who was also a mental patient, came over and pointed at David and said: That is Michael Caine's brother. And, of course, this reporter went: What? And he investigated it, and lo and behold, it was my half-brother.

And he rang me and said - and he was very nice. They didn't make a big deal out of it, you know, sensationalism. He said: But he is your half-brother, he said, and the way we found out is that there is a picture of you with your mother just on the wall by his bed. And that's the woman who comes and visits him. And then I talked to the matron, and then she's told me the full story.

So I had this half-brother there, but the most extraordinary thing about it was that for 51, two or three years, my mother had visited him every Monday without fail, except for the five years of the war, when everyone was evacuated.

DAVIES: Now just to be clear, this was an illegitimate child that your mom had had...

Mr. CAINE: Illegitimate child that she'd had eight years before she had me, when she wasn't married to my - my father was in the Indian Army. He was in the Royal Horse Artillery in India. And so he was away, and she'd had this illegitimate child.

What you did there, because of the shame, is you gave it to the Salvation Army. And he had epilepsy, and they'd obviously left him in a room with a very hard floor and no attention, and he'd battered himself into incoherence.

When I finally met him, he spoke, but I couldn't understand what he said. And the only person who could understand was the matron, who had been with him the longest. And she translated. She was like an interpreter for me when we talked to each other.

And I obviously looked after him very well for the next two years, when he died years ago, years ago.

DAVIES: It's remarkable that your mom made these visits and kept this secret.

Mr. CAINE: That's what's - yeah. That's what's incredible.

DAVIES: Took him sweets and the like.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah, I mean, my mother used to come to me on the weekends, you know, and on Monday, when she went back, you know, I'd give her all the rest of the box of chocolates, boxes of biscuits - you know, cookies as you call them in America and, you know, three-quarters of a cake, which we hadn't eaten.

And for her, you know, and I had other family living in the house where she lived. And I would go up there and see her on a Wednesday and have a cup of tea, which is only two days later. And I'd tell her, I'd like a biscuit. And she'd say: I haven't got one. Of course, she'd been taking them to David.

And I found out - I had a Rolls Royce and a chauffeur, the full - and my chauffeur, he said one day, he said: You do know, he said, whenever I take your mum home on a Monday, I never take her to the house. I said: Where do you drop her off? He said: I drop her off at a bus stop.

And I said: What did she say she's going to do? He said: She's going shopping. What she was absolutely going to do was take the food and the chocolates to David in the mental home.

GROSS: Michael Caine's interview with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies will continue in the second half of the show. Caine's new memoir is called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with actor Michael Caine, who has appeared in over 100 films, including "Get Carter," "Alfie," "Educating Rita," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "The Cider House Rules," "The Quiet American," Batman films, a Muppet movie, and recently "Inception" and "Harry Brown." Caine's written a new memoir called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

DAVIES: I wanted to talk little bit about "The Man Who Would Be King," which you starred in with Sean Connery, directed by John Huston. Quite a tale of -you know, the Rudyard Kipling story. How did you get that part?

Mr. CAINE: I was sleeping late in bed with my wife in the George Cinq(ph) Hotel in Paris on a Saturday morning. It was about 11:00. We'd been out very late at probably Regine's disco in Paris. My wife and I used to go to Paris for weekends for honeymoon. Well, we still do, as a matter of fact. And the phone went in the bedroom and I sort of picked it up very flustered. I was half asleep. I said, yes. He said, this is John Huston, I'd like to have a chat with you about making a movie. And I said no, come on, who is this? Because all my mates could, would do jokes on me like that, you know? So he said, no, it's John Huston.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: And I said, is it? No. Come on. And, you know, he said, Michael, it's John Huston and I want you to do a movie with me. And he told me the story "The Man Who Would Be King," and he said it was going to be played by Humphrey Bogart, who is my favorite actor of all time, and he said I'd like to see you to talk about it. So I said, yeah, I said any time, any time. He said, well, I'm in the bar next door. He said, can you come down?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: So I said, yeah, yeah. I jumped out of bed, combed my hair, dashed out and went down and had my first chat with him and that - got the part and I had an incredible experience, because John was the greatest director, I think. I mean, no, I've worked with some great directors, but he was one of the greatest directors I ever worked with.

DAVIES: And what was distinctive about his approach?

Mr. CAINE: He never said anything. I sat there one day, I said, John, you never give me any directions. He said, the art of direction, Michael, is casting. If you've cast it right, you don't have to say anything. Anyway, said, why do I have to tell you a lot of stuff? He said, you get paid a great deal of money to do this. You should be know how to do it without me telling you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: We should listen to just a clip of this, of "The Man Who Would Be King." And for those that don't know, it's the Rudyard Kipling story of these two sergeants in the English Army in India who finished their service and then sort of become these rogue scammers and then have this idea that they will have this plot to become a king of Kafiristan. And here, this scene is fairly late in the film where, in fact, you have made it to Kafiristan. Sean Connery is regarded by the locals as a god. Your character, Peachy, is trying to convince him that it's time to get the loot and get out of there. He is so enraptured with his role as a - you know, as a deity that he wants to stay. So let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Man Who Would Be King")

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) Danny, Danny, we've had this rare streak of luck. Let's quit winners for once, cut and run while the running's good.

Mr. SEAN CONNERY (Actor): (as Daniel) You call it luck. I call it destiny.

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) Ha, ha. Pardon me while I fall down laughing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONNERY: (as Daniel) Whatever you may think and however you may feel, I'm a king and you're a subject, so don't you provoke me, Peachy Carnehan.

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) Or you'll do what? You got me trembling in my boots here. What will you do?

Mr. CONNERY: (as Daniel) You have our permission to bugger off.

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) That I'll do, with or without your bleeding permission.

(Soundbite of walking)

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) And may you rot in hell, Daniel Dravot.

DAVIES: That's our guest, Michael Caine, with Sean Connery in "The Man Who Would Be King."

Do you remember shooting that scene?

Mr. CAINE: Oh yeah, very well. And we shot all that in Morocco. But very funny enough, we - so we're going to be kings of Kafiristan, I remember saying. And yesterday I saw Kafiristan on the television, and it's a major Taliban stronghold...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: ...right now.

DAVIES: Oh, boy.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

DAVIES: There are so many movies of yours we could talk about. But I wanted to talk about "The Cider House Rules," which you made in 2000, won you your second Oscar. It's a lovely film, really, based on the John Irving novel, and I thought we'd listen to a bit of this. You play a doctor at an orphanage for unwanted children in Maine who also performs abortions for young women who need them. There's a young man there played by Tobey Maguire named Homer who you've trained as a gynecologist and has learned to deliver babies, but he refuses to do abortions. It's against his principles. And in this particular scene we're going to hear, a young teenage girl has come in in distress because she has been to a back alley abortionist and you're treating her. You speak first to her and then to this young apprentice, Homer.

(Soundbite of movie. "The Cedar House Rules")

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Dear child, did you do something to yourself?

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (as character) It wasn't me. It wasn't me.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Did you go to someone else?

Unidentified Woman: He said he was a doctor. I would've never stuck that inside me.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Listen, listen...

Unidentified Woman: (as character) It wasn't me.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Listen, you've been very brave, and I'm going to put you to sleep.

Unidentified Woman: (as character) It wasn't me.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Homer, I want you to see this. You won't feel it anymore.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) You've been very brave. We'll make it deeper.

Mr. TOBEY MAGUIRE (Actor): (as Homer) You're sure?

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) You bet. Fetus is unexpelled. The uterus is punctured. She has acute peritonitis. There is a foreign object. I think it's a crochet hook. Take this. If she had come to you four months ago and asked for simple DNC, what would you have done? Nothing. This is what doing nothing gets you. It means that somebody else is going to do the job, some moron who doesn't know how.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Michael Caine, with Tobey Maguire in his Oscar-winning performance in "The Cider House Rules."

The relationship between you and Tobey Maguire, it's kind of a father-son relationship and it's really touching. He wants to go out and see the world. You want him to remain at the orphanage and continue to serve the young women and the kids who are there.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. Well, he was an orphan too, you see.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. CAINE: And so I had brought them up in that way, you know. People say to me, you worry about acting with children? I say watch "The Cider House Rules," I have 150.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right. You're reading stories to a kid and you have that wonderful line where you say goodnight. What is the line?

Mr. CAINE: Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.

DAVIES: Right. Right.

DAVIES: Yeah. That's what people come up to me American men come up to me in the street and they say to me, you know what I say to my boys before they go to bed? I say it's not goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England, is it? And then they say, oh yeah, you guessed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Our guest is Michael Caine. His new memoir is called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Michael Caine. He's written a new memoir called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

You know, you've been in the business so long, made, what, over a hundred films, I guess, right?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah (unintelligible) a hundred, yeah.

DAVIES: And you know, anybody who's had a long career is going to have some stinkers in the mix, and one of the things I like about your book is that you fully acknowledge that, that they are things that didn't work.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

DAVIES: Do you have a favorite moment from any of those that didn't work that you just love to look back on and laugh about?

Mr. CAINE: Look, any of those films that didn't work I never ever saw.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: I know one. I know the scene that I love. I did a very bad movie called "The Swarm."

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAINE: "The Swarm" was about bees that, you know, big, very malignant bees attacking in hordes, attacking people and killing them.

DAVIES: Henry Fonda was in that, wasn't he?

Mr. CAINE: Henry Fonda, one of my favorite actors. Dick Widmark, I was working with all my good guys. But there is a moment in there with all the bees and we had to do a scene where we were smothered in bees, you know? We were doctors. It was Hank Fonda and me. We were wearing white smocks or doctors' coats and they let all these bees go out of these hives, thousands of them. And they came in and we suddenly noticed that our white smocks sort of started to get a very, very pale brown mist very, very pale (unintelligible). What we didn't realize was that bees when caged do not defecate in their habitation, shall we say. They wait until till the moment they're released and sort of busting themselves, and they released like half a million bees and they all crapped all over us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: Which sort of anticipated the critics by about nine months.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: That's the funniest scene in one of those, because I did see "The Swarm," and you can actually see, if you're looking, the brown film on our tunics.

DAVIES: You know, I have to ask you before we go, I spoke to a friend in the last couple of days and said I was going to be interviewing Michael Caine, and she said, oh, he's so great, he's such a great actor and he's such a wonderful guy. And of course, she's never spent a minute in your presence. But I think there is this image of you, maybe because of your Cockney accent or because of the roles you've had, that people just figure that you're a guy they could share a beer with and they'd love to hang with. Is it a burden to have that image? Is that you?

Mr. CAINE: It's exactly me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: Yeah, I'm very much socially - and I hasten to add, only socially -I'm a communist. Everybody is exactly the same to me. I treat everybody exactly the same until they answer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: Then I figure out who they are.

DAVIES: Is it ever tiresome? I mean people expect you to...

Mr. CAINE: It can be.

DAVIES: ...to never have an inpatient moment, you know?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah, but I never do. I control my temper. I have a terrible temper and I've learned early on to control it. I remember, I'd lost my temper very badly on a picture called "The Lost Valley," when they put me on a horse. I hadn't been trained properly and I'm a terrible rider, and they'd assured me that it was very quiet, and then it threw me off and I hurt myself and I really had a go at the crew, and they were all laughing at me, you know? And I really, really lost my temper.

And Jimmy Clavell James Clavell - was the director. And he said, okay, half an hour's break, everybody; let's go and have a cup of tea, Michael, in my motor home. So we went to his motor home. And he said, I was captured by the Japanese in Hong Kong when I was 14. I said, I know you were, Jim. He said, and I survived that by watching and learning from them. He said, and the thing I learned that I could tell you today is never to lose your temper. He said because anger is a very, very important emotion and you must never ever share important emotions with strangers, because you will only lose face, because none of it is important to them. And I never ever lost my temper on a movie set ever again.

DAVIES: Well, Michael Caine, it's been fun. Thanks so much for spending some time with us.

Mr. CAINE: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Michael Caine spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Caine's new memoir is called "The Elephant to Hollywood." You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.

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