Actor Michael Caine, 85, On His Long Career: 'The Alternative Was A Factory' From the title heartthrob in Alfie to the fatherly butler of a Batman franchise, the actor has been filling movie screens for a half-century. His new memoir is Blowing The Bloody Doors Off.
NPR logo

Actor Michael Caine, 85, On His Long Career: 'The Alternative Was A Factory'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Actor Michael Caine, 85, On His Long Career: 'The Alternative Was A Factory'

Actor Michael Caine, 85, On His Long Career: 'The Alternative Was A Factory'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Sir Michael Caine has been filling our movie screens for half a century. His breakout role came in 1966 as the callous heartthrob in "Alfie."


MICHAEL CAINE: (As Alfie) Well, you all settled in? Right, we can begin. My name is Alfie. I suppose you think you're going to see the bleeding titles now. Well, you're not, so you can all relax.

SHAPIRO: More than a hundred movies later, Caine is better known these days for his supporting roles, including the fatherly butler Alfred in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.


CAINE: (As Alfred) You have to find another way. You used to talk about finishing, about a life beyond that awful cave. It might also mean saving your life.

SHAPIRO: Well, today Sir Michael Caine joins us to talk about his new memoir, "Blowing The Bloody Doors Off." Welcome to the program.

CAINE: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Let me first ask how I should refer to you. You addressed this question in the book by telling a story about Sir Laurence Olivier, one of the great actors of the 20th century.

CAINE: Yeah. I was doing a picture with him called "Sleuth," and we had to rehearse for two weeks before. And I'd never met him. And he was Lord Olivier. And before we actually met, I got a letter from him saying, it's occurred to me that you may be wondering how to address me when we meet. And then he said, after the handshake, I will be Larry forever.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Well, you're in London, and I'm in Washington, D.C., but I hope we can have an imaginary handshake.

CAINE: Yeah, and I will be Michael forever.

SHAPIRO: All right.

CAINE: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: I'd like you to take us back to your youth, if you would. You were 6 years old when you were evacuated from London during World War II in the Blitz.


SHAPIRO: How did that experience shape the person you've become?

CAINE: It shaped it in a couple of ways actually. Mentally, I lived on a farm for six years, and I got a great education. And there was also another thing about - the war was an incredible thing for all of us in one way. And, I mean, talk about use the difficulty, which is my motto.

SHAPIRO: Use the difficulty.

CAINE: Yeah. Yeah, use the difficulty. But using the difficulty was - in the war, the only food you could get was organic food because they used all the chemicals in explosives. And so for six years, all we had was organic food. And there was no sugar. And all these things that we worry about so much now - in the war, you couldn't get them. So we all grew up sort of very healthily in the war.

SHAPIRO: Before the war, you were poor, malnourished. You say you had rickets. And the war actually helped you become a strong, tall, healthy person.

CAINE: Oh, yeah. Well, I came from a slum in London. And London then was very smoggy because we didn't have central heating and all that. We had coal fires. And so, you know, it was always smoky and unhealthy, terrible. To be taken to the country in the fresh air with exercise and everything, I sprang up. By the time - I'm 6-feet-2, but by the time I was 14, I was 6 feet tall.

SHAPIRO: Class informed so much of your early career. You write in this book that when you started acting, the only working-class British actor who had made it in Hollywood was Charlie Chaplin. And he was silent.

CAINE: That's right. And he didn't have to talk. I mean, he talked with the same accent that I do because he came from exactly the same places I come from. Your life - you think you're doing great, and you're going to do this, and you did that, and you're so clever and all that, but life depends a lot on timing for all of us. And my timing was perfect. It was the '60s which changed everything for class, you know? We stopped taking notice of bourgeois or upper-crust people. I mean, there's still class here in this country.


CAINE: But it doesn't count. I mean, it has no power.

SHAPIRO: And so you just happened to come of age at a time when you were able to make strides that somebody of your class would not have been able to 20 years earlier.

CAINE: Ten years. Ten years. Someone wrote a leading play with a character called Alfie who was a Cockney layabout womanizer, you know? No one had ever written a play like that in England. And it was an era when everybody became something. You know what I mean? It was quite extraordinary.

SHAPIRO: You had crippling stage fright. And when you performed onstage, you kept a bucket in the wings to be sick in.

CAINE: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Why keep doing something that caused you such terror?

CAINE: Because I couldn't help it. I had to be an actor. I wanted to be an actor. And of course you have to remember with me, the alternative was a factory. I mean, when I was 20, I was in the army. And I came out of the army when I was 20. I came home, and I worked in a butter factory.

SHAPIRO: I found it really refreshing that you say in this book that it's OK to take roles in films because of the money. Not everything has to be an Academy Award-winning performance.

CAINE: 'Cause when you start - all right, so you had "Alfie." You know, then I made "The Swarm," which was a dreadful picture about bees.

SHAPIRO: It was a horror movie about bees. Yeah.

CAINE: About bees, yeah. But it was...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Just hearing you say that is like, how could that be a good movie?

CAINE: But the point was that I only sort of glanced at the script because the stars of it were Henry Fonda, Jose Ferrer, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray. And it was all these massive Hollywood stars. And they were all in it. I thought, well, it must be good.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Right, famous last words.

CAINE: Famous last words. And the first time I realized that it was a big flop is we did a special scene where they had the bees in a hive up on the ceiling above us where we were talking. And as we were talking, we noticed little black dots on our shirts. It was - the first reviews were in. Even the bees were crapping on us.


SHAPIRO: I didn't know bees do that. I mean, I guess of course, but - yeah, all right, well...

CAINE: Bees do. Yeah, if they don't like you, they crap on you.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) You've worked with all of the greats.


SHAPIRO: And many of them have one thing in common, which is that they like to do a Michael Caine impression (laughter).

CAINE: Oh, yeah, they all do them. Everybody does an impression of me.

SHAPIRO: There's one clip of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in their film "The Trip" - and I wish we could play the entire thing, but it goes on and on and on, so we're just going to give a little taste of this.


ROB BRYDON: (As himself) Michael Caine's voice now in the Batman movies and in "Harry Brown." I can't go fast because Michael Caine talks very, very slowly.

CAINE: (Laughter).


STEVE COOGAN: (As himself) Right, this is how Michael Caine speaks. Michael Caine speaks through his nose like that. He gets very, very specific. It's very like that. When he gets loudly, it gets very loud indeed.


SHAPIRO: It's an odd way to pay respect, isn't it?

CAINE: When he did that when I was listening, I thought he had a cold...


CAINE: ...Because he was honking like this for this, that, you know?

SHAPIRO: Michael Caine, you do a very good Michael Caine.

CAINE: Isn't that good?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CAINE: I mean, I'm really good at this. I do it a lot.

SHAPIRO: Some 85 years or so.

CAINE: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: It is a funny way to pay respect, but it is a form of respect.

CAINE: Oh, of course it is. What it also is is a form of success in a way because the impersonator knows that everybody knows who he's talking about.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. You're now 85 and still working. When you think back to the hunger, the insecurity, the class structure, the struggle of your early years, what's it like to now realize that you can rest, that you are secure, that you have accomplished?

CAINE: Oh, that's one of the greatest things in my life. I thank God every day. I am religious. I don't practice one religion because my father was a Catholic, my mother was a Protestant, I was educated by Jews, and I'm married to a Muslim. So...


CAINE: But I believe in God. Rocky Graziano, an American boxer, wrote an autobiography which I thought described me. He said, somebody up there likes me. I've thought of nicking that title, but they told me I couldn't (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Well, it's been a pleasure watching you on-screen over all these years and a pleasure talking to you today. Thank you so much.

CAINE: Thank you, sir. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

SHAPIRO: Michael Caine's new book is called "Blowing The Bloody Doors Off: And Other Lessons In Life."


Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.