Off Cut Forty Nine


Michael Caine in an interview with Michael Parkinson screened on Australian TV in 2003 joked that the reason he started acting was to "meet a beautiful girl". However he had acquired an interest in acting and perhaps an understanding of it too, because he "used to go to pictures 7 days a week. There were always lots of films to see. I was a big movie fan - massive movie fan," he said.

Many actors acquire an intuitive understanding of performance by watching others and Michael's desire to act seems to have gained impetus this way. But there was another reason Michael Caine was interested in acting. He explained to Michael Parkinson that - "I had never seen on screen in a British cinema anybody who really represented me … a young working class man. It was very rare you saw someone working class on the screen to identify with." The first time he had such an experience was watching John Mills in 'This Happy Breed' [1944]. Mills played a Cockney sailor.. And, "He wasn't a villain and he wasn't a caricature, he was a real person" Caine said. He thought John Mills's achievement was fantastic. "This is how an ordinary working class person in England is. He's not some Cockney; he's not some grovelling guy with a cap going 'yes, anyfing you like gov' … He's a real person, a real person. And I thought well if I can just go on the screen and play a real working class person. It doesn't have to be big parts or anything, just get it right."

Recreating an ordinary image of an ordinary bloke in the street was a goal significantly achieved by Michael with his popular role of Alfie in the movie of the same name. This interview interview ranged over a wide variety of topics but was intended to promote "The Quiet American" - Michael Caine's most recent film.

Using Life Experience.
At the age of 19 as a National Serviceman Michael Caine fought in the Korean War. Michael Parkinson asked him if that experience was something that he managed to draw on during the shooting of "The Quiet American".

Michael Caine: "Oh my God, yeah, it's incredible the things you can draw on. You can draw on abject terror for a start. I know how to do abject terror. And I'll tell you what I do know, which is in the film (The Quiet American): how to do shocked horror. There's a shot in the film of me, when the bomb goes off, and I start to look around. That comes straight from the first time I saw bombardment results in Korea. It comes straight from that."

"Because Stanislavski is … that doesn't mean you mumble and scratch your armpits like Marlon Brando...Stanislavski is sense memory. Sense memory. You go back to something in your real life. Like, I can burst into tears at the drop of a hat. I just go to one place in my life, which I won't mention. But, I go to one place in my life, and I'm "bang", gone."

Parkinson: You're doing it now.

Michael Caine: I just…I nearly went then. I did. Because … I thought of it. I thought of it. See, you can't mess about with those things. It's a tool; it's like a surgeon's knife. If I tell (you) it, I'll blunt the scalpel, and then, the next time I do an operation, it won't be right.

Parkinson: In the meantime, you had been in the army…and therefore the part that actually brought you to attention, you had made a film before, but the part that really made your name was 'Zulu' [1964]…

Michael Caine: Yes, 'Zulu'…I played the Officer, and everybody thought I was like that. And everyone was so shocked when they met me … this Cockney guy that played this toffee-nosed geek. And I based him on several Officers that I knew. I knew how Officers behave with Privates because I had that relationship. But I didn't know how they behaved with each other. And Stanley Baker and I were playing fellow Officers, so I had to get that way of doing it. So that's why I used to go to the Officers' Mess and just observe how they treated each other… And I also used to have lunch every week in an Officers' Mess…

In this interview Michael also referred to another example of using what he calls 'sense memory'. On this occasion it was in Fred Schepisi's "Last Orders".

Michael Caine: My Father died of cancer when I was in a real state: I was out of work, I just got separated from my wife, my marriage was a disaster … my first wife; I had a little baby, must have been about a year or 18 months… it was incredible. You know there are periods when it doesn't rain, it pours. It was just one thing after the other. And it was very strange because I just did a picture called 'Last Orders' in which I die of cancer in St Thomas's Hospital. And if you see it, I'm very good, because my father died of cancer in St Thomas's Hospital…and I just copied his death…that is sense memory carried to an extreme. You don't normally want to do it. Believe me. But, that is one of the extremes of sense memory.

Thanks to Christine Anagnostis for organizing this material.

November. 2003


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