Michael Caine: “I can’t work with bad actors, I can only work with good ones”

Michael Caine in Youth

“If you get the hair and the costume right – you put that costume on long before you start the movie – you look in the mirror and you go, ‘There he is, I know exactly who he is.'” – Michael Caine

How awesome is Michael Caine? The 82 year-old British icon still appears in multiple films per year and he has no desire to slow down. Speaking with Shortlist, Caine talked about which notable actor he swiped his technique from, his trouble with working with bad actors, and why he doesn’t feel unappreciated as an actor.

Though many think of Caine as a phenomenal actor, he admits he “lifted” some of his technique from Marlon Brando. He explains, “The way he uses his eyes. I can give you an instance of what I mean. When I did Zulu, I played a British Army officer, with these pith helmets that come down right over your eyes. The cameraman said to me, ‘Push it back a bit, I can’t see your eyes.’ If you push your helmet back, you look like you’re pissed and I wanted to look stern. I remembered Marlon and I said to him, ‘You’ll see my eyes when I want you to.’ Brando always would be down here mumbling, and suddenly the big line would come and he’d be looking at you.”

In addition, Caine continues by focusing on how much body language impacts his performances he says, “It’s body language. For instance, the weaker people are, the faster they talk, because no one listens. The stronger and more powerful they are, the slower they talk, because everyone listens. My start on the characterisation is the haircut. If you get the hair and the costume right – you put that costume on long before you start the movie – you look in the mirror and you go, ‘There he is, I know exactly who he is.'”

After so many decades of acting, Caine admits that he still has difficulty with one aspect of acting: working with bad actors. He reveals, “I can’t work with bad actors, I can only work with good ones… What happens is, if someone says a line wrong, I’m looking at him and the director says, ‘Michael, it’s your line,’ and I go, ‘Oh shit, I forgot my line.’ Because I got so interested in what he was doing, and how bad he was, I forgot what I was supposed to do. It happened a couple of times. I thought, I’ve got to stop that.”

While Caine has won two Oscars out of six nominations, that is out of a career of appearing in over 115 films. When asked if he feels unappreciated as an actor, Caine responds, “No, that didn’t bother me at all. You have to remember, I was a reparatory actor, I was nobody for years. I didn’t set out to be a star. I couldn’t be a star – a cockney guy from Elephant & Castle, son of a Billingsgate fishmonger. I have no sense of competition with any other actors – I love other actors and their performances. Love them. My competition is with myself. All I’ve ever done, right to this day, from my first part – I was a butler who came in and said, ‘Dinner is served’ – is to try to be the best possible actor I could be. The fact that I became a star, as I said earlier, I just thank God for that. Nothing to do with me whatsoever.”

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