Michael Caine, who just turned 80, has spent his career turning out memorable roles in classic films. He’s filled his resume with supporting roles because it challenged him more. But he doesn’t ever forget how lucky he’s been to last in Hollywood this long.
“I’ve been very fortunate because I spent my life doing something that I love doing so much, I used to do it for nothing,” he said in an interview with NPR. “So you can’t have a better life than that.”
Caine hasn’t always considered himself a lead actor, and he often prefers to take on strong, but smaller roles. “I think where that comes from is my background of repertory, where I did a play a week,” he said. “One week I’d be the lord, the next week I’d be the butler. For me, the performance was always playing different people. And so when I got older, was no longer the romantic leading movie star, it became more and more interesting for me, the characters I played, you know?”
“I won an Academy Award for The Cider House Rules, playing an American. It was fascinating—it still is fascinating for me. I’m about to do a sort of thriller with Ben Kingsley, and then I’m going to do a picture with Al Pacino where he plays an aging rock star who wants a last tour, and then I’m going to be a professor in Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar…I’ll be 95 before I get over all that. But you see what I’m saying—I’m not the lead in any of those films, but it’s very, very interesting.”
The actor has always loved challenging himself with roles that other performers could not handle with as much grace and texture. “If you’re a movie star, you get the girl, you lose the girl, and then you get her back,” he mused. “But if you’re a character like me, you lose the girl, then you get another one, then you get another one, then you lose them all, then you lose your life. It’s all very different. And it’s fascinating to me.
“It’s [being] a movie actor, as opposed to a movie star. And I remember when it happened to me. A producer sent me a script, and I sent it back and said, ‘The part’s too small. I don’t want to play it.’ And he sent it back and said, ‘I didn’t want you to play the lover, I wanted you to play the father.’ And I thought ‘Oh my god.’ I rushed in the bathroom, had a look in the mirror, and there wasn’t the lover looking at me: There was the father.”