There can be few more distinctive personalities in the film world than Sir Michael Caine. That heavy-lidded gaze, his self-assured manner, the much-imitated accent – all traits that have come to define his presence on our screens.
Caine’s is a persona that will remain not just deeply embedded within film – his skill as an actor having translated into a long and distinguished career of over 115 on-screen appearances – but also within the history of British culture. Despite occasional hints at retirement, he shows no sign of slowing. Age remains on his side and he’s more than happy to use it to his advantage. As long as there are films, there are roles of all ages to be filled.
“I want to stay fit for my grandchildren”
“No one expects me to look like Brad Pitt,” he shrugs. “What you see is what you get!” This is, to add a little context, Caine playing down his own nudity during a moment in his latest film, Youth. Directed by Oscar-winning Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty), Youth sees Caine playing Fred Ballinger, a retired and dispirited composer and conductor whom we find staying at a Swiss spa hotel together with his daughter (Rachel Weisz) and a film director friend (Harvey Keitel). In what is a deeply affecting performance from Caine, much of the story revolves around his character’s musing on ageing and the passage of time.
At 82 himself, the parallels are all but apparent. Judging any distance between the successful elderly composer he plays and the successful elderly actor he is requires no careful consideration. And yet the differences are there. Lighthearted but heartfelt, Youth acts as a mouthpiece for what many people in older age begin to come to terms with. This isn’t a film about mortality; it’s about becoming aware of the growing distance between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’.
“It’s a very beautiful film,” he says. “I wish I could keep finding stories like this because I think a lot of people young and old will find it very meaningful.”
About growing old it might be, but morbid it certainly isn’t. Youth – which premiered at Cannes to positive reviews and is already being tipped as an Oscars contender – explores issues that the actor himself treats with the same kind of bemusement and disregard as his character. “I’m not really worried about ageing because you can’t do much about it, although I’ve lost twenty pounds over the last few years,” he smiles.
“I’m taking better care of myself these days. I drink less, I eat healthier, and I want to stay reasonably fit for the sake of my three grandchildren. I live for them! And I don’t mind playing elderly roles now because the alternative is playing dead people!”
“I work for the pure joy of it, although I still like to get paid!”
In recent years, Caine has talked about the possibility of retiring, yet the roles have kept coming. He’s a regular collaborator with director Christopher Nolan, playing Alfred in the Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films, as well as central roles in cerebral blockbusters Inception and Interstellar.
“You say you’re going to retire because you think you’re not going to find good roles anymore and then you get a director like Paolo Sorrentino or others like Christopher Nolan who offer you great parts and then suddenly you’re not retiring anymore!”
Within the sometimes superficial, often harsh world of Hollywood, Caine has remained entrenched for more than six decades – doing “enough work to last a lifetime” as he puts it. For him, longevity comes down to a willingness to adjust and evolve with age. “I’ve been willing to adapt as I’ve grown older,” he reveals.
“At one point you’re no longer a movie star, you’re an actor. One day a producer sent me a script and I told him I didn’t want to do it because the role was too small. Then he told me that he wasn’t offering me the part of the lover; he wanted me to play the father. That was the moment when I understood that I had to change my thinking about what types of roles I should expect to play.”
With age and adaptability has come humility too. “I’m very grateful,” Caine nods. “I feel very fortunate to have lasted this long in the business, made some money doing it, and now I get to work for the pure joy of it, although I still like to get paid!”
And although many men of fewer years have taken early leave, for Caine that just isn’t part of his fabric. “The more you move around and travel and keep doing the things you love, the better off you’re going to be. I feel like I want to make every day interesting and live as full a life as I can manage. Sometimes I worry when friends die or become ill and it makes me more aware of my mortality, but that just makes me more determined to stick around.”
It’s in this determination, the continued thirst for more, that Youth perhaps most closely resonates with Caine, a man for whom life still has more to give, even after 60 years of success.
Though he might have left behind his ‘blow the bloody doors off’ mentality, Caine’s outlook on the future remains as carefree and refreshing as any of his roles on-screen, past and present. To quote a brilliant moment in Youth, life is, for him, best taken day-by-day: “if not today, let’s hope we take a p*ss tomorrow”.
Youth is released by StudioCanal later in the year. You can view the trailer online.
Looking forward to Youth? What’s your favourite Michael Caine film? Let us know below or head to the Forum.
Retiresavvy is brought to you by Skipton Building Society. The interview in this article was supplied by InterviewHub. This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.
Back to ‘Real retirement stories'