“Well, I was rehearsing a play, and there was a scene that went on before me, then I had to come in the door. They rehearsed the scene, and one of the actors had thrown a chair at the other one. It landed right in front of the door where I came in. I opened the door and then rather lamely, I said to the producer who was sitting out in the stalls, ‘Well, look, I can’t get in. There’s a chair in my way.’ He said, ‘Well, use the difficulty.’ So I said, ‘What do you mean, use the difficulty?”’ He said, ‘Well, if it’s a drama, pick it up and smash it. If it’s a comedy, fall over it.’ This was a line for me for life: Always use the difficulty.”—Michael Caine, interview with National Public Radio’s Terry Gross on her program “Fresh Air,” November 17, 1992, collected in Terry Gross, All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists (2004)
Maurice Joseph Micklewhite started with two difficulties: that name and his Cockney accent. The first difficulty, he shed when he became an actor: the surname of his new moniker, Michael Caine, derived from the film The Caine Mutiny. The second difficulty—that voice—he used, triumphantly. It was hardly the plummy, Queen’s English-accent taught in British acting schools that train in Shakespeare, but it became, in a sense, the young actor’s mark of individuality.
The two movie actors he studied intensively, Caine told NPR interviewer Terry Gross, were the American Spencer Tracy and the closest French counterpart, Jean Gabin. That may account not only for the kind of wide-ranging, everyman roles he’s taken on, but also for his prismatic style of acting onscreen.
Today, Sir Michael celebrates his 80th birthday. The two-time Oscar winner (Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules) continues to make films, though not at his frenetic pace of a few decades ago. (He was unable to attend the Oscar ceremony where he won for Hannah because he was on location for Jaws—The Revenge, one of four films he made in 1987.)
(The accompanying photo of Sir Michael Caine at the 2012 Vienna International Film Festival was taken October 26, 2012, by Tsui--Manfred Werner.)