An Evening with Michael Caine
On April 28 the American Museum of the Moving Image in conjunction with BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) presented an evening with actor Sir Michael Caine at the DGA (Directors Guild of America) Theatre at 110 West 57 St. Caine was interviewed by AMMI curator David Schwwartz prior to a screening of Caine’s new movie “Harry Brown.”
Caine regaled the audience with stories about his life and his approach to acting. He recalled going to the movies seven days a week as a boy. He joined an acting class because he noticed it had pretty girls. Caine’s basketball playing friends called him a “sissy” for joining the class. Caine replied “I’m in there with pretty girls and you’re in the showers (after playing basketball) with a bunch of guys and you’re calling me a sissy?”
Caine said he always loved Humphrey Bogart and once spent a week seeing the same double bill of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Maltese Falcon,” starring Bogart and directed by John Houston. Caine described his incredible fortune years later when he was cast by John Houston in “The Man Who Would Be King,” in the role originally intended for Bogart. Caine recalled Houston not giving him much in the way of direction. Houston told him that the art of directing was casting. Caine recalled Houston telling him, “You get paid a lot of money to do this. You don’t need me to tell you what to do.”
Caine described his acting style as economical. “You’re supposed to be a person and people don’t act, they behave, they look.” He added “If someone watching me says, ‘That Michael Caine is a good actor’ then I’m not doing my job. They should be saying ‘What will Harry Brown’ do next?’”
Caine said that the run down housing project in which “Harry Brown” takes place is exactly where he came from. In “Harry Brown” Caine plays the titular character, an elderly man who lives in a decaying housing project besieged by young gang members.
The story is a tale of revenge as Harry gets a gun and takes to the streets to avenge a friend’s murder. Caine said that “Harry Brown” preview audiences cheered whenever his character would shoot one of the boys. However he pointed out that the film is not meant as a “shoot ‘em up,” but as a cautionary tale. Caine said that if you do nothing to save these kids this is what happens. He went on to say that 80% of them are salvageable. Caine said that these kids have been failed first by their families and second by their government.
Caine said that he still visits the project where he grew up and talks with the street toughs who live there. He said that nobody notices these people and that the attitude is “Lock the bastards up and throw away the key.” Caine explained that “Harry Brown” differs from a movie like “Death Wish” (1974) in that Harry Brown is a sick old man who is a victim not a perpetrator.
When asked by an audience member if there were any things Caine did as a young actor that he no longer does Caine replied, “Small parts,” to much laughter. He also said he does not work with the producer’s girlfriend or wife.” He then became serious saying “Everything I used to do, I cut it all out. Acting is all behavior.”