As movie icon Michael Caine turns 86, there’s more to celebrate than simply him reaching that milestone age. This is a guy whose acting career began 65 years ago, spans more than 130 movies and — unlike many who achieved stardom at about the same time he did — he’s managed to remain relevant to current audiences.
“Look at Michael Caine’s range,” suggests Matthew Field, who has written a number of books on the actor’s career, the next of which, The Self Preservation Society: 50 Years of The Italian Job, is being published this summer from Porter Press. “I know sometimes, when we close our eyes and we think of Michael Caine, we think of him as Alfie, or Charlie Croker in The Italian Job, and we think that’s who he is. But he does act; he does play different characters. He’s not pigeonholed to the same type of movie. He’s not doing action/adventure after action/adventure, and that’s something he’s done right from the very beginning. You just think about those ‘60s movies and they were all really different. And it’s even true of films he’s doing now.
“A couple of years ago,” Matthew continues, “he did a film called Youth, which was by an Italian director who won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. That was a really interesting art house film. Then he did Going in Style, which is that Morgan Freeman film in America. And he’s doing all sorts of different roles still; every film is different to the one before. He’s still experimenting, which is what I really admire about him.”
The acting journey for Michael — born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite on March 14, 1933, in Rotherhithe, London — began in 1954 when he started doing some stage work, culminating in 1959 when he took over Peter O’Toole’s role in the West End staging of The Long and the Short and the Tall. In between, he managed several uncredited acting roles throughout the ’50s and early ‘60s, though that would begin to change with 1964’s Zulu.
Explains Matthew: “The interesting thing about Michael Caine is that he wanted to be a movie star ever since he could remember, and there wasn’t really a place for him in this country as a movie star, because any movie stars were like David Niven. They went to Oxford, they were educated, they spoke with a posh accent and were posh actors playing a working class hero. But the ‘60s were such an interesting era in London and the U.K., and the whole landscape started to change.”
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