Magazine article Newsweek International

Michael Caine

Magazine article Newsweek International

Michael Caine

Article excerpt

Love him or loathe him, 70-year-old Michael Caine is as much a British institution as rain. In fact, his name actually means that in Cockney rhyming slang. (His critics will be pleased to note it can also stand in for "pain.") During his 47-year film and television career, he's stolen more scenes than he did gold bars in 1969's "The Italian Job." He even inspired a song by the British '80s band Madness, called "Michael Caine," in which the chorus repeatedly insisted that "My name is Michael Caine."

In recent years, the East London native has become Mr. Hollywood, wowing audiences in "The Cider House Rules" and "The Quiet American." Now he's starring in the soon-to-be-released "The Statement," based on the book of the same name by Brian Moore. Caine's character, Pierre Brossard, a French policeman and Nazi sympathizer who orders the execution of seven Jews, spends decades on the lam after WWII. NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin swapped a bit o' banter with Hollywood's favorite Cockney. Excerpts:

What drew you to this role?

At this stage of my life I look for extremely difficult roles to keep myself amused. A French Nazi was about as far away from me as I could get.

What are your own recollections of growing up in London during the war?

Of being evacuated and coming back. The Blitz seemed to become a homogenous gel. It was a big blast of some weapon and then a calm and then we used to come back from the country, thinking it was all over. We all expected the war to end the next week. So you went to the country, came back and thought, It's all over, and then you ran away again.

When you became famous in 1960s Britain, it was very hip to be from a working- class background. Do you think you would have necessarily been as successful a generation before?

No, I don't think so. A generation earlier I wouldn't have been able to break into theater. I started in theater, and it would have been very difficult for me to break in with no speech training, plus my own class- conscious cussedness in deciding to never ever lose my Cockney accent. I do upper-crust and plain English for money. My Cockney accent is me.

What do you think of the class system now?

Rigid but impotent. That sounds like an oxymoron. But what happened was there was a class system which had power and could do harm. The same class system is there but it's only in the minds of the people. …

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