Thursday, September 13, 2012

Michael Caine, 1990 ("Mr. Destiny")

Oct. 12, 1990
Standard-Examiner staff

SALT LAKE CITY -- Looking as if he might have just slid off a stool at the pub, Michael Caine takes a seat for a trans-Atlantic satellite teleconference to promote his new film, "Mr. Destiny."

Salt Lake City is the latest city to link up with the London studio where Caine is seated, and he asks in a pleasant, vigorous voice if everyone on the other end is feeling all right.

A screen capture from "Mr. Destiny"
In "Mr. Destiny," Caine plays what he describes as a "fixer," an angel -- albeit a "tarnished" one -- who comes into the life of a sporting goods executive to allow him to change his destiny by reliving a pivotal event from his past and dealing with the consequences.

"This one isn't even a leading part," Caine says, hands clasped in front of him as he sits behind a white-topped table. "'It was just a three-week guest shot because I wanted to do it. ... I haven't worked since last March. And I have nothing that I've found I want to do. So you probably won't see me in another film until probably next October."

Caine, one of the most respected and well-liked actors working in movies -- beloved by critics and audiences alike -- has developed the reputation of a workaholic. He claims otherwise, and attributes the nagging perception to a four-month period in the mid-1980s when five of his films -- which he had made during a period of three years -- opened in America within the 'space of four or five months.

"Every time someone looked up, there was another Michael Caine movie," the 57-year-old actor says. "I never understood why people would sit on a movie for three years and then release it at the same time I've got four other movies coming out."

No matter what he says, it's clear Caine has made a startling number of films since landing his first film role in the 1956 film "A Hill in Korea" -- 70, as a matter of fact. But it took him nearly a decade to achieve star status with back-to-back performances in "The Ipcress File" and "Alfie," for which he received an Oscar nomination.

Through, the years, Caine, born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, has made a number of fine films -- "Too Late the Hero," "The Man Who Would Be King," "Sleuth," "Educating Rita," "Mona Lisa" and "The Whistle Blower" among them. But there have also been a host of stinkers, including "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure," "The Hand," "The Swarm," "Ashanti," "Blame it on Rio" and "Half Moon Street." In one of the supreme ironies of Caine's career, he wasn't on hand to accept his best supporting actor Oscar for "Hannah and Her Sisters" because he was off making "Jaws: The Revenge."

Asked why, he took the part in the "Jaws" sequel to begin with, Caine told a reporter: "What do you think 'Jaws: The Revenge' was? I did it for the money and to get the hell out of Hollywood in February, when it's pouring rain. I thought, I've done enough good roles."

Caine was willing to elaborate. "You don't sit down and say, 'Here's a script that's gonna bomb -- I've gotta be in this.' If you make 10 pictures in five years ... and the other actor makes three pictures in five years, then who's gonna have the most bombs?

"I mean, you have an actor like Dustin Hoffman, who's brilliant, who made the wonderful 'Tootsie' and then made 'Ishtar.' But he only made two pictures in five years, so he only had one bomb, as opposed to me, who had, say, three -- and I made 10."

Caine traces his traditional willingness to work in almost anything offered him to two formative experiences: his working-class roots and his relatively late-blooming success.

"Everybody always worked very hard in my family," he explains. "But, also, in my case, I was a success very late; I never got my first starring role in a movie until I was 30. And so I always found it difficult to turn down a movie because I was always surprised that anyone would offer me one after 30 years of being broke."

The actor's prodigious output is less like a front-rank star of the past two decades than that of stars who worked under studio contracts in the 1930s, '40s and into the '50s. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Humphrey Bogart is one of Caine's favorite movie actors. It seems fitting, actually, since neither man is particularly handsome, both appeared in a vast number of movies and they played a wide range of characters, from hoodlums to heroes.

Bogart "got a lot of his parts the way I did, because a lot of big stars didn't want to do 'em," Caine explains: "He got 'The Maltese Falcon' because George Raft turned it down. I got 'Alfie' because every other actor in the world turned it down. And I always saw myself as kind of like that: I'm here by default."

The modesty seems genuine, but even Caine should know by now why he almost always gets good notices even when his movies are ripped to shreds: His talent is enormous. It has been said that the keys to his success are his abilities to make ordinariness sexy, and to draw strength and attractiveness from cool assurance.

A good example of how universal is his appeal was the performance in "A Shock to the System" earlier this year. In it, Caine plays Graham Marshall, a middle-aged businessman passed over for a promotion. Graham's method of dealing with this rejection is to murder several people. Caine's genius is to persuade the audience to root for Graham, and against those he plans to do away with. Characteristically, Caine gives the screenplay and his co-stars most of the credit for his success.

"I think most people in life have someone who they may even say to their face, 'I could kill you sometimes.' And the only difference between Graham and them was that he did it. And the characters I killed were so obnoxious, anyway, you thought we'd bl' better 'off without them."

Besides that, Caine adds, "It takes a certain type of person to play a killer sympathetically. I don't look like a killer, and if I kill someone it's a surprise and it looks as though I'm justified in doing it ... ."

"Mr. Destiny," then, is quite a change of pace. But Caine doesn't miss a beat when it comes to quipping about how he prepared to play the part of a heavenly messenger.

"Well, it's very difficult, because there are so few role models," the actor says with a grin. "My basic, way of doing it was to think of myself as an extremely kind and extremely knowledgeable father -- which in real life I like to think I am, anyway, with my own children."

Caine's glib delivery turns a bit more serious, though, when he recalls the time -- right after his success with "The Ipcress File" and "Alfie" -- that an American journalist made a troubling prediction: That Caine and his contemporaries would never compare ,to the, "great old stars"
like Clark Gable.

"And I said, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute. Clark Gable made over 120 pictures. Name me 10.' ... Clark Gable made 120 pictures, he's remembered as one of the great stars, you know -- 'Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn.'

"Name 10 movies," Caine asks again, rhetorically. "It's very difficult, (even) out of 120." Then he says, almost in a whisper and with obvious regret, "I still haven't made my 'Gone with the Wind.'"

Well, maybe he doesn't think so, but his admirers might argue the point. Sensing he's become too introspective for such a brief stop on a long day's worth of interviews, Caine suddenly chirps, "But I've been practicing saying, 'Frankly, Scarlett.'" Then he laughs.

That journalist was right in a way, you know. Comparing Gable to the likes of Caine is silly; because Caine, even at this stage in his career, has made twice -- maybe even three times -- as many good films as Gable.

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