Michael Caine in scenes from The Quiet American. The part, says the actor, was ‘like a great gift from God’
He’s a movie icon. He’s made over 100 films. Most of them have been rubbish. Yet his new one might complete a hat trick of Oscars. What’s it all about . . . MICHAEL CAINE? Words: Miles Fielder
hink thick black specs. Think man in a Mini (‘ooper Think cockney
gangster and right bastard .lack (‘arterz Madness named a song after
him. The queen went one better in .lune 2000 and knighted the south London born son of a fishmarket porter. ‘Arise Sir Maurice .loseph Micklewhite.‘ That's Sir Maurice of Rotherhithe. who prefers to be known as Sir Michael (‘aine. the professional moniker inspired by a marquee hoarding for the play The ( 'aine Mutiny.
‘You’re a big man, but you’re out of shape. With me, it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself.’
It certainly is a fttll time job. Michael (‘aine is an very prolific actor. He made his first film ( 1956‘s Sailor Beu'are.’) when he was 23. Since then he‘s averaged three films a year. sometimes as many as live. without ever taking a sabbatical. He‘s now almost 70 years old with upwards of I00 films to his name. But with (‘aine's career it’s been a matter of quantity over quality.
‘I am in so many movies that are on TV at 2am that people think I am dead.’
lnsornniacs might have seen the trashy Deep South America melodrama Hurry Sundown. the killer bees movie The Swarm. the water-logged disaster movie sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. the lamentable 80s
sex comedy about an old man shagging his best friend's teenage daughter
Blame it on Rio and/or the nadir of (‘aine’s career Jan's: The Revenge. ‘1 have never seen it.‘ he says. ‘but by all accounts it is terrible. [It is. veryl However. I have seen the house that it built and it is terrific.~
For so much of his career (‘aine took the money and ran. And yet his new film. a (second) adaptation of (iraham Greene's novel The Quiet American in which he plays a washed-up British journalist in Saigon. Thomas Fowler. who bears witness to America‘s first involvement in the Vietnam conflict. may score him his third ()scar. He won his first for the Woody Allen film Hanna/t and her .S'isters. his second for The ( 'ider House Rules: both supporting roles. mind.
Directed by Australian Phillip Noyce (Rabbit I’roofl‘enee) from a script by (‘hristopher Hampton ((‘arringtont. The Quiet American is a line lilm boosted by a great lead performance. And it‘s more faithful to (ireene‘s book than the first version. made by Joseph I. Mankiewic/ in l‘)5(i which excised the politics to focus on the love triangle between Fowler. his young Vietnamese lover Phuong and American interloper Alden Pyle.
‘Not a lot of people know that.’ (iod gave (‘aine The Quiet x’lmeriean. ‘lt was] he says. ‘like a great gift from (lod for me. this part. I thought: “There is a (‘rod and he‘s remembered my name." (‘os I‘d just read an article that said God has a terrible memory for names. And he’s remembered my name and l was so excited.‘
lle's full ofodd little jokes like this. is Sir Michael. He doesn't act like a knight of the realm at all. Well. you wouldn't if you were from south London. would you'.’ In person (‘aine is funny. thoughtful. a little bit self-
12 THE LIST 7?“) Not. ll) Hot, 90’)?
deprecating. ()n being cast as l‘owler he says: 'I was (yS years old and I thought: "I also get the girl." l‘d hadn't got the girl for about ten years. I was dad. was just starting to be granddad. you know‘.’ And here I get the girl. and it's not like a 50-year-old woman. she's 20.‘
‘I knew it, I knew the book, I knew everything about it . . .’
. . says (‘aine of The Quiet American. He knew (ireene‘s book. bttt perhaps more importantly he knew the Orient from his time as a soldier in Korea. ‘I was ll) years old.~ he recalls. ‘scared shitless and happy to get out of there. Including not only the country. but the army.’ And here (‘aine says something really quite touching: ‘I hope none of you ever have to do it yourselves. It's not a thing to do or anything I'm particularly proud of.‘
Wow. that was a knight what said that. But] he adds. ‘I was always very grateful that I had been in the army and I always felt I belonged here [Britainl because I actually fotight for it. I have always had a special thing about being an linglishman. And I proved it. my worth. in some way.‘
You might say the same of (ireene. who served in British military intelligence during World War ll. (‘aine also knew (ireene. met him during the WM film adaptation of his novel The Honorary ('onsu/ which. incidentally. (ireene hated along with the first version of The Quiet American: 'lle said this is the first time a film director has ever Used :1 film as a weapon to murder an author.‘ says ('aine with a smirk.
(‘aine knew what kind of man (ireene was. how closely his life as a correspondent in Vietnam resembled that of his fictional creation: (ireenc had a yottng lover. was savvy about politics. So (‘ainc based his performance as liowler upon the author.
‘(ireene had. shall we call it. an upper middle-class accent and I just copied that and his movements. .lournalists are like policemen. they’re always looking for things. Their eyes sort of go around over your shoulder to see what‘s happening. (‘oppers do that. And (ireene was screwed tip I mean he was drinking very heavily in Vietnam. And he was screwing around. because he found that beautiful one. So. there was a lot that I knew frotn him of how it would be. what sort of man Fowler wasf
‘What’s it all about . . . Alﬁe?’ Look over ('aine‘s lilm career and you see that it's bookended by first a golden and now a silver age. (‘aine's golden age of acting dates 1064 7|: Zulu. the lilm that got him noticed. The I/u'ress [Vi/e. Allie. The Italian Job and (iet ('arter. (‘aine won his first ()scar in l‘).\’(y. his second in l‘)‘)‘). Between those years he‘s made sortie good quality among the bad quantity: Mona Lisa. Dirty Rotten .S'r'oundre/s. Blood and Wine and little um. llc's currently working on a pair of promising projects: Seeom/liand lions. alongside the great American actor Robert l)uva|l. and The Actors. written by Neil .lordan for Irish playwright-turncd-lilmmaker (‘onor McPherson. Btit for tnuch of the the intervening years. ('ainc got over-xealous. Started taking any role. regardless of its quality. based on how much it paid and where in the world it took him. Blame it on Rio took him to. well. Rio.