Skip to main content

Actor Michael Caine

He has made over 70 films, including Alfie, Sleuth, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Hannah and Her Sisters. Caine has worked with such directors as Brian DePalma, John Huston and Woody Allen. He's starring in the new film The Quiet American, based on the Graham Greene murder mystery centered on a love triangle set in the early 1950s, during the rebellion against French control of what is now Vietnam. This interview first aired November 17, 1992.


Other segments from the episode on February 7, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 7, 2003: Interview with Michael Caine; Review of the film "How to lose a guy in ten days."


DATE February 7, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Actor Michael Caine discusses his acting career and his

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Michael Caine, has made over 80 films in 40 years. Now he's
starring in "The Quiet American," a film whose release was postponed in the
aftermath of September 11th reportedly because of concerns that the film was
too politically touchy at a time when Hollywood felt more comfortable with
unambiguously patriotic movies. "The Quiet American" is based on Graham
Greene's 1955 murder mystery set in French Indochina before the country became
Vietnam. It's directed by Phillip Noyce and co-stars Brendan Fraser as a
young CIA operative. Caine plays Thomas Fowler, a cynical British journalist
who has spent 20 years in Indochina.

(Soundbite of "The Quiet American")

Mr. MICHAEL CAINE (As Thomas Fowler): They say whatever you're looking for,
you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in
a few minutes. The rest has got to be lived. The smell--that's the first
thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the
heat ...(unintelligible) you can hardly remember your name or what you came to
escape from. But at night, there's a breeze, the river is beautiful, you
could be forgiven for thinking that there is no war, that the gunshots were
fireworks and only pleasure measures, a pipe of opium or the touch of a girl
who might tell you she loves you. And then something happens, as you knew it
would, and nothing can ever be the same again.

GROSS: Michael Caine first established himself as a playboy in "Alfie" and as
a crook turned secret agent in "The Ipcress File." He won Academy Awards for
his roles in "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "The Cider House Rules." His other
films include "Alfie," "Dressed to Kill," "Educating Rita," "Mona Lisa,"
"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Little Voice." Of course, some of his 80-plus
films were stinkers, like "The Swarm," "Jaws: The Revenge" and "Beyond the
Poseidon Adventure."

Caine has said that an actor's eyes are his most important asset. His voice
is the second most important asset. Caine is one of the most distinctive
voices in film. I spoke with him in 1992 and asked him how he realized his
own voice was an asset.

Mr. CAINE: Well, I realized it when I first went into the theater. My
natural voice--having a Cockney accent for a start was difficult, but also,
it's where the voice is placed, and Cockneys naturally talk--I'll try and get
up there. It's right up in the throat here and rather like John Major, our
prime minister. He talks like that. And the trick was to bring my voice down
to the diaphragm, if you can imagine if it's right up here in the throat and
then they bring it down a little bit further, like another one of our
politicians who talks like that, and it's rather strangulated.

But if you're going to boom out in the theater without deafening the people at
the front, you've got to be able to project your voice. And my first wife
taught me how to do that in about 20 minutes, and that was the most important
thing that ever happened to me with my voice, which was it was placed. And
the second thing was that, over a period of years, I never went to the normal
diction lessons that you had. British actors always spoke terribly like that
and they all spoke exactly the same because they all learned how to speak at
RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. And what happened to me is I worked
on my own because I was never a trained actor, and I worked on my own voice.
So what happened was, is I came out of it with a voice that was correctly
placed by accident, and a very, very individual accent. My accent is so
individual that people who don't recognize me by sight, the minute I open my
mouth they know who I am.

GROSS: Absolutely. Absolutely. So how did you learn where to--how to lower
your voice? What did your wife tell you in the 20 minutes?

Mr. CAINE: She--it's very difficult to do on radio because you put her hand
on my throat and if--what I'm doing is I'm putting my hand on my throat, and
if I talk up here and if you were to talk right about there, you've got your
hands on your windpipe, you'd find it all very tight, very, very tight. And
then she gradually moved down to the top of my chest and then felt the
vibration and said, `Hit the vibration,' and she put her hand on my chest at
the top and said, `Make the vibration hit there,' so my voice came down to
sort of here. And then she brought it down a little further, and I hit the
vibration here, and then she brought it right down to the bottom, which is the
diaphragm. And it was just a case of making her hand vibrate on my chest as
she brought her hand down.

GROSS: Now when you decided to work on your accent, what did you do to work
on it?

Mr. CAINE: Well, I didn't do anything really because I went into repertory,
which means that I used to do a play a week for 50 weeks a year, and so I was
always playing someone different. And in England, we have a lot of regional
accents, lots of class accents, and so I could do almost any accent, so what I
actually did was I kept my own voice. What actually altered my voice
tremendously was becoming a movie actor in the United States. When "Alfie"
was released here, the first inkling I got that it was going to be released in
America at all--because I'd never been to America when "Alfie" was made and I
didn't expect the film to come over here. But the first inkling I got was
they said, `You've got to do 125 loops,' which means lines of dialogue, which
are on a sort of tape loop, `to make it more understandable to the American
ear.' And so I did 125 American loops, and if you actually listen to the
American version of "Alfie," it sounds as though I can't do a Cockney

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: ...because I keep getting it wrong. But, I mean, it was
deliberate. But also, I very quickly realized that it wasn't the rhythm of
the voice that worried the Americans, it was the speed. The British speak
very, very quickly and very, very--in a very clipped way. As a matter of
fact, I lived in America for a long time. I lived for nine years in Los
Angeles, and I remember on one occasion I had been in America without leaving
for about 10 months, I hadn't been back to England, and I was watching a
British film on television with everybody talking terribly like the British
clipped way, and I suddenly realized I couldn't understand what anybody was
talking about. And I realized the American problem. It's because we cut off
the end of words and we talk terribly, terribly quickly.

GROSS: Now did your Cockney accent stand in your way at all when you were
first starting to make movies? Also because England has a much more rigid
class system...

Mr. CAINE: Sure.

GROSS: a way than America does, although we certainly have a class
system here.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. Well, you have a class system here, but you can't tell it
by people's accents. In England, I can listen to a person and I'll tell you
how much his house cost, how much he earns, what sort of car he drives after
listening to him for three minutes. That's how defined by accent you are.
The only drawback with a Cockney accent was nobody, of course, put you into
Shakespeare because, you know, you have to learn how to speak in verse and
iambic pentameters and everything, but even that I did. I did Horatio. I
played Horatio to Christopher Plummer's Hamlet on television and got away with
it. But normally, in England, in the theater, when I came into it, there were
no leading parts written for anybody in my natural accent. I always had to
put on another accent. So in actual fact, from that point of view, it did
hold me back a bit for a while.

GROSS: Now in the movie "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," you and Steve Martin
starred, and you were this really kind of upper-class, elegant womanizer who
came on to wealthy women and scammed them and took their money, where Steve
Martin was a real kind of nickel-and-dime scam artist out for the same thing,
wealthy women. And you taught him how to really do the more aristocratic
version of it. What kind of accent did you use for that?

Mr. CAINE: Well, that would be the British upper-middle-class accent. It was
always the people--the upper middle class usually have the pretensions of the
aristocrat without the class and also the pretensions of the rich without the
money. And so what you get is someone with absolutely no substance who is all
front, and so you get a voice which is terribly like that and it's very smooth
and very, very slow.

GROSS: Now another great role that I have to ask you about your voice in was
in "Mona Lisa," in which you played a crime boss, like a gangster...

Mr. CAINE: Yes.

GROSS: ...and Bob Hoskins played somebody who was kind of under you in there,
and you were really intimidating him in your scenes in the film. It's a
fantastic performance by you. Can you talk about how you used your voice in
that? Because you needed to use it in a way that showed real authority and
the willingness to intimidate and, if necessary, hurt somebody.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. Authority is shown not only by voice, but by movement, and
what it is, is first thing in authority is you never move. Only people who
are trying to attract your attention with no power move their hands. If you
look at aristocracy and really powerful people, they move very little because
everybody is awaiting their every word, wish or command, and their voice is
very, very slow because everybody will wait while they have their thought and
wait no matter how long it takes for them to say what they're going to say.

What you have to add in this case, where I played a gangster, which would be
menace, and menace would come if you--I mean, in that, I had a gangster
accent, which is, again, working-class Cockney accent, but there is a sort of
cheerful, chirpy working-class sort of `Hello, lads. Let's all go down to
pub' and all this, you know, that sort of accent for the chirpy Cockney lad,
cheerful little soul. But then there's another one, which is--it's kind of
very drawn out and it's very flat. And so they will actually say things to
you--I mean, I grew up with gangsters like this, and they will say, `I like
you,' and there's absolutely no emotion in the voice whatsoever. It's like an
icicle, you know? They say, `I think you're one of the nicest fellows I've
ever met. I really do. I really think you're very nice. So'--and then they
say silly little things. When you know you're in trouble with a Cockney
gangster, he'll say something like, `Well, who's been naughty then?'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: Now that question means you're probably going to get kneecapped to
the floor. But it's one of those things, just flattening the voice out, the
voice just flattens right out no matter what you say. It just flattens.

GROSS: Now when you say you're in a position of power and authority, you
don't move a lot.

Mr. CAINE: No.

GROSS: That means you don't blink a lot, too.

Mr. CAINE: No. Oh, that's a trick for actors on film that I used and it was
was told--I think the first place I heard it was Marlene Dietrich who said it
first, is that you don't blink. If you blink on camera, it signifies
weakness. It's very difficult to do this trick on radio...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: ...about blinking, but if you look in the mirror at yourself, look
in the mirror at yourself and just stare and start saying things to yourself,
you'll see how powerful it is. And if you just blink once in the middle of
it, you'll see how it all dissipates. It just dissipates the whole thing.
And, of course, if you're on a movie screen, you have to remember when you
blink, each eyelid is somewhere between two to seven feet wide, if you're in a

GROSS: That's a good point.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, how do you learn to not blink? It's hard to not blink. Your
eyes start to hurt. You can do it for a little bit, but after a while, it's a
real strain.

Mr. CAINE: You just walk around--I've walked around all my life not--when I
was a young lad--I wrote about this in the book. When I was a young lad, I
found a book in the public library, "How to Teach Yourself Film Acting,"
and the first thing it said in it is you must not blink. And so I walked

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: ...this sort of working-class district of London, which was used
to some very rough people, you know, without blinking, and I looked like a
sort of early serial killer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: I'm sure I frightened the life out of people, because I used to
have long conversations with people and never blink. And I would watch people
getting hypnotized. And they would walk away from a quite simple conversation
with me quite flummoxed as to actually what went on.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Caine. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1992 interview with actor Michael Caine.

You were born actually not only working-class, it was really a pretty poor
family. You were born in the charity ward of the hospital. Your father was a
porter at the fish market, your mother a cleaning woman. You spent several
years in an apartment that had no electricity.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. Oh, I never lived in a house that had electricity until I
was 12 years old, which was in 1948.

GROSS: So what did your friends think of your ambition to act?

Mr. CAINE: Oh, they thought it was completely ridiculous, utterly derisory.
I mean, no one--I mean, I was just treated with absolute contempt by everybody
or ridicule.

GROSS: Now why ridicule? I mean...

Mr. CAINE: Because--well, for a start, people of my class and in that society
never went into show business, no one knew anybody who was in show business or
anything. And also, like, my family, the male members of my family would
regard any male going into show business or acting as being homosexual anyway,
or a possible homosexual. There was a tremendous gay inference. I mean, we
didn't use the word `gay' in those days, but if you said--when I said to my
father I was going to be an actor, it was the equivalent of telling him I was
a homosexual as far as he was concerned.

GROSS: So did you feel that you had to do things to prove your manhood while
studying acting?

Mr. CAINE: No, I was already doing those, but my father didn't know about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I think I get what you're saying.

Mr. CAINE: Yes. But I really had to prove to him--I married very young,
which I sometimes think was an effort to prove to him that I wasn't gay. And
I had a child when I was 22. I had a daughter when I was 22. And, of course,
with his simple-minded way of looking at it, he was again wrong because the
fact that I was married and had a baby meant to him that I was definitely not
a homosexual. And so he was wrong in both cases, you know, because there are
a lot of people who are married with children who are homosexuals. But he had
a very simplistic view of the world. I mean, he was a very, very tough man, I
mean, and it's very hard to get across to anybody just how tough he was. Back
again to the gay analogy, he actually thought that any man who ate chicken was

GROSS: Chicken?

Mr. CAINE: Yes.


Mr. CAINE: Because this red meat thing, you know, real men ate red meat and
all this stuff, and he thought that was sissy food, chicken.

GROSS: Did he ever come see you in a performance or see your movies?

Mr. CAINE: No. No. No, he died when I was completely out of work,
completely broke. He died of cancer when he was 56 years old, so he
never--one of my great regrets in my life is that his last memories of me was
as a complete nothing, disaster and failure. But at least he knew I wasn't
gay because I had a wife and a child.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right. In your "Master Class" acting video, you say that most screen
tests show fear. What was your screen test?

Mr. CAINE: My screen test which showed fear was for "Zulu." I did a screen
test for "Zulu." I did it on a Saturday morning and I saw the director, Cy
Endfield, at a party on the--I did it on a Friday morning, I saw the director
Cy Endfield at a party on Saturday night, and he ignored me all evening, so I
thought, `Oh, well, he's seen the test. That part, that's gone.' And then
just as he was leaving, about midnight he was leaving this party, he came over
to me on the way out and he said, `That was the worst screen test I've ever
seen in my life.' I said, `All right. Well, that's fine,' you know. But he
said, `You've got the part.' So I said, `Well, if it was such a bad screen
test, why are you giving me the part?' He said, `Because we can't find
anybody else and we leave on Monday.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: So that was how I got into "Zulu." But the test was terrifying
for me. We did it in a--you know what happens? All your life you think, `I
think I would work on screen,' you know, because there is something magical
that happens on screen. You know, if your personality or your talent or
whatever it is works on screen, this something happens. And then when you
get the screen test, now you're going to find out without a doubt whether this
something is there or not. And no matter how good or bad an actor you are,
you can't fake that. The camera either likes you or it doesn't, and there's
nothing you can do about it. And I knew this, and that's what terrified me
about my screen test, because I was going to see--they were going to see up on
the screen whether I had anything. Well, what Cy told me later was--he said
although the acting was appalling and the nerves were dreadful, he saw
something else and that's why he gave me the part. So that's what I was
afraid of, that it--if you spend your whole life saying, `Give me the chance
and I can prove it,' suddenly someone gives you the chance, you suddenly say,
`My God, I've got to prove it. I've got to prove it.'

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CAINE: And that's where the nerves come in.

GROSS: Did you ever see that screen test?

Mr. CAINE: No. I think they burned it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Michael Caine recorded in 1992. We'll hear more of the interview in
the second half of the show. Caine is starring in the new movie "The Quiet
American," which opened today in about 20 cities. Here's Nat Cole's recording
of "Mona Lisa," which was used on the soundtrack of Michael Caine's film "Mona

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of Nat Cole singing "Mona Lisa")

Mr. NAT COLE: (Singing) Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you. You're so
like the lady with the mystic smile. Is it only 'cause you're lonely they
have blamed you for that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile? Do you smile to
tempt a lover, Mona Lisa, or is this your way to hide a broken heart? Many
dreams have been brought to your doorstep. They just lie there and they die


GROSS: Coming up, why he doesn't like to do love scenes. We continue our
conversation with actor Michael Caine. And David Edelstein reviews the new
film "How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our interview
with Michael Caine. He's starring in "The Quiet American," the new film
adaptation of the 1955 Graham Greene novel. The movie opened today in about
20 cities. I spoke with Caine about acting in 1992.

How did you pick up everything that you know now about how to look into a
camera or like where to look when the camera's looking at you? Did you pick
that up over years, after watching yourself and watching yourself?

Mr. CAINE: No, I never watch myself. I never see rushes, and I only see the
finished film once just to see how it turned out and who goofed, including me.
And no, it's--film is listening, reaction and behavior. That's what film
acting is. It shouldn't be called film acting at all because it's not acting.
It's something entirely--acting is what you do onstage as far as I'm
concerned. And people behave--the only time real people act is if they're
showing off or trying to make an impression, like a guy with a girl or
something. Then they act and then they're artificial and we can all see
they're artificial because they're acting. But normally what you do is you
listen, then you react, and then you behave, and that's all it is.

And when people say to me, `Well, what actors did you watch to learn how to
act in movies?' I say, `Well, I didn't. What I watched was documentaries or
people on the subway to see how they react to things,' because you'll see
actors, like, for instance, making gestures on the phone with no one there.
You don't make gestures on the phone with no one there. You think you do, but
you don't. And so you get sort of strange things happening like that when you
see actors acting. So I never took any notice.

The only actors that I ever watched for acting lessons were minimalist actors
like Jean Gaven, the French actor, and someone who was remarkably similar to
him, which was Spencer Tracy. I always think that Jean Gaven and Spencer
Tracy--if you speak French, you'll find they're absolutely indivisible.

GROSS: But what about where to look when a camera's looking at you? I mean,
you really learned how to work in front of a camera.

Mr. CAINE: Yes.

GROSS: And if you didn't spend a lot of time watching yourself, how did you
learn that?

Mr. CAINE: Well, I learned by watching where the camera was. I mean, for
instance, you always--the thing is if you're going to play a part--you're
playing a part with another actor and you look in their eyes, and what you do,
if you're acting, you suddenly go, `Well, how do I look into this person's
eyes?' Now during your lifetime, you've looked into hundreds of people's eyes
every time you speak to someone, but you can't remember how you did it. And
what you do is you only look into one eye because if you look into two eyes,
you'll go cross-eyed. And the one eye you look into is the one that is
nearest the camera because that throws the one eye that you're not using
straight into the lens.


Mr. CAINE: That's how you do that.

GROSS: How'd you learn that?

Mr. CAINE: I figured it out. I figured it out, how to do it. I figured it
out myself, actually. I figured out a lot of stuff myself because you get a
feeling in movies when you play someone, the actor should disappear and people
should only see the person. I mean, it's a self-defeating thing in a funny
way because half the time people see me and they say, `Well, he's only playing
himself. It's because I've made the actor disappear. And that's where you
come down to this thing where you've got behavior and where you've got the
camera, you can come down to the absolute minimum thing to do for the camera
to pick up, and that's what's fascinating about film acting because the camera
always finds it.

GROSS: Now you made 73 films in 30 years.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: And as you say, some people have criticized you for not being
discriminating enough in the movies that you chose to make.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: What has your criteria been for deciding what to make?

Mr. CAINE: Well, first of all, my criteria was that nobody asked me to make
anything for 30 years, so my first criteria was that they ask me at all.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CAINE: You know? And I then had to learn how to act in films, so I made
as many films as possible, as fast as possible, in order to learn how to do it
because I'd never done any. I didn't have any gradual work-up. I was
suddenly a leading man, and I was fighting for my life, you know, along with
all the other movie stars in the world and I had to give a performance, so I
did a lot of stuff. And then also my other criteria were--and this is one of
the great failings of what had the people done before? I remember after
"Anatomy of a Murder," Otto Preminger asked me to do a picture, and I thought,
`Here's this great Hollywood director asking me to do a picture,' which was a
dreadful picture called "Hurry Sundown."

But, I mean, I was so complimented that Otto Preminger had even asked me to do
a picture that--I mean, I would have almost done it without reading the
script. I mean, I did read the script; I didn't understand it. But, I mean,
I knew that Otto--I didn't even understand Otto Preminger because he had a
thick German accent. But I was just so complimented that this great Hollywood
director had asked me to do this film, I went and did it, you know. People
always talk as though--first of all, I was never an American star, so I was
never this person sitting like Paul Newman or someone in a room where every
new great script that came out came to me first. I was a foreign actor, and I
was never offered the great American parts because I wasn't a great American
actor, you know, I was a British actor. And so what eventually I had to make
a career out of what all the American stars didn't want, which was usually
flawed people.

There is another thing with that. If you think in terms of--this still
happens. Like with British actors, we always get flawed people to play. The
last three Academy Awards have been British actors--Daniel Day-Lewis, "My Left
Foot," a flawed person; Jeremy Irons, he played Claus Von Bulow, a man accused
of murdering his wife, a flawed person; Anthony Hopkins, a cannibal, God knows
a terribly flawed person. And these are all parts that great American stars,
I'm sure, turned down and said, `My audience will not allow me to do this.'

GROSS: Well, let's look at the...

Mr. CAINE: And they quite rightfully did so. And so we are--the actors that
I've mentioned, we are stars by default in America in a funny way.

GROSS: You got your Academy Award for "Hannah and Her Sisters," playing
somebody married to a character played by Mia Farrow, but you're having an
affair with your wife's sister--a flawed person, I guess.

Mr. CAINE: Again, always flawed. I mean, I've played a transvestite
psychopathic killer...

GROSS: In "Dressed to Kill."

Mr. CAINE: "Dressed to Kill." I've played two homosexuals. I've played all
sorts of weird characters. I mean, I can't see Clint Eastwood doing "Dressed
to Kill," dressed as a woman going around killing people. I did it, you know,
and I'm just as tall as he is.

GROSS: You know, it's interesting to me, early in your career Alfred
Hitchcock offered you a role as a sadistic killer in "Frenzy."

Mr. CAINE: That's right, yeah.

GROSS: But you turned that down.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: So, I mean, here you are talking about flawed people, but you didn't
want to play that role because why?

Mr. CAINE: Because I knew who he was based on. He was based on Neville
Heath, who was an extraordinarily--early, extraordinarily sadistic British
woman killer, and I wouldn't play it, I mean, all those years ago. Hitchcock
never spoke to me again.

GROSS: Because you turned him down?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. You never--I knew him quite well because he comes from the
same part of London as I do, and I knew him quite well. I mean, I wasn't a
close friend or anything. I'd never been to his home, but I'd always sort of
saw him around Universal and restaurants. But I remember I had lunch with him
for that film, and I said to him, I said, `There's something I've got to bring
up with you.' I said, `You said that actors were cattle, and
(unintelligible).' `No, I didn't,' he said. `I said actors should be treated
like cattle.'

So there's another voice, and that's a sort of halfway--trying to be terribly
middle-class, and that's a cockney trying to get it right.

GROSS: And speaking very slowly, too.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah, well, Hitchcock was a terribly powerful person, so everybody
listened and waited for him to say anything he liked, except for me. I said,
`I don't want to do the part,' and he never spoke to me again.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Caine. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1992 interview with actor Michael Caine.

Since you've given so much thought to the placement of the camera and the
difference between theater and film and so on, I want to ask you about doing
love scenes in front of the camera. You don't like doing love scenes very
much; that's certainly the impression I get from your book.

Mr. CAINE: No, because, you see, for a start, if you're a very good actor,
you see, and you play a scene--I will play a murderer, you know, and my wife
will see the picture and she'll say, `I thought that was brilliant, you know.
I mean, you were so convincing as a murderer,' right? So I'm a very good
actor and I played a very good part as a murderer and my wife thinks it's very
convincing and it's fabulous, and she's very pleased with me and I'm a very
good actor. If I put the same amount of sincerity and skill and dexterity
into a love scene, she says, `Was there anything going on between you two?'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CAINE: You see? So you can't win. You can't win, because if you do it
for real, if you're really a good actor, you really look as though you loved
the woman, you know? And it's very difficult for someone else who loves you
to watch that. So I don't like doing them. And also, love scenes often,
obviously, involve a lot of kissing and cuddling and sometimes nudity and all
that, and I hate it all. It sort of gets in the way of everything. And all
the big stars in the old days, they never did any of these scruffy love scenes
and rolling about. And if the girl has to take their clothes off, then it's
nervous breakdowns and things going on, and it's not worth it. I couldn't do
a nude scene. I've never been able to do it. I mean, I've looked as though I
was nude, but I never take my shorts off. I always keep my shorts on.

GROSS: Have you turned down movies because you didn't want to do a nude

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. I turned down--what was the movie Ken Russell directed
where Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestled...

GROSS: "Women in Love."

Mr. CAINE: "Woman in Love," yeah. I turned down that.

GROSS: Because of the nude wrestling scene?

Mr. CAINE: Well, for a start, I turned down the thing because I won't appear
stark naked in anything, you know? And the other thing, I couldn't imagine
wrestling a naked guy, you know? I thought, `So supposing I like this? I'll
be in trouble.' It's like...

GROSS: Sounds like your father's influence coming back again.

Mr. CAINE: It's--sure, it's just my father. I said, `My dad will be
spinning in his grave if I'm rolling around on the ground with Alan Bates with
no clothes on.'

GROSS: Did...

Mr. CAINE: I thought, `To hell with it.'

GROSS: Did...

Mr. CAINE: And that's why I turned the picture down.

GROSS: Do you think your father's fear of homosexuality stuck with you?

Mr. CAINE: No. I don't have any fear of homosexuality. But he didn't have
a fear of homosexuality. He had a fear of me being a homosexual. He
was--there was no chance of him being one. He wasn't worried about himself.
He was worried about me. And I'm not worried about me, but, you know, it was
just a done thing in those days, you know? There was tremendous homophobia

GROSS: You know, it strikes me you are a very close observer of other
people's behavior, but doing a love scene, you'd be at something of a
disadvantage because it's not like you've sat around watching a lot of couples
make love. Do you know what I mean?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: You could say, `Well, this kind of person makes love this way, and
that kind of man makes love that way.'

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: So you must have to use your imagination more to imagine your
character in a romantic situation...

Mr. CAINE: Oh, yeah. Sure.

GROSS: to imagine them on the telephone, which you've been able to

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...or imagine them at dinner, which you've been able to witness.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. I--yes, with the love scenes. But I've been imagining
love scenes since I was 10, all sorts of different ones, so I've got one for
every occasion. Whatever. I mean, I was always--I was very sort of oversexed
when I was a little boy, and I saw love scenes on the screen, you know, which
were kissing. But it was very soon--found out what happened when they cut to
the seagull or the train going through the tunnel. I figured out the
significance of that very quickly. And, of course, right through my teens, I
had all these imaginary love scenes worked out and I managed to get them all
out of my system on- and off-screen over the years.

GROSS: You've described yourself as a very un-neurotic person. Do you think
that that's affected your approach to acting?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. I have a very un-neurotic approach to acting. Basically,
it's--my style of acting is like--most actors would hold up a picture and say,
`Look at me.' I get rid of all that baggage by holding up a mirror and
saying, `Look at you.' So what I'm doing is I'm playing you, not me, and so
therefore, I can watch from afar, and I watch for the neuroses or the behavior
in people that I can reflect off my mirror.

GROSS: You still do that now?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. All the time. All the time. My--if I've been a success
and you see a performance, even if you're a woman, you should say, `How does
he know that about me? How does he know I would have done that there? Why
would--how does he know that's the way I would have reacted?' It's got
nothing to do with the sexes or anything. It's just has--it's human behavior
is remarkably similar.

GROSS: One more thing, and this gets back to eyes. You know how you've said
the eyes are the most important part of an actor?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: You were born with an eye problem called ablepharia...

Mr. CAINE: Yes.

GROSS: ...which puffs the eyelids?

Mr. CAINE: Yes.

GROSS: So did that make you self-conscious about your eyes? Did it make it
any more difficult for you?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. At school, they used to call me snake-eyes because I sort
of have eyes like a cobra. But when I grew up--sometimes if you're very
sleepy, you look like a cod. They used to call me cod's-eyes as well until I
sort of grew to six feet tall, then nobody called me cod's-eyes, you know.
But when I got into the movies, it came out as kind of dreamy and sexy, you
know? Sleepy-looking. So they could use make-up on them and sort of make
them look slightly different. They put a bit of shade, which puts the eyes
back further into your head, and you get a sort of dreamy quality. So there
was a producer once, an old theater producer who said, `Use the disadvantage.
Always use the disadvantage.' And so I used that. A lot of things worked for
me like that in my life.

GROSS: What else?

Mr. CAINE: Well, I was just thinking, when he said, `Use the disadvantage,'
what that means is I was rehearsing--`Use the difficulty,' I mean. `Use the
difficulty,' he used to say. I was rehearsing a play, and there was a scene
went on before me, and then I had to come in the door, and they'd rehearsed
the scene and one of the actors had thrown a chair at the other one, and it
had gone right in front of the door where I came in. So I opened the door and
then rather lamely, I said to the producer who was sitting out in the stalls,
I said, `Well, look, I can't get in, there's a chair in my way.' So he said,
`Well, use the difficulty.' So I said, `Well, what do you mean? Use the
difficulty?' He said, `Well, if it's a drama, pick it up and smash it. If
it's a comedy, fall over it,' which was a line for me for life, you know?
Always try and use the difficulty.

GROSS: Oh, that's great.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

GROSS: On that note, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. CAINE: Thank you.

GROSS: Michael Caine, recorded in 1992. He's starring in the new film, "The
Quiet American." It opened today in about 20 cities. Caine first became
known for his film "Alfie." He's the song "Alfie," written for the film by
Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Dionne Warwick had the American hit, but it
was first recorded in England by Cilla Black. Here's Black's version.

(Soundbite of "Alfie")

Ms. CILLA BLACK: (Singing) What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the
moment we live? What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? Are we
meant to take all that we give, or are we meant to be kind?

And if only fools are kind, Alfie, then I guess it is wise to be cruel. And
if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, what will you lend on an old golden
rule? As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie, I know there's
something much more, something even non-believers can believe in.

I believe in love, Alfie. Without true love, we just exist, Alfie. Until you
find the love you've missed, you're nothing, Alfie. When you walk, let your
heart lead the way, and you'll find love any day, Alfie.

GROSS: Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews "How to Lose a Guy in
10 Days." This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Analysis: "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" misses capitalizing on
great premise

The new romantic comedy "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" stars Kate Hudson as a
magazine columnist and Matthew McConaughey as the subject of her latest
experiment in dating. The producer is Linda Obst, who gave us "Sleepless in
Seattle." Film critic David Edelstein has a review.


I loved the premise of "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." It's both "Sex and the
City"-modern and Doris Day old-fashioned. It's totally implausible, and yet,
it gets at something real, the way that having to play roles during courtship
can be a recipe for insanity. It begins with Michelle, played by Kathryn
Hahn, getting dropped by a guy she slept with and said `I love you' to in
their first week of dating. After that, he won't pick up the phone. Michelle
works at a high-end fashion magazine, where her boss, played by Bebe Neuwirth,
as a demonic synthesis of Anna Wintour and Helen Gurley Brown, wants her to
write about the breakup. The person who comes to her rescue is her best
friend, Andie Anderson, played by star Kate Hudson. Andie is the magazine's
quirky how-to columnist, and this time, she announces, she'll write a
how-not-to. She'll pick up a guy and intentionally do everything wrong.

Here are Andie and Michelle and another friend, Jeannie, all done up and on
their way to a hot party.

(Soundbite of "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days")

Ms. KATHRYN HAHN: (As Michelle) You're never going to pull this off.

Ms. KATE HUDSON: (As Andie Anderson) Watch me. Tonight, I'll hook a guy;
tomorrow, pull the switch. Before the 10 days are up, I'm going to have this
guy running for his life.

Ms. ANNIE PARISSE: (As Jeannie) You're not going to burn his apartment down
or bite him or anything, are you?

Ms. HUDSON: No. I'm going to limit myself to doing everything girls do
wrong in relationships; basically, everything we know guys hate. I'll be
clingy, needy...

Ms. HAHN: Be touchy-feely.

Ms. HUDSON: Yeah.

Ms. PARISSE: Ooh, call him in the middle of the night and tell him everything
you had to eat that day.

Ms. HAHN: What's wrong with that?

EDELSTEIN: That last little peep came from Michelle. You can guess why the
guy hightailed it. What Andie doesn't know is that the hunk she ends up with,
Benjamin Barry, played by Matthew McConaughey, has an ulterior motive, too.
He's a beer-and-sneakers advertising guy who wants to land a big diamond
account, and he takes a bet from his boss to prove he does, too, understand
what women want. Why, he can make a woman fall in love with him in, you
guessed it, 10 days.

I know this sounds laborious and vaguely idiotic, but think about it: You
have a woman striving to be clingy and invasive and a man striving to put up
with it. Neither is emotionally honest and neither behaves the way the other
expects. Benjamin just won't drop Andie, even when she calls him Bennie-Boo
and buys him a yappy little dog and drapes pink doilies over everything and
fills his medicine cabinet with feminine hygiene products and leaves 16
messages on his answering machine in about 15 minutes and, oh, yes, nicknames
his penis.

Classic screwball comedies have come from much less. As I said, I love the
premise. The movie, it's OK. It's a great vehicle for Kate Hudson. It's
practically sewn onto her, like that knockout yellow Dior gown she wears in
the posters, and if a schlub like me wants to know who the designer is, that's
some dress.

Kate Hudson was wonderful as a groupie in "Almost Famous," but she was
idealized and a little soft. She didn't seem quite broken in by life. But
this time, she gets to show some comic spunk. She does dingey blonde shtick
like her mom, Goldie Hawn, but in quotation marks. She does it, and she sends
it up, too. Her wiggly sweetness matches well with McConaughey's slightly
wooden earnestness. They're cute together.

But the movie gets hobbled out of the starting gate because Andie doesn't go
to bed with Benjamin right away, and so the experiment doesn't have the
naughty zing you've been primed to expect, and guys put up with anything
before sex. The filmmakers must have been afraid of losing their mainstream
audience if they made their heroine deceitful and promiscuous. Heavens! And
the director, Donald Petrie, has said in interviews that he objected to the
first script he read in which the couple did go to bed on their first date, on
the grounds it sent the wrong message to his 12-year-old daughter. Now when
you set out to make a sex comedy for your 12-year-old daughter, well, if
you're any kind of dad, it probably won't be very exciting. I bet Petrie is a
great dad.

So from moment to moment, the movie is perky and sexless and false, like a
Nora Ephron comedy, but with much worse timing. And the music, by David
Newman, is relentlessly cutesy-poo. It's fun and it will probably be a big
hit, but it's also a waste of a killer set-up. That's what happens when you
make a movie called "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" while you live in terror of
losing your audience.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with a recording by Mongo Santamaria, the Cuban conga player and
percussionist. He died a week ago at the age of 85. Here he is playing
Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man."

(Soundbite of "Watermelon Man")

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Jazz trio Artifacts gets to the point quickly, and sticks to it, on a new album

Flute player Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed all came up on Chicago's new jazz scene about 20 years ago. Now they revisit their roots on ... and then there's this.


Actor Kal Penn isn't afraid to take chances, on screen or in life

The actor spoke with contributor Ann Marie Baldonado about navigating Hollywood as a young actor of color at a time when there were only stereotypical roles available — and why he took a break from acting to work in the Obama administration. He's best known for his roles in the Harold and Kumar franchise, The Namesake, and on the TV series House. His new memoir is You Can't Be Serious.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.


Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue