Michael Caine Tackles Art In The Time Of Social Media For New Film

Sep 12, 2021
Originally published on September 12, 2021 6:26 am
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MICHAEL CAINE: Hi, Lulu. Is that you with the glasses?

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It's me with the glasses.

Yes, that is Sir Michael Caine, and he hasn't spent the pandemic like most of us. While we were saying hello, I note that just in the frame of our Zoom call, a line of very familiar golden statues.

Oh, my goodness. I can see your Oscars. My Lord.

CAINE: That wasn't deliberate. I - this is my desk in my office. I just put it on here. I didn't think you could see up there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And with disarming humility, he keeps apologizing.

CAINE: I'm very embarrassed now 'cause I keep looking at the picture. And I can see all the awards up there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this is when Sir Michael acknowledges that over a year and a half into this pandemic and while the rest of us have been locked into talking in little boxes on a screen, our interview is...

CAINE: The first one I've ever done on this, whatever this is, Zoom. I've never heard of it. My wife does it all the time. And it's good 'cause she told me how it's done and what's going on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At 88 years old, Michael Caine has not slowed down. Instead of Zooming, he's been cooking and gardening and writing - more about that in a moment. He's also starring in a new film. It's called "Best Sellers," and he plays Harris Shaw, an aging, reclusive, angry author who is dragged out of retirement by a young publisher played by Aubrey Plaza, whose inherited business is on the ropes. It's a charming kind of odd couple road movie that takes on issues of art in the age of social media and the generational divide.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEST SELLERS")

CAINE: (As Harris Shaw) From the root to the fruit.

AUBREY PLAZA: (As Lucy Stanbridge) What does that even mean?

CAINE: (As Harris Shaw) It means that you don't have the [expletive] freedom to tell me what to do.

PLAZA: (As Lucy Stanbridge) If your words are so [expletive] perfect, then why don't you read from it?

CAINE: (As Harris Shaw) Why don't you go and get me another [expletive] bottle?

PLAZA: (As Lucy Stanbridge) Fine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Caine says he modeled the character on someone he knew.

CAINE: A director I once worked with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Oh, you've got to name names.

CAINE: No, no, no. I can't say a name. But I was so young. I couldn't approve of whether I worked with him or not. I needed the money, so I did the job. But he was a very nasty man, you know? And there are a few people like that about, but you don't get to meet them a lot because they don't get anywhere. But when you see them like we got them, they're funny. Well, we hope they're funny.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it is because he's sort of taken out of a self-imposed retirement. He's made one very famous book and then for 40 years doesn't do anything else.

CAINE: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then of course...

CAINE: Made to go out and publicize.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Made to go out and publicize it. And he ends up going to all these dive bars because he just acts so terribly. I mean, he essentially goes out, tries to punch a fictional New York Times critic, shouts obscenities, pees on the book.

CAINE: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That must have been a lot of fun to play.

CAINE: Oh, it was wonderful for me because I know that side of life as well, you know. I've used the occasional swear word during my life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) I mean, where did you draw on for this? I mean, do you hate publicity tours?

CAINE: Oh, yeah. I - yeah. I - the idea of doing that tour and making a movie about it gave me the character because there was nothing else there except this kind of life. There was no respite or anything. We were just doing that all day, and everybody was shouting and screaming at me for being rude and rotten.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) How do you do that? How do you make us care about people who we may not like if we met them in real life?

CAINE: Well, it was very funny because I did a movie called "Get Carter," where I was a gangster where I killed everybody. I come from a place in London called the Elephant and Castle, which is a very heavy gangster area when I was a young man. You know, I based it on a man who I knew was a professional killer. And I was out one day, and he met me in the street. And he said, I've seen you playing a killer in "Get Carter." I said, oh, what'd you think of it? He said, the film's a load of crap. I said, what do you mean? I said, it got great reviews. It made a lot of money. He said, I think it's a load of crap. I said, well, why? He said, you didn't have a wife. You had no reason to do those things like the rest of us. We've got a wife and family. We've got to make some money. You were single. You had no reason to do that. And so I took that. I said, all right. I was frightened to argue with him in case he killed me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) You know, you can transform, but there is a very clear authenticity to all your roles. How do you bring that?

CAINE: Well, it's in the choice of the script, really. You choose a script. If they wanted me to play the King of Saudi Arabia, I wouldn't do it, you know? Because I don't know what I'm talking about. But when you're asked to play roles, you think, do I know enough about this and that, you know? And I do. Everything I played, I know enough about to be confident that I could look real doing it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now, back to what he's been up to this past year and a half. He confesses he's a workaholic. And when the movies dried up during the pandemic...

CAINE: I wrote an autobiography called "Blowing The Bloody Doors Off." And it was very successful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

CAINE: And so I thought to myself, I'll write a fiction while I'm sitting here watching television for 24 hours a day. So I wrote a fiction book called "If You Don't Want To Die," a thriller. And they're going to publish it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's amazing.

CAINE: I was amazed, but it's not a bad book. It's a - just a thriller, you know? That's all. And I'm very happy with it, and I'm so pleased to get it published.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you find writing as satisfying as making films? I mean, it's much more solitary.

CAINE: Well, that's what I realized about myself. What I am is I'm a very good gardener, and I'm a very good cook. And I'm doing writing now. And all those three are on their own. My professional - my life has been with 150 people all day long every day. So I now sit down to do something on my own. And I think that's what it is all about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you like to cook?

CAINE: I'll tell you what I love to cook. I love to cook Christmas turkey for my grandchildren...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aw.

CAINE: ...'Cause I'm very good at that, and they love it. I've got three grandchildren, who are 11 and 12 who I adore, you know? You mustn't get me started talking about my grandchildren. Otherwise, the rest of the interview will be about them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

CAINE: So we'll drop that subject immediately.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Inevitably, we come back to talking about Zoom. And Sir Michael is still worried about those Oscars. And so he pretends to blot them out by looming into his Zoom camera.

CAINE: I was going to do it like this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're pulling in close to the camera (laughter).

CAINE: Yeah, I pulled it close to the camera. And then I looked at the shot of me. And I thought, I'm not having it. So I went back to that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you went back to that. No close-ups in this Zoom call.

CAINE: No, no. I want a nice medium shot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There you go.

CAINE: You stop close-up when you're 65 in case there's a pimple you missed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Sir Michael Caine. His new film is "Best Sellers," and it'll be out in theaters and on demand starting September 17.

And I am very, very grateful to be your first Zoom call.

CAINE: Yeah, I've never had a Zoom call before. Now I can boast.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

CAINE: I know what it's all about.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "MY ONLY SWERVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.