Caine’s many masks

Michael Caine has always had manageable ambitions, says Joanne Kaufman in The Wall Street Journal. “I never became a failed movie star,” the British actor says. “A lot of people who were movie stars, if you sent their agent a smaller part, the attitude would be, ‘Oh, don’t even give him that to read—he’s a star. Loads of these aging actors never worked again because they wouldn’t do a small part.” Rather than fall into that trap, Caine adjusted his career accordingly. “I have become a sort of leading character actor. The difference between that and a movie star is a movie star gets a script and he’s reading it”—here, Caine pretends to riffle through a screenplay—“and he’s saying, ‘Oh, Michael Caine would never talk like that, Michael Caine would never wear that, Michael Caine would never do that.’ . . . A character actor looks at the script and thinks, Hmm, I’ll put on weight for the part. I’ll shave my head and be a bit bald. He changes himself to fit the role, which is what I do.” Caine’s adaptability means he’ll never be out of work, but there’s a downside to being so durable. “You know what happens at a retrospective? They run all your movies in about half an hour and you watch yourself grow old. It’s terrible. I come bouncing on in Zulu, very slim and very young. And gradually I end up . . . crumbling!”