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Bullet Points: Michael Caine

The legendary actor’s role in this month’s Youth has him waxing nostalgic

Author Alex Hoyt Photography Nicolas Guerin/Contour by Getty Images

bulletpointsFrom titular playboy Alfie to loyal Batman butler Alfred, Michael Caine has epitomized English gentlemen of all stripes since his acting debut (as another butler, in a play he’s long forgotten) some 60 years ago. His career has brought him two best supporting actor Oscars and nominations in five successive decades. In this month’s Youth, Caine plays a retired composer contemplating the twilight of his career while vacationing at an Alpine spa. Here, he discusses film, war, and why he’ll always be proud of his working-class roots.

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• ON HIS YOUTH CO-STAR

“I remember first seeing Harvey Keitel years ago in Mean Streets, but we’d never worked together. Filming Youth, we connected immediately. We were both in the military—he was in the Marines, and I was in the British Army in Korea. But it’s more than that. We were both infantrymen. He knew the story, so to speak. All infantrymen know the story.”

• ON AGING IN HOLLYWOOD

“You could be 100, and if they have a part for you, they’ll ask you to play it. They’re not going to ask Brad Pitt, are they? It’s much easier for older men than women—there are more parts written. At this point, I don’t have a sense of competition with actors. I’m competing with myself. I’m trying to get farther and farther from the real me. If I were to play a Cockney-accented bloke with a mother who’s a charwoman, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge, would it?”

• ON BEING A WORKING-CLASS HERO

“My first role was actually as an aristocratic officer in Zulu, but I still identify as working class. Bob Hoskins told me he became an actor because of me. He told me, ‘I saw you do it, with your Cockney accent, and I thought I could do it, too.’ Later, I became good friends with Dwayne Johnson. He told me what a fan he was, because I was working class like him.”

• ON WINNING HIS TWO OSCARS

“The first time I won it was for Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. I didn’t campaign at all, and Woody didn’t like the Oscars—the night they were broadcast he always went and played with his jazz band at a nightclub. Anyway, I was doing another picture, Jaws something-or-other [Jaws: The Revenge], for a great amount of money. Suddenly I got nominated for an Oscar, and I was stuck on location, in the Bahamas. So when I was nominated for The Cider House Rules, I made sure I was there.”

• ON MEETING A HERO

“I was a little boy during the war. We were back and forth between London and the countryside—I lived with my mother and six boys on a farm. After the war, we moved out of our cramped London apartment and into council housing. Strangely, World War II was the best thing that ever happened to our family. I joined the Boy Scouts, and one afternoon, when I was 15, Winston Churchill came to tea. He said one thing I’ll always remember: ‘Boys, when you’re going through hell, keep going.’”

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