The workaholic star: actor Michael Caine at 85 | Film | DW | 13.03.2018
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The workaholic star: actor Michael Caine at 85

From young womanizer to elderly bank robber: Over five decades, Michael Caine has appeared in some 125 films, winning two Oscars among his six nominations. As the British actor turns 85, his projects keep multiplying.

"The only alternative to playing old people is to play dead people. That's why I went for the elderly," quipped Michael Caine while presenting his film "Youth" in Cannes in 2015. As he turns 85, ending his acting career is not an alternative Caine is considering at all. 

The British actor has performed in roughly 130 films, among them numerous brilliant works, and some not as remarkable ones. Actor Kevin Kline likes to joke that in the 1990s, a video shop in London even had a small section called "Films Without Michael Caine." There's a grain of truth to this, as Caine is a workaholic among the stars. What drives him is having fun with his work.

'I did a lot of crap'

"Sir" Michael, as he may call himself after having been knighted by the Queen, was born in London on March 14, 1933. His father was a fish market worker, and his mother a cleaning lady. He grew up in dire poverty, which affected him for his entire life.

As his main objective was to make a lot of money, he wasn't particularly picky in his choice of roles. "I did a lot of crap," he openly admitted in several interviews. Talking about "Jaws 4," he told the German weekly magazine Focus that he only accepted the insignificant role in it because it paid well, and because he wanted to buy a house for someone in his family.

Michael Caine (Getty Images)

British actor Michael Caine in "Alfie"

The career of Caine, born Maurice Micklewhite, began in the mid 1950s with small stage and television roles.

He obtained his first main role with "Zulu" (1964), playing a noble colonial officer defending a Swedish mission against an attack of local warriors. "Director Cy Endfield was an American. A British director would never have given me, a proletarian, the role of a lieutenant," Caine once told the German weekly Die Zeit.

Crossing social classes

In 1967, Caine received his first Oscar nomination for his performance in "Alfie." The movie's protagonist was a narcissist charmer with a Cockney accent; such a portrayal was unseen in Britain's conservative society at the time.

Read more: 'Alfie' and James Bond movie director Lewis Gilbert dies at 97

In his private life, Caine never got rid of his Cockney accent, although he speaks pure Oxford English in most of his films.

Other Oscar nominations followed suit, namely for "Sleuth" (1972), as well as "Educating Rita" (1983), a modern film adaptation based on the novel  "Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw.

Three years later, Caine finally received his first Academy Award, for best actor in a supporting role as Elliot in Woody Allen's "Hannah and her Sisters."

A second Oscar followed in 1999 for Caine's portrayal of Dr. Wilbur Larch in a film adaptation of John Irving's "The Cider House Rules."

At the beginning of the new millennium, Caine, then almost 70, was once again nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "The Quiet American," based on a novel of the same title by Graham Greene.

Caine and Jack Nicholson are the only two actors to have been nominated at least once in a decade between 1960 and 2010.

Read more: European Film Awards for Caine and Waltz

 Film Still from Youth -- Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) und Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) (

Caine won the European Film Award for best actor for his performance in "Youth" by Paolo Sorrentino

Next to his work, Caine is interested in amateur theater, real estate and collecting artworks. And he has some strong political views: "I voted for Brexit... I'd rather be a poor master than a rich servant."

Read more: Michael Caine's 'Brexit' support goes viral

His private life hasn't always been happy. Only recently, Caine admitted in an interview with Radio Times that at the beginning of his career, he used to drink an entire bottle of vodka every day: "I wasn't unhappy, but I had a lot of stress." His wife Shakira, with whom he has been married since 1973, gave him comfort. "Without her, I would have died a long time ago. I probably would have boozed myself to death." Today, he prefers to have a glass of wine only with a meal. He says he mentally feels like he's only 38.

In 2017, Caine starred alongside Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin in the comedy "Going in Style" that's all about senior citizens. "What's come into fashion, fortunately for me, is films for older people," he told The Guardian.

More new works are set to be released within days of his 85th birthday: He's the narrator, co-producer and star of a new documentary, "My Generation," about 1960s London. He portrays a fictional island nation despot in the satire comedy "Dear Dictator" and lends his voice to one of the gnomes in the animated feature "Sherlock Gnomes." He has no plans on retiring any time soon. 

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