Michael Caine at 84: I haven't started batting yet, not to mind a good innings
At 84, Michael Caine shows no signs of slowing down. He talks to Susan Griffin about rebelling, reaping rewards and why retirement is not an option
MICHAEL Caine faced a backlash last week after revealing he voted for Brexit. His explanation, that he voted for "freedom" and would "rather be a poor master than a rich servant", was met with derision from members of the Remain camp, and he was branded a hypocrite given his years as a former tax exile.
We meet a few hours before the veteran actor's Brexit revelations make headlines, but he's keen to talk taxes when the topic of financial gain crops up.
Brought up in south-east London – where his mother worked as a cook and charlady (house cleaner) and his father as a fish marker porter – Caine describes being paid inordinate amounts of cash throughout his career as "surreal".
Or at least until you pay the tax, "which is half of it, or even a little bit more – and then what you do is you watch the government to see if they spend it correctly. And they never do," states the 84-year-old. "And then they actually increase taxes," he continues.
"I'm a socialist, basically. I want as much money as possible for poor people, to help whoever's in trouble. I wouldn't live in a country that didn't pay income tax."
He recalls when tax reached around 82 per cent during the 1970s, and in response, Caine decided to move abroad. The frustration is still evident when he speaks.
"[They thought] 'This is one dumb, stupid actor, let him go to America, who gives a s**t, tell him to F off'. And I went to America and over the next 10 years, $105 million worth of movies weren't made in this country. What you have to do is keep emotion out of it. You can't say, 'We hate these rich people, we're going to tax them to smithereens'. You've got to have them stay in your county and pay the tax, you understand?"
He's also angered about the state of the NHS.
"If you had a company which had a managing director for every member of staff, you'd get fired, wouldn't you, because you're so stupid. Well, that's the National Health. They have at least one organisational person in an office for every nurse that works there."
These remarks might make Caine, who was knighted in 2000, sound curmudgeonly, but he's great fun to be around, down to earth and still incredibly sharp.
"My leg's all rotten at the moment. It's got that sciatica but it's OK, as long as I'm still here I don't give a toss. I just want to be here," remarks the actor, who describes himself as a "big family man".
"Every day for me is a joy. Just to wake up and see my grandchildren is lovely."
If he doesn't look in the mirror then "I feel about 60", continues Caine, who has two daughters, Dominique, from his marriage to actress Patricia Haines, and Natasha, from his 44-year marriage to Shakira Baksh.
"I'm 84, and if someone aged 84 dies and they say, 'Well, he had a good innings', you go, 'Had a good innings?' I haven't started batting yet! Bloody good innings, 84! All my grandfathers lived into their 90s."
Retirement isn't on the cards for Caine. He continues to work, "in order to do something good, and also for money. I do get paid. But I only do what I actually think is going to be good. I don't just do work which is crap. I don't do commercials."
A second later, he remembers the Sky advert he filmed not so long ago.
"They paid me a fortune for doing that, that's why I did that, and I bought my daughter a house with it."
The six-time Oscar-nominee (he won for 1986's Hannah And Her Sisters and 1999's The Cider House Rules) has the comedy Coup d'Etat coming up and today is promoting new heist movie Going In Style.
Caine plays Joe, a retired factory worker who decides to reap revenge on the bank that's taken his money by robbing it, along with two long-time friends, played by Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin.
"I would understand it [their anger]," he comments. "I probably wouldn't rob a bank, because I wouldn't have the courage, but I'd wish to rob a bank. We all feel that the banks have been robbing us."
Joe might have left it 'til his latter years to rebel, but Caine didn't wait so long.
"No, I was always rebellious, terrible," he admits, with a roaring laugh. "I was in the army for two years, in Berlin when I was 18. I was in the occupation force in 1951. And I was such a nuisance. The next year, they sent me to Korea to try and get rid of me. But I survived. I got a bit of shrapnel behind me ear but that was all."
He worked as a labourer when he left the army, but already had aspirations of becoming an actor – "not because I wanted to be rich and famous, because I knew I couldn't be because of my background, accent, class system in England".
It was an "old, cockney man" he worked with who told him to head to the West End and hunt out the trade paper The Stage. "He said, 'At the back of it, you'll find adverts for actors'," recalls Caine. "Well, it wasn't that, it was, 'stage manager, play, small parts', and that was the start of my poverty," he adds, laughing again.
"I was earning about 10 quid a week in the factory. I earned £3, 10 shillings a week [as a stage manager] and the flat cost £3, but I was the stage manager and I used to hope for plays with meals because I always ordered triple the food we'd need and I'd eat the rest. I mean that's poor."
He'd just done a play for the BBC when he experienced "the first inkling I was ever going to be famous", as he was walking along the street with his close friend Terence Stamp.
"We were sharing a flat, we were both out of work and on our a***s and we saw Roger Moore, who was a big star on the television, coming towards us. He said, 'I saw you on the play last night – you're going to be a star, Michael', and he walked away. That was the first time I met Roger. Years later, we became very close friends."
Now, reflecting on his life, he says there are no regrets.
"That song ['Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien'] is for me. I regret nothing. Nothing," says Caine.
"I believe in God because if you'd had my life, you would have to. There is no other reason for it, from where I came from and what I've done. I have had, knock on wood, so far, the best life I could possibly have thought of."
:: Going In Style is in cinemas now.
FIVE CAINE CLASSICS
1. Get Carter (1971) - Hard-boiled and influential crime flick set in 'grim' north of England
2. Zulu (1964) - epic war film telling the story of the 1879 Battle of Rorke's Drift between the British army and the Zulus
3. The Ipcress File (1965) – Bafta-winning highly stylised spy caper based on a Len Deignton novel
4. Educating Rita (1983) - Filmed in Dublin, Caine is an cynical, alcoholic English professor to Julie Walters' bright young working-class student
5. Alfie (1966) – Comedy drama in which Caine plays the incorrigible womanising Alfie, who knowingly speaks straight to camera