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MICHAEL CAINE, MOVIE BY MOVIE ENGLISH STAR OF 'THE QUIET AMERICAN' REMEMBERS NEARLY 40 YEARS IN FILM.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Staff Writer

Michael Caine became an actor out of fear.

When he was a boy, Caine says, he was the ``shyest person you'd ever meet in your life.'' He didn't like being a wallflower, so he joined a theater club. It was a struggle, but Caine, then named Maurice Micklewhite (you can see why his agent told him to pick a stage name), kept at it and gradually came out of his shell.

Later, when he was 14, Caine took up with an amateur dramatic society for an altogether different reason - he wanted to kiss an older girl.

``But I never got any of the parts for the lovers,'' Caine says. ``I was always a policeman or a butler. And they don't get to kiss, you know.''

Now nearing his 70th birthday and in the midst of another resurgence in his storied career, Caine gets to kiss the girl - albeit one much younger than him - in his latest movie, ``The Quiet American.'' The film is an adaptation of Graham Green's political romance set in 1952 Saigon, with Caine playing a jaded British journalist trying to keep his young Vietnamese lover out of the arms of an interloping American do-gooder.

``The Quiet American'' premiered in September at the Toronto Film Festival to standing ovations, which was good news for both Caine and the movie. Miramax had planned to dump the film in January because they thought audiences would hate its implicit criticism of America's meddling foreign policy. Now, in an about-face, Miramax has opened the film in Los Angeles and New York for a two-week Oscar-qualifying run, and Caine seems positioned for another deserved nomination.

``I've lost track of the number of peaks and valleys in Michael's career,'' says ``Quiet American'' director Phillip Noyce. ``It's safe to say, though, that he's never been better than he is right now. And you get the feeling that even at age 69, he still hasn't reached his peak.''

Caine, in town recently for an American Film Institute tribute, sat down with us to talk candidly about a few of those peaks and valleys. Here's what he had to say about Alfie, Carter and playing Dougie's (Dr. Evil to you) dad.

ZULU (1964)

Caine got his big break in this magnificently staged war movie, playing a blueblood Brit trying to stave off Zulu warriors at a remote Natal outpost. Caine watched the daily rushes but became physically ill from watching himself. In a concession to nerves, he has never watched rushes again.

THE IPCRESS FILE (1965)

Caine followed ``Zulu'' with this stylish sthriller, which spawned two sequels. Caine's Harry Palmer may not have been as popular as Bond, but he did have his admirers - among them, Mike Myers, who patterned Austin Powers on Palmer's bespectacled look.

``That was the first picture where my name was above the title. I said to the producer, Harry Saltzman, 'Thanks, Harry. That's absolutely wonderful. Why are you doing it?' He said, 'If I don't think you're a star, who the hell else is going to?'

``The big flap with 'Ipcress File' was that I wore glasses. They said, 'You look like a wimp.' And I cooked a meal for a girl. The guy executive said, 'People are going to think he's gay. He's cooking and he's shopping in the supermarket, buying mushrooms.'

``It was a flaw, and at that time, movie stars were never flawed. I grew up with Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power, right through to Rock Hudson - big, extremely handsome, wonderful-looking men. There was never anything wrong with them. And suddenly a guy comes on with glasses, and they go, 'Oh shoot. That's not the way it's supposed to be.' ''

ALFIE (1966)

Caine received his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the title character, a clueless Cockney womanizer who spends as much time relating to the camera as he does those around him.

``This is the one that took me around the world and brought me to America in a starring role. Before that, I was a British movie actor, which is an extremely good and honorable and lucrative profession, but an international movie star is a bit different. And to be an international movie star, you have to make it in America, and with 'Alfie' I made it in America.

``I remember once I was with someone who was talking to Julia Roberts. I don't know Julia Roberts, but they gave me the phone. So I said, 'Hello. I loved you in ``Pretty Woman.'' ' And there was a long pause and she said, 'I can't believe I'm talking to Alfie.'

``Now that film was made long before she was born. It's television. So many people have seen me in movies that play on television at 2 in the morning that there's this general impression that I must be dead.''

GET CARTER (1971)

Caine fashioned another British icon, playing a mobster who returns to his hometown to find out who murdered his brother. Sylvester Stallone disastrously remade it two years ago, with Caine being paid handsomely for a brief cameo.

``We minimalized the violence back to reality. Film violence had become almost pornographic, and it's got back to that. But I come from that milieu of gangsters, you know. I come from that. I knew they were very efficient in what they do. It's one punch or one blow and you're gone. They don't mess about. And it comes out of the blue. They don't tell you, 'If you don't do this, I'm going to smash your face in.' They just smash your face in.

``I was co-producer, and one of the reasons I wanted to make that picture was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. And I wanted to show that they're neither. Gangsters are not stupid. and they're certainly not very funny. It was such a success that I later got a dog and named it Carter. Good dog, too.''

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975)

Director John Huston's ripping adventure yarn received a last-minute addition to the cast - Caine's wife, Shakira.

``We were in Morocco, and the girl who was going to play the princess dropped out. My wife is very beautiful and from Kashmir. We were all sitting around having dinner, and we were discussing the fact that the other girl wasn't going to turn up. And John said, 'We've got to find an Arab princess somewhere.' And we were all eating away and we stopped eating and looked at Shakira, and she was still eating. `What? What?' She didn't want to do it. She had never acted before. But I said, 'Don't worry about that. I'll show you how.'

``Now, she's very proud that she did it. And I notice in her dressing room is a picture of her and Huston together, and she's in costume. Another advantage of that is that I have a wife who has done my job. So when I get home and say, 'Jesus, what a day.' She can say, 'I know.' She's done it herself.

``She just did the one. Her and Micheline Connery decided that the best job in the world is to be the wife of a famous movie star because you have the name when you want it, and you're incognito when you don't want it. And of course, there's all the peripheries, like the money.''

EDUCATING RITA (1983)

Playing a disillusioned tutor in this ``Pygmalion'' knockoff, Caine received his third best-actor nomination (1972's ``Sleuth'' was No. 2).

``That's one of my favorite performances, because at that time it was the farthest I had gotten away from my character and hidden Michael Caine. I started hiding him behind a beard and a stomach. I put on a lot of weight for that, 15, 20 pounds. I'd never do that again. It took forever to get it off. Gaining it was no problem. When you're living in Dublin, all you do is drink Guinness and, blimey, you can get fat. The food's great, but it's all cholesterol. Bread, butter, wonderful sandwiches, great steaks.

``A lot of the films I had made, my star personality was an essential part of it. 'Alfie' - I can't pretend that was very far from me. He was a Cockney who loved women, you know? The only difference was that I didn't have his hang-ups about it.

```Rita,' though, had me playing a university professor, a far different thing. First day of that, I had this beard and stomach, and we were shooting at the University of Dublin in the holiday time, and there was a small man walking toward me with a big fat stomach and a beard, carrying a case of red wine. And I said to him, 'Are you an English professor?' And he said, 'Yes.' I thought, 'Good. I've got it absolutely right.' ''

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1985)

Caine won his first Oscar for his supporting role in Woody Allen's ensemble comedy about three sisters and the husbands who love them - even if they're not married to the right one.

``I loved Woody. But, like all great directors, he doesn't say very much to you. But he watches very closely. He speaks very quietly and not very much. All the great directors do that. The ones that want to take you out to dinner and explain the character to you, you know you're in trouble.''

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999)

Caine won his second supporting actor Oscar for his role as the kindhearted abortionist in Lasse Hallstrom's screen version of the John Irving novel. From the podium that night, a clearly moved Caine said, ``I hope you all get the chance to experience what I'm feeling tonight - what it's like to be a survivor.''

``I got fed up with the scripts, so I said, 'I'm out of here.' I don't need to work for money. So I goofed off and larked about. I opened restaurants for a hobby, I wrote a book, I had holidays. I didn't miss acting, I was having such a ball. Then one day I woke up and thought, 'I can't go on like this. I have to go back to work.'

``First I did 'Blood and Wine' with Jack Nicholson, then (Miramax co- chairman) Harvey (Weinstein) called with 'Little Voice.' But 'Cider House' was extraordinarily important. It reminded people that I was still around. The Oscar didn't hurt, either. I think I got 'The Quiet American' because of 'Cider House Rules.' I'll always be grateful to Lasse.''

AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (2002)

Mike Myers was so intent on having Caine play his father in the third ``Austin Powers'' movie that he wrote the actor a ``long, groveling letter'' (Myers' words). It proved an offer Caine couldn't resist.

``They said, 'Do you want to play Austin Powers' father?' Well, I knew I was Austin Powers' father because he was copying me in 'Ipcress File.' You know, Harry Palmer with the glasses. Not with the teeth, but the glasses (laughs).

``I had total freedom to ad-lib. In fact, I named Dr. Evil. Because I asked (director) Jay (Roach) what his name was. I'm his father. I certainly didn't christen him Dr. Evil. So I said, 'Dougie.' Only we didn't tell Mike. So in the scene where we meet, I said, 'Dougie!' And he looked at me for a moment and said, 'Daddy! I'm Dougie! I'm Dougie!' He keeps repeating it in the film, getting it in his mind that he's Dougie.''

THE QUIET AMERICAN (2002)

While making the movie, Caine was repeatedly told that he was ``born to play Thomas Fowler,'' the main character in Graham Greene's novel. Caine doesn't see it.

``It's sort of a compliment, I guess. But I'm one of the last people that should be playing Thomas Fowler. I'm not British middle class. I don't have his education. I don't have a 20-year-old mistress. I've had the same wife for 30 years. I've never done opium or drugs. I have drunk a bit - I think Graham Greene was born to play Thomas Fowler. But I'm glad people think that. It means I've done my job.''

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Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) CAINE ON CAINE

`The Quiet American' Brit looks back at his movie career

(2) Michael Caine in `The Quiet American'

(3) Michael Caine
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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