Your latest film, Harry Brown, about a man who takes the law into his own hands in one of London’s roughest neighborhoods, was filmed where you grew up. What was it like to go back home?
The neighborhood is a council estate, what you’d call the projects in America. It was always tough, but it had gotten so much worse than I remembered. I was a gang guy when I lived there, but we didn’t have drugs and guns. Anytime we got in trouble, it was because we drank too much. Now it’s so much more lethal.
Brown is a former Royal Marine who uses his combat training to take down young thugs. Did your experience fighting in the Korean War kick in during those scenes?
Oh, yeah! It came in very handy. I mean, I’m 77 years old, and I was a soldier from 18 to 20. But it does come back to you.
Did you get in fistfights in your day?
God, yes. My entire youth was a fistfight.
What’s the most important thing to remember when brawling?
Don’t fight anyone bigger than you. It’s common sense, but people take on a big guy and think they’re gonna win ‘cause they’ve had a judo lesson.
You’ve made so many movies. Have you ever forgotten about one?
Yeah! I’m writing my autobiography, and there are several that I’ve had to look up because they were so bloody awful. I type “Michael Caine films” into Google.
What’s the worst movie you’ve made?
Probably The Swarm.
So your killer-bee disaster flick was worse than Jaws: The Revenge?
Well, I don’t count that, because I wasn’t the star; I only worked on it for 10 days out of 60. That would be like me saying, “Batman was a great success because of my playing the butler.”
Many of your films have been remade over the years, like Get Carter, The Italian Job, and Sleuth. Have any topped the original?
None of them. I don’t understand why no one remakes the flops. I made a very successful film, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, from a terrible flop starring Marlon Brando called Bedtime Story. And it was the funniest comedy I ever made.
You played one of the greatest womanizers of all time in Alfie. Did you relate to the character?
No, because he was a lot dumber than me and knew less than I did about women. He used women in a way that I wouldn’t. I mean, he used to go see a girl because she had a dry cleaning shop and he could get his suits done for nothing. I would never do that. I only ever dealt in romance.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about women?
The most important thing men should realize is: You don’t know anything.
What did you think of your Batman costar Christian Bale’s outburst on the Terminator set last year?
I was stunned. I’ve never heard Chris swear, I’ve never heard him shout. He must’ve had a lot of
provocation. I can imagine me doing that, but not him.
You’re a hothead?
I used to lose my temper all the time. Then I worked with writerdirector James Clavell on a picture called The Last Valley. One day I lost it—just like Christian did—and James took me into his dressing room for a cup of tea. He taught me that you should never show anger, because you lose face. I’ve never lost my temper on a movie set again. I’ll just smile and wave at you…and then on the way home I’ll have you smashed to the ground.
Have you received any more priceless advice over the years?
John Wayne once told me never to wear suede shoes, and when I asked him why, he said, “Because you’ll be in the john taking a pee, and the guy next to you is gonna recognize you. And he’s gonna turn to you and say, ‘Michael Caine!’ And he’ll be peein’ all over your shoes.”
You’ll be appearing in Christopher Nolan’s Inception later this year. We’ve seen the trailer, but we have no idea what’s going on.
I don’t think you’re going to until the end. Chris is in control of what you think. You know things when he wants you to. I think he’s one of the greatest directors in the world, frankly.
Is Nolan a control freak?
He’s secretive. When he offered me the part of the butler in Batman Begins, he asked if I’d like to read the script. He lived near me in England and said, “I’ll bring it over.” When he arrived, I said, “Thank you very much,” and went to shut the door, and he said, “I want it back.” So I had to read it while he waited!
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I’m a Google fiend. I’ve had an insatiable curiosity all my life, so Google is the best thing to happen to me. I know everything now.
Do you see yourself ever retiring?
No. My theory is, the movie business retires you. There won’t be any fanfare or announcement. I’ll just fade away like the old soldier I am.