Michael Caine, in his latest movie Youth, gets to share a bed with Rachel Weisz, a gorgeous actress young enough to be his daughter. In his 1992 autobiography What's It All About?, the actor said he had no regrets – and he still does not. These two things are not entirely unrelated.
"I'm 82 years old," Caine says over the phone from Los Angeles, "and I sometimes think, 'Wait a minute, five years ago I was 36.' The time goes so fast. I'm enjoying it so much. Who wouldn't, if you have a life that's very successful?"
Youth is Paolo Sorrentino's gorgeous and wry picture on what the future looks like to those who are no longer young. (Weisz, by the way, plays Caine's daughter – the bed scene is innocent. "There was no place for contact," Caine laughs. "I have two grown ones of my own, so I'm very aware of being a father of daughters.")
Set in a luxurious Alpine lodge and spa, Youth casts Caine as Fred, a brilliant composer winding down in life and career. When a doctor asks him about growing old, Fred replies, "I never understood how I got here."
Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite – no silver spoon in his working-class mouth at all. There's the oft-told story about his being treated poorly by a snobby Rolls-Royce salesman. Shortly afterward, the actor drove past the fellow's showroom in a Rolls he'd purchased from another dealer, through the car window offering a two-fingered salute that wasn't meant to convey "victory."
But then again, that's exactly what it was.
"I came from a working-class background," Caine says, "with a working-class accent."
Accent? Really? Hadn't noticed.
"We were a generation who were born in the Great Depression and grew up during a war," he continues. "And when we got to the sixties were told that the Russians were going to drop an atomic bomb on us and we would only have a few minutes' warning."
And so came the Swinging Sixties, with Caine swinging harder than most – a cool cat among the Terence Stamp and Sean Connery crowd for sure. The daunting era his generation grew up in played on its psyche. "We just thought, 'The hell with it, let's have a good time if we've only got a few minutes left,'" the actor recalls. "And we kicked over the class struggle as well."
When Caine speaks of the class struggle, he's talking about the new breed of writers of that age. John Osborne's Look Back in Anger liberated British theatre in 1956, before which a working-class hero in an English play was unheard of.
Caine scored an Academy Award nomination for his titular role as a narcissistic philanderer in the 1966 film Alfie, written by Bill Naughton, a coal-bagging, truck-driving Irishman before becoming a writer. And it was in 1960 that Caine had a role in a production of Harold Pinter's debut work, The Room, at the Royal Court in London.
Pinter was a struggling thespian when he told Caine that he would write the one-act play. "That's what the sixties were like," Caine says. "You had one of the greatest writers England's ever produced, and he was an out-of-work actor."
Pinter did fine, as did Caine, whose credits include roles in The Italian Job, Get Carter, Sleuth, Educating Rita, The Cider House Rules, Austin Powers in Goldmember and a recurring role in the Batman film series. But the man, though he's written two autobiographies, is not prone to looking back. He has a tight group of friends from the sixties – including actor Roger Moore – who are not sentimentalists.
"We just laugh about the whole thing," chuckles Caine, since 1973 married to the model-actress Shakira Baksh. "And if we catch ourselves being nostalgic, we think, 'You know what, we're going to do it all again for the next decade.'"
In Youth, a screenwriter played by Harvey Keitel says something to the effect that if you are having trouble figuring out your ending, it means you messed up the beginning. That doesn't appear to be the case with Caine, an actor and fellow upon whom age is not wasted.