80 Wonderful Michael Caine Quotes for His 80th Birthday


Break out the cake, light up the candles, and trot out your best Cockney-accented imitation: the great Michael Caine is 80 years old today. Sir Michael, who first came to international fame clear back in 1966’s Alfie, has always struck us as a particularly down-to-earth chap, blessed with fierce intelligence, a quick wit, and a rather astonishing work ethic — he’s appeared in well over 100 films since his first credited role in 1956’s Hell in Korea, and during his most productive period in the 1980s, he would frequently star in three or four pictures per year. That doesn’t just mean he’s done a lot of movies; it’s means he’s done a lot of interviews. So in celebration of his 80th year on Earth, we rounded up some of our favorite quotes from his many interviews (and from his own writing); enjoy the wit and wisdom of Sir Michael Caine after the jump.

On his movies

On Jaws: The Revenge: “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.” [IMDb]

“I used to get the girl; now I get the part. In The Quiet American (2002) you may have noticed I got the part and the girl. It’s a milestone for me, because it’s the last time I’m going to get the girl. I’m sure of it, now I’m nearly 70.” [IMDb]

[On Alfie] “After the picture had been out and been a success in England, the director called me and said you’ve got to re-loop – which means re-record – 120 lines in the picture. And I said what for? He said: It’s going to America, and the Americans don’t understand what you’re talking about.” [NPR, 2010]

On Hannah and Her Sisters: “I was working with Woody Allen, one of my favorite directors, in New York, one of my favorite places. Oh – and I got an Oscar.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

On Harry Brown: “I don’t work very much, and I just sit here waiting for a script that I can’t refuse — and I’m not talking about money. Just from the ordinary actor’s point of view, it’s a wonderful part in a wonderful script. And then there was the coincidence that it was about the sort of people that I was, and then the coincidence again of where the movie was going to be made, which is exactly where I came from. Then there’s also the sort of sociopolitical thing of it: Why the hell is this happening, and why isn’t someone doing something about it?” [The A.V. Club, 2010]

“They [Warner Bros.] have had a great 80-year history there, and although I have contributed to a few of the blips along the way, including The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, I’m pleased to have made it up for them eventually with Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

On Hollywood

“Hollywood is a cross between a health farm, a recreation center and an insane asylum. It’s a company town, and I happen to like the company!” [Interview magazine, 1986]

On Oscar campaigning

“You can’t figure out the Oscars. I won an Oscar in Hannah and Her Sisters. I won an Oscar for a part that was released in the February before the March Oscars of last year – if you know what I mean. The picture was Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. It was written and produced and directed by a man who hated the Oscars and wouldn’t attend. Nobody obviously – based on that set of circumstances – nobody did a campaign for me. Nobody did anything. I was nominated out of the blue and won out of the blue. So that was it… So people do talk a lot of bull about it.” [IGN, 2003]

On the roles he selects

“First of all, I choose the great roles, and if none of these come, I choose the mediocre ones, and if they don’t come, I choose the ones that pay the rent.” [IMDb]

“I played a couple of old men who were dying and had dementia and Alzheimer’s and then died, with their life collapsing all around them. I turn down any scripts like that now. I want proactive old guys.” [The A.V. Club, 2010]

“I don’t want to play saints. I don’t think I’d know how to play one, because I’m not one.” [The A.V. Club, 2010]

“I don’t do any odd script because I’m broke and I’ve got to pay the rent, which is what I used to do, you know. When I started I used to do every bloody film that came along because I was 30 before I made it. I was absolutely broke with a completely broke family. So I did a lot of films that weren’t very good but they paid well. But that’s where I learned how to do it, as well you know.” [The Talks, 2011]

“I adored Frank [Sinatra]. He was such a generous man. He thought I was very funny, well he thought my accent was funny. And he always had this thing that I made too many movies. We’d meet and he’d go, ‘Hey Mikey, how ya doin’? How many movies you make today?’” [ GQ , 2007]

On class politics

“I was always pissed off because of the way some people treated me, because of my working-class background, I mean. Being patronised. But the whole point of the Sixties was that you had to take people as they were. If you came in with us you left your class, and colour, and religion behind, that was what the Sixties was all about.” [Telegraph, 2010]

“Socially I’m sort of a communist. I’m not impressed by the station of anybody. You all get treated exactly the same: very politely. I treat a housemaid the same way I’d treat the Queen: very polite and that’s it.” [The Talks, 2011]

“I believe in the socialist system in a capitalist world. I believe the cake has got to be sliced up to help those who are needy and you’ve got to keep someone there who’s going to make the cake. Here we always destroy the people who make the cake. That’s the problem. That’s my political view. “ [Sabotage Times, 2011]

On being known as Alfred from the Batman movies

“Well, I would hope that they’d say, ‘You know, when he started out, he was called Alfie. Now he’s called Alfred, because he’s older.’” [The A.V. Club, 2010]

On fame

“It’s handy for getting you tables in restaurants and good hotel rooms, but I could live without it. I’m always slightly envious of people who become extremely rich without anyone knowing who the hell they are, like financiers.” [Interview magazine, 1986]

“Actually – and I didn’t put this in the book because no one would have believed me – but I went to bed early one night, because I was completely knackered and I had to be up at six the next day, and I felt a hand on my shoulder and opened my eyes. It was Brigitte Bardot. She had paid the bloody doorman to let her in, and she said: “We’re going out dancing, Michael, you’ve got to come with us.” No one would believe me!.. We never had a romance, Brigitte and I. But my film career has meant I’ve done all sorts of things like that. I got to play football with Pelé, for God’s sake. And I danced with Bob Fosse. You just meet these people.” [Telegraph, 2010]

“I was the one who was starstruck–at parties given for me and in restaurants, night after night, I found myself next to one movie legend after another. At the ‘21’ Club I found myself next to Kirk Douglas and Maureen O’Hara; at Elaine’s…I knocked over Woody Allen’s wine glass and trod on Ursula Andress’s foot; and at the Russian Tea Room I sat in between Helen Hayes and Walter Matthau. If anyone had told that little boy sitting in that dark, smoky cinema in the Elephant all those years ago that this was where he’d end up, he’d have thought they were mad.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

“I was a tall, gangly, skinny, awkward boy with blond hair, a big nose, pimples and a Cockney accent. All the movie stars of the day–Robert Taylor, Cary Grant and Tyrone Power, for instance – were dark-haired, smooth, sophisticated and very handsome. Even the ugly ones, like my hero Humphrey Bogart, were dark-haired, smooth, sophisticated and very handsome.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

On being in a gang

“In my day, the drug was alcohol and the weapon was a fist, so it was very sort of innocent and primitive. Now you’ve got drugs, guns, and knives, which are so lethal. What a lot of people don’t realize about gangs, in my opinion, is that a gang is not there to attack you. Eighty percent of the people in a gang are there to stop anyone from attacking them. You join a gang for protection, not to go out and hit someone.” [The A.V. Club, 2010]

On anger

“I have a terrible temper and I’ve learned early on to control it… [The director James Clavell] said… anger is a very, very important emotion and you must never ever share important emotions with strangers, because you will only lose face, because none of it is important to them. And I never ever lost my temper on a movie set ever again.” [NPR, 2010]

On losing his glasses

“I’ve lost my specs in the most amazing ways. In a jungle in India a monkey landed bang on my head and stole a pair right off my nose, scratching my bloody forehead.“ [Guardian, 2009]

On love

“Well I had to fall in love with them [women] because I was a romantic. I’m not a man who could go to a prostitute. I’ve never been with one because the main thing about sex for me was romance.” [Telegraph, 2010]

On beauty

“I’ve met a lot of beautiful women who, if their souls were on their face, would be ugly.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

“Take a look in the mirror. Can you see the white on the top of the iris of your eye in a relaxed position? Can you see your nostrils looking at your face straight on? Can you see the gums above your top teeth when you smile? Is your forehead longer than the space between the bottom of your nose and the bottom of your chin? If you are a man, do you have a very small head? If you are a woman, do you have a very big head? If you have any of these facial characteristics, you won’t get the romantic leading roles. If, however, you have all of the above, you could probably make a fortune in horror films.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

On his wife, Shakira

“I was always doing love scenes with very beautiful women… That could be a great temptation so I decided that I would never marry a woman who wasn’t as beautiful as the women I was working with. And I married a woman who, in actual fact, is more beautiful than most women I have worked with, so all the temptation was at home, not at work.” [The Mirror, 2009]

“Shakira is like a coiled spring. You can’t push her around.” [Interview magazine, 1986]

“What first drew me to Shakira was, of course, her beauty – and she is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. But it was not just that–after all, I was in the movie business and I worked with beautiful women every day. She has a far more important quality, which I sensed the moment she walked into my flat: she is a completely good person.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

“You marry the person you love and religion is secondary. My wife [Shakira] is a Muslim and she does Muslim stuff; I’m a Christian and I do Christian stuff, and no questions ever come up. The media view of Muslims is different from mine, which is very benign and peaceful.” [Guardian, 2009]

“Paris is our city. We ­always do the quote from Casablanca… Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Bergman, she was saying goodbye and he says, ‘We’ll always have Paris.’ And that’s us two.” [The Mirror, 2012]

On acting

“The best research [for playing a drunk] is being a British actor for 20 years.” [IMDb]

“There’s an old adage that says actors should avoid working with animals or children, but I’ve done both and survived.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

“Movie acting is about covering the machinery. Stage acting is about exposing the machinery. In cinema, you should think the actor is playing himself, if he’s that good. It looks very easy. It should. But it’s not, I assure you. To disappear your complete self into a character is quite difficult. I’ve tried it 85 times, and I’ve succeeded two or three times.” [IMDb]

“The three actors I admire the most are all dead. Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy and the French actor Jean Gabin. They’re all very natural, sort of masculine without being overly macho. They each had a sense of humor and humility, both qualities essential for a great actor. I admired Marlon Brando as I grew up. I thought he was one of the finest screen actors around.” [Interview magazine, 1986]

“By the time I’ve got to a scene in the studio, I have rehearsed it over and over so many times that it’s just second nature to me… I also have a definition of movie acting is that it’s really being a character. For instance, if you’re watching me give a performance, and you turn to your companion and you say: Isn’t that Michael Caine a wonderful actor? Then I’ve failed. You’re supposed to say: I wonder what’s going to happy to Harry Brown now, you know? That’s it. You’ve got to make yourself disappear.” [NPR, 2010]

“There is an incident in my life which I always think about to make myself cry, and I’ve never even told my wife what it is. It is my one last secret. I can cry instantly. A very sad incident which I have never told anyone.” [Telegraph, 2010]

“I’m forever testing myself. As a person and as an actor, I have no sense of competition. I am a great admirer of other actors, but I never compete with other actors. I always compete with what I did last, and I’m my own most vicious critic. So I’m always trying to do it better.” [The A.V. Club, 2010]

“You always want to be what you’re not. I’m able to live and play out all these terrible things on film, while in reality I’ve never done any of them. I’ve been very happily married to the same woman for 30 years in real life, while in the picture, I’ve got a 20 year-old mistress. I’ve never done these things in real life, but as an actor, I get to do them all, and get paid for it!” [The Hollywood Interview, 2009]

On other actors and directors

Heath Ledger: “It was the most terrible waste not only of a great talent, but of a gentle and thoughtful person. It was hard to go and see the finished film and see all the vitality that Heath exudes, knowing that he was dead, and inevitably much of the publicity surrounding the premiere in July 2008 was centered on the tragedy of his death. It was a great moment when Heath won a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

Laurence Olivier: “Before we started [Sleuth], I’d never met him. But we had to start rehearsals, and he wrote me a little letter, a very nice letter, saying: It has occurred to me that you may be – as I am a lord, you may be wondering how to address me when we meet. And it said… ‘When we do meet, Michael, from the moment we shake hands, I will be Larry forevermore’ – which was lovely.” [NPR, 2010]

Jude Law: “When we played in Sleuth together, one of the critics mentioned that he’d screwed the nanny and I thought–hang on a minute–he didn’t screw the nanny in the movie! He’s a wonderful actor, a great dad to his kids, and he’s a bit of a jack-the-lad, like I was, although perhaps I was smarter at not being caught. But back when my friends and I were living the high life and dating a lot of girls, we didn’t have to contend with the paparazzi or the celebrity magazines the way stars do now. We’d never get away with what we got up to then, these days.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

Beyoncé: “One of the revelations for me in Goldmember was the performance of Beyoncé Knowles. Only nineteen at the time of the film, she was still in Destiny’s Child. She was quiet, observant, absolutely determined to get her first acting role right and completely professional, with a sensitive regard for the feelings of everyone else on the set. She was famous then, but now of course Beyoncé is one of the top female recording artists in the world, although she once confided to me that she would love to win an Academy Award one day. I am convinced she will.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

Charlize Theron: “I have a list of younger actresses that I love to work with and Charlize [Theron] is right at the top of it, along with Nicole Kidman, Beyoncé Knowles and Scarlett Johannson. They are all brilliantly talented, but they are also funny and they have the same kindness that I see and love in Shakira.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

Sean Connery: “Working with Sean was another great pleasure. He is one of the most generous and unselfish actors I have ever worked with and because we trusted each other…it meant that we could risk some improvisation and experiment, which I think paid off in the film [The Man Who Would Be King].” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

John Wayne: “I used to sit in the lobby [of a Beverly Hills hotel] looking for movie stars, which is where I met John Wayne for the first time, and we became friends – not close friends. I mean, we hardly moved in the same circles. But we became very deep acquaintances… And he was very kind to me, gave me all sorts of advice, like: Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much. Don’t wear suede shoes. I said: Why not wear suede shoes? He said because you’ll be in the toilet, taking a pee, and a guy will recognize you, and he’ll turn to you and say Michael Caine, and he will have peed all over your shoes, Michael. And so I said: All right, I won’t wear white suede shoes.” [NPR, 2010]

Tina Fey: “Tina Fey – to me, she’s just the funniest girl in the business and she makes me laugh just to look at her.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

On stage fright

“It’s not one of the glamorous sides of theatre, but on first nights in the theatre, there’s always a bucket by the side in case you want to throw up just before you go onstage, you know. And I used to do that quite regularly. I remember once, I was playing a psychiatrist, and I read this phrase, which stuck in my mind. It said, ‘You become what you are afraid of.’ I was a very shy child. If anyone came to our house, I would hide behind the curtains. I didn’t want to talk or see anybody. And I think I became an actor to overcome that fear. I became what I was afraid of, in other words.” [NPR, 2010]

On watching himself

When I first saw myself on the big screen, it was in rushes, for Zulu. The thing came on and I threw up and ran out. I was literally sick on the floor and everybody was pissed off with me. I’d always thought I was this handsome bloke with this great voice, and then this terrible geek came up on the screen and I realized my whole life was over. I’ve never been so depressed. As a result of that, I’ve never been back to rushes in my life.” [Guardian, 2006]

On his American accent in The Cider House Rules

“Ironically, while I got a great review for my American accent in The New Englander (and they should know), I got poor reviews in the UK papers for sounding ‘too English.’ You can’t win, can you?” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

On perseverance

“People often ask me, ‘Do you ever give advice to young actors?’ I say no. Never. And they say, ‘Why not?’ And I say, ‘Because the only advice I ever got from more experienced older actors was to give it up.’ They all looked at me and said, ‘Give it up Michael, you’re not going to make it.’ Every single person said the same thing: give it up. But I have some sort of built in insanity so I never stopped. I didn’t give it up.” [The Talks, 2011]

On books and music

“Books were my window on the world. Growing up at the Elephant and Castle, which was very rough, my paradise was the library.” [Guardian, 2009]

“I’ve listened to Elgar’s Nimrod throughout my life and it’s never let me down. The book I return to is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. My first daughter was named after its heroine, Dominique Francon.” [Guardian, 2009]

On comedy

“I enjoy making people laugh. The trick is to tell them [jokes] against yourself. If you praise yourself your stories aren’t funny.” [Telegraph, 2010]

“I’m a frustrated stand-up comic. If you hand me a microphone and I get one laugh then I’ll go on for 20 minutes.” [Guardian, 2009]

On food

“I’m out of the restaurant business now, but the secret, apart from your choice of chef, is having great bread and coffee. The bread’s the first thing they taste and the coffee the last.” [Guardian, 2009]

On London

“If someone was giving a party in those days [in the late 1950s] and couldn’t quite afford it, the invitation would be to ‘bring a bottle and a bird.’ I was so broke then that I couldn’t afford to bring a bottle, and so I brought two birds.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

“I was voted London’s Favourite Londoner last year. But for me the greatest will always be Charlie Chaplin.” [Guardian, 2009]

On family

“I never bring a role home with me. The moment they say, ‘It’s a wrap,’ it’s gone completely. I’m a totally ruthless professional and life is my family, not my work.” [Guardian, 2009]

“I moved to America when they put the tax up here to 82%. I said, ‘I’m out of here,’ and I never came back until Maggie put it down. Now I think it’ll go up again, but I’ve got a grandson here — so I can’t leave.” [Guardian, 2009]

“I had no idea of the depth of the love I would feel for my first grandchild. Natasha and her husband, Michael, named their son Taylor and gave him the middle names of Michael and Caine. ‘You never had a son, Dad,’ Natasha said, ‘and now you have one.’ It was a unique gift. What’s more, although both Natasha and Michael have black hair and brown eyes, Taylor has blond hair and blue eyes and people say he looks just like me. I think he is far, far better looking than I ever was and I have decided that I want to live for another fifty years so I can watch him grow up and grow old – as you can tell, I am completely besotted.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

“It never bothered me that I didn’t have a son. But I’ve just had a grandson and I’ve never known a love quite like the love I have for this little boy. I’m deliriously happy.” [Guardian, 2009]

“I had no suspicions that I had an older half-brother [David, who suffers from severe epilepsy, whom his mother secretly visited for decades in hospital]. It was a complete surprise when I read it in the paper [in 1991]. It didn’t bother me. I have a motto: never worry about anything you can’t change.” [Guardian, 2009]

On his mum

“Be like a duck, my mother used to tell me. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath.” [IMDb]

“My mother said the worst thing you can do to someone is ignore them. When people do me wrong, they’re just out of my life, frozen, with no second chance.” [Guardian, 2009]

“It’s not true my mother was a cleaner at the Houses of Parliament. It’s much too dirty for my mum to have ever been a cleaner in there.” [Guardian, 2009]

“I asked her to come to the premiere of Zulu and she said no, I guess because she thought as a cockney charlady she would embarrass me, so I took a young girl, I forget who it was, and I saw my mother in the crowd, looking at us and I was so angry with her. But the next time I had a premiere I took her with me and she came in a mink coat I bought her. She loved that mink coat. She thought it was the best thing ever.” [Telegraph, 2010]

On child abuse (when evacuated during war)

“I’m a patron of the NSPCC, so that’s one thing it left me with. Child abuse is the worst form of cowardice you can think of, to do something bad to a defenceless child… I’m quite a rabid right-winger about paedophilia… if you want to bring back hanging for them then I’m your man. I’ll pull the lever. Don’t get me started on that. I hate it. Hate it. I can’t see a movie where a child gets kidnapped, so, yeah, that must be the psychological detritus I’m left with.” [Telegraph, 2010]

On friendship

“I have a lot of acquaintances and very few close friends whom I could rely on if I were in trouble. I think most people could count them on their fingers. At the maximum, both hands. And I don’t think you’d ever get to use your feet! One you’ve got me as a friend you’ve got me forever. I’m very loyal. As you get older you can find you make fewer and fewer friends because your standards get higher. Also, I’m not looking for new friends — I don’t have the time.” [Interview magazine, 1986]

His knighthood

“Receiving a knighthood in the year 2000 was one of the proudest moments of my life. It is not like winning an Oscar–that is for a single piece of work – it is an award for a lifetime’s achievement.” [ The Elephant to Hollywood ]

On regrets

I never regret anything. I always said that when I’m old, I want to be sitting there regretting the things that I did and not the things that I didn’t do – and now I’m old, and I don’t regret anything! I had fun. I had fun, and I’m still having it.” [IGN, 2003]

On Aging

“At 35 you’re old enough to know something and young enough to look forward to what you can do with the knowledge. So I stayed at 35!” [Interview magazine, 1986]

“When I became too old to get the girl, I was freed up to play characters instead of being a movie star. A producer sent me a script and I thought the part was too small. He said, ‘You weren’t supposed to read the lover, read the father’s part, which is enormous.’ I went and looked in the bathroom mirror and there he was — the father.” [Guardian, 2009]

“The best part about getting older is you know everything. And the worst part is dealing with people who don’t know ­anything.” [The Mirror, 2012]

“I don’t feel very old, but I never look in a mirror so I always think I’m about 38.” [The Mirror, 2012]

On retirement

“I’m sitting here and I don’t have another film to do. If I don’t find a good script ever again I’ll be retired. There won’t be any fanfare or statement to the press. I’ll just be like an old solider – which I am – and fade away. I have no anxiety about it.” [Guardian, 2009]

On the afterlife

I’d dearly love to think that there is somebody there. And I’ve got a lot of back-up because my father was a Catholic, my mother was a Protestant, I was educated by Jews and I’m married to a Muslim. So I won’t lose out on a technicality.” [Saga, 2011]

On his life today

My only thing was I wanted to be an actor and I didn’t care when, where, or how much for. I would still be the old character-actor in theatre. I’m 76, I wouldn’t have had the money to retire, I would be working and having a couple of drinks in the evening just to forget, and life would have been very different. But I would have stayed an actor, that’s all.” [Time Out, 2011]

“I choose the work I want to do and it makes me happy to go and do it. Actually, I love going on a movie because it’s like the circus. My father was half gypsy so there’s the gypsy thing in it. I’m never happier than packing and taking off for a new adventure. I’m a nomad and the unit is the tribe and you travel from here to there in caravans and you set up shop and you work and it’s wonderful.” [The Talks, 2011]

And, because we couldn’t resist, here’s our favorite Michael Caine-related video:

Happy 80th, Sir Michael!