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Michael Caine: I was so poor as a young actor

5 April 2017 No Comment

Don’t go telling Michael Caine he’s a wealthy, over-privileged film legend who has no idea what it’s like to be broke.

Yes, he’s wealthy, yes, he’s a film legend. And YES he knows all about being broke.

And he’s quick to bite back at anyone who suggests otherwise.

The 84-year-old Oscar winner says: “People say: Oh, you’re a movie star and you’re rich and all that.

“But if you’re poor – really poor – I know everything that you have done.

“I did it before you did and it happened to me before it happened to you.

“So don’t try and tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Caine confronts the subject of money as he discusses his new movie Going In Style, in which he plays a skint American pensioner.

He and two equally penniless pals – played by Morgan Freeman, 79, and Alan Arkin, 83 – decide to make life easier by robbing a bank.

And with a combined age of 246 you won’t be surprised to learn it’s a comedy.

But Caine is quite serious when he talks about poverty in real life.

Though he now has homes in London, ­Surrey and Florida’s Miami beach, he knows all too well what it’s like to be broke.

“I come from a very working class background,” says the star of screen classics Zulu, The Italian Job and Alfie – and more recently the blockbusting Dark Knight trilogy of ­Batman movies.

“My mother was an office cleaner and my father was a Billingsgate fish market porter, so I know all about deprivation.

“I was born in 1933. Suddenly they had two kids in the middle of the Depression and that’s why my mother began cleaning offices.”

In fact, when he decided to become an actor he was certain his common Cockney accent would keep him from fame or fortune.

“I became an actor knowing that I would never be a star,” says Caine. “I would never be rich, and I would never be famous.

“All I tried to do was to become the best actor I could possibly become.”

He expected to get roles playing bus ­conductors and taxi drivers, at best.

“I was in the theatre and everyone was very posh – and they didn’t write working class characters for the theatre.”

Caine’s parents begged him, in vain, to get a steady job by following his dad into work at the fish market.

“Who listens to parents?” he asks. “If you listen to your parents, you’re normally ­stacking shelves in the market. They’ll tell you: ‘Don’t do that, get a regular job,’ you know?

“And I became an actor, but my father wanted me to work in the fish market where he worked. Suppose I’d listened to him?

“I just worked my way, trying to be better each time than the last time, not hoping to be rich or famous – knowing that I couldn’t possibly be, because socially it was impossible.”

But by the late 1950s “kitchen sink” dramas began putting working class figures centre stage and Caine found his accent unexpectedly in demand.

“What changed was the social system in the ’60s,” he says, ­adjusting the knot of the tie sitting above his sweater and pushing the spectacles back on the bridge of his nose.

“It was timing and luck that brought me through. I was very fortunate that the first plays I did were written by John ­Osborne and Harold Pinter, who both wrote about working class characters.

“And then I did the movie Alfie, which was another working class character. They wouldn’t have been written 10 years before. Or if they had, they wouldn’t have been put on.”

Recalling the typical drawing room dramas that used to dominate British theatre, he says in mock Queen’s English: “I always call it: ‘Bunty’s having a party’!”

The star of more than 150 movies admits he has lost touch with old friends from the days when he was broke growing up in South East London.

But it wasn’t that he snubbed them once he became famous. It was they who ditched him when he was down on his luck.

He explains: “When I was a young actor I was very poor. I couldn’t buy a round in the pub and they stopped talking to me.

“So all my friends were rich people I met later, fortunately. Roger Moore and Sean ­Connery are the two actors that I’m closest to.”

That said, Caine tries not to hang around too much with other actors.

“My friends are mostly musicians,” he says. “I also hang out with my driver, because I don’t drive any more.

“I used to drive, but I didn’t like it. I’m no good at all. I gave up driving ages ago for the safety of the public.”

He says the secret to lasting friendships is giving generously without being asked.

“I have about 10 extremely close male friends and we have never in 60 years had an argument about anything.

“We never disagree at all and none of us have ever asked anything of each other – but we’ve all given.

“It’s not that you don’t do anything for each other, it’s that you volunteer before you are asked if you see something going wrong.”

Father-of-two Caine claims the few female friends he has are through his long-time second wife Shakira, aged 70.

“I’ve been married to the same woman for 46 years, so I have a very small feminine circle, mainly her friends,” he says.

And while he has an old-fashioned approach to relationships, Caine has joined the social media revolution… well, sort of.

His Twitter account has more than 618,000 followers, but he confesses that he is averse to modern technology – even mobile phones.

“I read texts, but I don’t send them,” he confesses. “I never answer the phone. But my wife is a computer genius and a telephone lunatic. She does everything. She’s amazing, my missus.

“I have Twitter but I don’t do it. She would do it, if something happens. I never tell anybody anything on Twitter.

“But I answer and if something comes out in the papers that I don’t like, I tweet. But I don’t know about Facebook and Snapchat.”

While the film legend is not overly tech savvy he certainly admires the fortunes amassed by social media magnates like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin.

“Those people are billionaires,” he says. “I think: If only I’d have thought of that! You just sit in your attic, and you go: ‘I’ll invent Snapchat!’ And two years later you’ve got $30billion.

“I’ve been busting my a*** for years, just to get a million. I’ll get it soon,” he jokes.

He’s actually worth more than £60million, according to recent estimates. But he still hates it when strangers ask him to autograph photos.

“You know they’re going to sell it,” he quips.

But at least he isn’t bothered by people asking to take selfies with him.

He adds with a grin: “It’s usually foreigners, but not Londoners… all Londoners have a selfie with me already.”

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