Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand. Catch up on this year’s Awards Season contenders right now On Demand, including today’s pick, "Youth."
"You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" Most Michael Caine fans will likely scream out this infamous line in a poorly imitated cockney accent, should you ask them to impersonate the OBE honored actor. Having gained such a cultural standing that contemporaries continue to honor, impersonate, satirize and mimic the charmingly affable British actor, it’s no surprise that Michael Caine has had one of Hollywood’s most prolific careers in modern memory.
From a British army commandant to a troubled conductor, Michael Caine has appeared in over 100 films, transitioning the supremely talented actor from
being a street-wise cockney-accented Briton to a Hollywood household name. Over
the course of more than 50 years, the charming actor has found his way into the
hearts of not only Hollywood but also into the hearts of independent and international cinephiles. What sets Mr. Caine apart from so many of his acting colleagues is his absolutely unwavering dedication to the craft, still going strong well into his eighties, and with no signs of stopping any time soon.
But Caine did not win the affection of industry professionals in his early outputs, often being second billed or passed up due to his lower middle-class associated accent and upbringing. During Caine’s early years, Britain had a strong class prejudice that affected his casting in roles, particularly as theater and television work, and often did not cast individuals who did not have a posh, upper-class accent, most often being referred to as the Received Pronunciation. It was only in the 1960’s that Caine began finding a foothold in the burgeoning British entertainment industry.
After a decade-long tentative career, Michael Caine was ready to give up on acting. It was only after his casting on the hit 1964 British film "Zulu" as a jealous cockney private, that Caine’s staggering career began to take off and his signature accent would become an inherent part of his filmic presence.
But before Caine was able to build the reputation and that he would be known for today, the critically revered actor had to fight his way into the hearts of American and international audiences. After "Zulu," Caine was told that he was released from his seven year contract with Embassy Pictures due to the fact that he "[looked] like a queer on screen," according to producer Joseph E. Levine.
This did not deter the actor, as Caine found himself being cast in a wide variety of acclaimed films, from "The IPCRESS File" in 1965 to "Alfie" the year after, leading to his first U.S. film casting in "Gambit," opposite Shirley MacLaine. The lovable British actor was quickly winning a presence in Hollywood, gaining powerful friends like John Wayne and hiring "super agent" Swifty Lazar to keep his career trajectory on the up and up.
Beginning with his role as the eponymous "Alfie," Sir Michael Caine is only one of two actors (the other being Jack Nicholson) who has the honor of being nominated for an Academy Award every decade from the 1960’s to 2000’s, leaving a lasting and eminent impression on the acting world. He would go on to be nominated for the Best Actor award for his work on 1972’s "Sleuth" and nearly a decade later for his work on "Educating Rita."
Caine continued his acclaimed acting career by winning his next two nominations back-to-back, both for best supporting actor, first for Woody Allen’s hilarious "Hannah and her Sisters," and next for his contributions to the emotionally-gripping "Cider House Rules." He was once more nominated for "The Quiet American" in 2002, leading to his awe-inspiring achievement of being honored by the Academy every decade he has graced the big screen.
Sir Michael Caine has not only been able to keep himself in the mainstream limelight by acting in critically acclaimed films, but also being the subject of a wide variety of remakes. From "Get Carter" and "The Italian Job," to "Sleuth" and "Alfie," Michael Caine left a memorable trademark of these films’ legacy, which as a result, spilled over to its remakes. Playing robbers, fixers and other underworld characters, Caine cast an enigmatic charm that made them so memorable that they would be recreated nearly 30 years after the original film’s release, with Caine even appearing in many of the remakes.
But Caine did not subdue himself to dramas with heavy-hitting dialogue after he had gained favor in Hollywood. He would go onto star in several critically lauded blockbuster films such as the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy, as well as a return to his laid-back cockney gangster personality in "Harry Brown," along with his caring hippy personality in the beautifully orchestrated "Children of Men."
But Caine has not shied away from appearing in independent films, most recently starring in "Youth," opposite Harvey Keitel in Paulo Sorrentino’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film, "The Great Beauty."
In this regard, it’s important to note Caine’s inspiring run of form from the swinging ’60s to the present day, leading him to have one of the most successful and remarkable acting careers of the last half century. Based on the pattern of Caine’s roles, perhaps the lauded actor’s greatest role is yet to come. We can only cross our fingers and hope that the Londoner will finally gain the revered distinction of being the first actor to be nominated every decade from the 1960’s to the 2010’s.