“Call me Duke” He gave me a chuck on the arm, turned around and swaggered off
During his long career—he’s starred in over 100 films—Michael Caine has made it look easy. But in his new book, Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, Caine, 85, reveals that there were more than a few bumps in the road during his Hollywood climb. The two-time Academy Award winner for Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986 and The Cider House Rules in 1999, who also appears in the new film King of Thieves, shares stories such as his fears that each film would be his last and the heartbreak of outliving most of his friends
The first time I was in the United States, when I had just made Alfie, I was sitting on my own in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel and heard the sound of a helicopter landing in the gardens opposite. This, the porter told me, was strictly illegal. He and I stood at the door to see who was so flagrantly flouting the law—presumably the President, of the United States or at least of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Across Sunset Boulevard, out of a swirling sun-flecked cloud of dust, six foot four and in full cowboy get-up, strode the unmistakable figure of John Wayne.
As I stood there with my mouth open he caught my eye and altered his course to come over to me.
“What’s your name, kid?” he asked.
“Michael Caine,” I managed to croak.
“That’s right,” he agreed, with a tilt of his head. “You were in that movie Alfie.”
“Yes,” I said. I wasn’t really keeping up my end of the conversation.
“You’re gonna be a star, kid,” he drawled, draping his arm around my shoulders. “But if you want to stay one, remember this: talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.”
“Thank you, Mr. Wayne,” I said.
“Call me Duke.” He gave me a chuck on the arm, turned around and swaggered off.
It was a mind-blowing Hollywood moment for an ambitious young actor on his first visit to the city of dreams. And it was great advice for anyone who was going to be acting in Westerns and delivering all his dialogue from a horse. Talk low and slow so you don’t scare the horses, and say as little as possible before the horse runs away.
But it was not such great advice for someone like me, an actor who was going to play all kinds of characters with tons of dialogue, and mostly, thankfully, with my feet planted firmly on the ground.
I am often asked what advice I have for actors starting out in this business. And for many years my answer was “Never listen to old actors like me.” That was because, until John Wayne offered me his words of wisdom, I always used to ask older actors what I should do, and the only thing they ever told me was to give up.
But as I’ve got older, I’ve been reflecting on my life, as older people often do. And I’ve realised that, over my sixty years in the movie business and my eighty-five years of life, I have been given a lot of useful advice—by Marlene Dietrich, Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier among many others—and I have learnt a lot of useful lessons, from my many glittering successes and my many disastrous failures. I started to think I could do a bit better than “never listen to advice.” In fact, my advice would be, don’t listen to that advice.