Michael Caine Acting in Film

by Rose

When I said I was going to do Educating Rita, my friends said: “Educating Rita? That must be about Rita; what are you playing?” I said, “I’m playing a guy named Frank.” “Well,” they said, “you should be doing a picture called Educating Frank if you’re going to star in a movie.”

Leading actors take the audience on a journey. A famous filmmaker once called films ‘an escape from an often-mundane reality.’ I would say that is an astute observation for some films; dramas, adventures, thrillers, and comedy can be a form of escapism. To enter the world of film and. for a short time. leave the reality of the ordinary world behind you, can be both thrilling and relaxing. However, if you are watching a film based on traumatic true events, this will not be the case. Nevertheless, the spectator will still react to what is on the screen emotionally, though, for films like this, it is less of an escape from reality, more a learning experience.

Films can also be a way of gaining knowledge about other cultures and history and characters. Most of us do not lead exciting lives every day, yet we crave stimulation. The film world allows the viewer to feel a heightened sense of excitement and participation with the fictional characters. Biometric tests on cinema audiences, such as pulse rates, are used to advise the film companies on just how much viewers are immersed in the experience. How exciting is a good film: Rollercoaster exciting? Does it make your heart pound? Is your physiology responding to the action in front of you? If the leading actor is talented and has great presence, if he can immerse himself into the skin of the character and use his unique acting skills and methods to engage you, you will believe in the character he plays. The film may ignite a strong emotional response, you may even lose yourself in the story and feel the turmoil, the thrills and the fear of a character, much more than even a book, as it’s a visual and auditory soundscape.

In this book actor Michael Caine describes being a leading actor in films, he says that his job is the carry the entire film and give life to the filmmaker’s vision. He also states that it is his responsibility to fully engage the audience, to make them believe in him, not to see him as an actor speaking lines, but to see the character from the screenplay, he describes how he does this as an actor and his methods are interesting to read.

The first time I saw Michael Caine on film was in the ‘The Ipcress File’. He was insolent, good-humoured and wore thick dark glasses, which was unusual for male leads of the day. Caine plays an agent described as a ‘trickster, insubordinate, someone who refused to follow the rules.’ He fitted this role flawlessly.

In the gritty crime drama ‘Get Carter’ he plays a professional killer and the scene I most recall, though it is a long time since I have seen it, was Caine crying while watching something traumatic on film. A professional killer crying about the loss of innocence and the brutality of human beings, which sends him into a savage rage of anger. At the time he is watching a pornographic film that has his school girl niece being taken advantage of by corrupt adults. It's also possibly one of his greatest roles.

Caine describes the vast differences between theatre acting and film acting, and the importance of the close-up camera. The close-up camera he tells us can pick up the minutest fluctuations in emotion and magnify them hugely, the close-up camera misses nothing, he says, it registers every subtle change on our faces and in our eyes, which is why he says actors must master it, or their performance will not be believed by the audience.

He talks about his role in Alfie and how he understood Alfie but was not like him, so he pictured a friend that was very much like Alfie’s fictional character stood next to the camera and imagined him talking. He also used this technique when playing the University lecturer in ‘Educating Rita’. He discusses how as an actor you have to steal personality traits and behaviours from other people around you, or even characters from films you have seen, to create a more three-dimensional construction of the character you are playing.

'The best movie actors become their characters to such an extent that the product isn’t viewed by an audience as a performance. It’s a strange situation, but in film a person is a person, not an actor; and yet you need an actor to play the person.' Michael Caine

This book also shows you how acting worked in the 1960's,1970's and beyond, the differences in the way that staff behind the scenes worked, even gender differences and technical advances which changed the way actors worked in the film world. In the 1960's there was a huge cultural change between the social classes and it was not unusual to see some actors getting big breaks without having gone to acting school, Some were members of local acting classes but had never studied the art of acting. A few working class students were given scholarships to study acting at University. The social classes mixed creatively more than any other time in the 1960's. Acting students attending auditions now might face a completely different landscape when it comes to auditions and getting parts.

Caine talks about being given the part for Zulu stating that the director's wanted a posh actor, someone that spoke very upper class for the role. But after seeing Caine audition changed direction. He also discusses the fact that people pigeon holed him as a 'cockney working class actor' and the problems this caused in his career. He talks about entering sets where he only had one line to speak, waiting for hours to say that one line and that many stars on the film sets could be very arrogant and refused to talk to anyone below them. Caine dismisses the idea of the 'movie star' and instead talks about the techniques and art of acting. He does not see himself as movie star but only an actor. He tells you about competitveness bewteen actors that some thrive on, but he does not like to be competitive and does not think it helps his acting career to be like that.

"To be a movie star, you have to invent yourself. I was a Cockney boy and obviously didn’t fit anybody’s idea of what an actor was supposed to be, so I decided to put together elements that added up to a memorable package. I got myself seen around the “in” spots, wearing glasses and smoking a cigar. I became known as “that guy who wears glasses and smokes a cigar.” Then people began to say, “He plays working-class parts.” Suddenly I was “that working-class actor who wears glasses and smokes a cigar.” Then word spread that I was quite amenable, so I became “that easy-to-work-with working-class actor who wears glasses and smokes a cigar.” It was the truth, but I had quite consciously assembled that truth so nobody could miss it.

This book is easy to read and full of interesting information about acting, the film world and technical information as well as personal stories by Michael Caine. It would be ideal for any young would-be actor, anyone researching acting or interested in filmmaking. It is based on a series of Caine teaching acting from the BBC.