April 29, 2010 / 2:07 PM / 8 years ago

A Minute With: Michael Caine on being "Harry Brown"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - At age 77, when most of his peers have either long since retired or seen their careers simply fade away, Michael Caine is busier than ever.

<p>British actor Michael Caine poses for photographers as he arrives for the European premiere of the movie "Harry Brown" in London, November 10, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs</p>

In his latest film, “Harry Brown,” in theaters this Friday, the actor portrays a mild-mannered senior citizen who turns into a gun-toting vigilante after a gang murders his friend in the drug-infested London housing project where they live.

The two-time Oscar winner, for “Hannah and her Sisters” and “The Cider House Rules,” talked to Reuters about making the film, why he’ll never retire and the secret to a long, happy marriage.

Q: There’s nothing nice and safe about this film. Was that the appeal for you?

A: “Absolutely. I want to keep challenging myself as an actor, and this immediately grabbed my attention. Harry Brown is a victim for most of the film, unable to help himself, but then he takes action. And there’s a fair amount of me in the character. I come from the exact same place, the same block of flats. Charlie Chaplin came from there too, and I once saw him walking around, checking out all the rebuilding, so I had a chat with him. He didn’t have a clue who I was. I was just an annoying fan (laughs). No one else recognized him.”

Q: And like Harry Brown, you’re also an ex-soldier.

A: “Right, but that and the similar background is where the resemblance ends. I was in a gang, but we never hurt anyone. The drug was alcohol and the weapons were fists. The problem now is all the drugs and guns and violence that go with it.”

Q: Was it easy getting in touch with your inner Charles Bronson? (The tough-guy actor in movies like “Death Wish”)

A: “Well, you don’t want to go around killing people, do you (laughs). The film’s about violence, but it’s not like ”Death Wish.“ It abhors violence and was basically made as a wake-up call by someone who lived in one of these tenements. What’s astonishing is that you can change the locale -- it could be Chicago -- and the situation’s exactly the same.”

Q: What do you think is responsible for such situations?

A: “Lack of education and the breakdown of the family. The one thing I had that most of these kids don’t have was a father, a happy family and an education. To me, education is the key. When we were shooting at the flats, I’d talk to a lot of the local kids, and they all wanted a chance to get out. Mayhem and all the drugs and violence was their answer to being left out. And although I grew up there, I hadn’t been back in years. I’d been living in my little enclosed world, and now I do charity work for them -- anything to help educate and save these kids. So I didn’t come away going, put ‘em all in prison and throw away the key.’ That’s no answer -- and prison is three times the cost of education!”

Q: Is acting more fun for you now?

A: “Yes, because I’ve got to an age where I don’t get the girl anymore, I get the part, so the pressure is off. Now I do exactly what I want, but I‘m my own worst critic, and I try to make life more difficult for myself. I‘m still pushing myself to see how good I can become as an actor.”

Q: You’ve been married to your wife, Shakira, for 38 years. What’s the secret?

A: “Simple. Two bathrooms -- or you’ll be divorced in no time.”

Q: Will you ever retire?

A: “What happens is, the movie industry retires you. I sit there waiting for a script to turn up every day, and eventually none will and I’ll be gone. I’ll just fade away, like an old soldier.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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