This offering from the screen legend Michael Caine is not a straightforward autobiography, but rather a mix of memoir, practical advice for the aspiring actors and general life lessons, drawn from Caine’s 60-something years in the acting business. It’s an entertaining and breezy read, with Caine emerging as an unpretentious, charming and likeable person.
The advice Caine himself received early on in his career was, apparently, to give up. His was not an overnight success; born in a poor working-class family in London, his first ten years in acting were a string of dead-end jobs, dole queues with his good friend Sean Connery, small roles and hundreds of auditions. This early struggle and poverty meant that later on, Caine was so anxious to keep the work rolling in that he’d accept just about every role offer, which led to a somewhat patchy filmography. However, he remained lucky: just when a string of flops threatened to sink his career, an acclaimed role in a successful movie would put him back on track. After flirting with retirement in the 90s, Caine accepted that his leading man, getting-the-girl years were over, and reinvented himself as a character actor, which led to some of his best roles including of course becoming a regular in Christopher Nolan’s movies.
While acknowledging the all-important role of luck, Caine also points out the all-important role of hard work and proper preparation. Very few movie stars can really get away with being difficult primadonnas in a business where time is money; from early on, Caine wanted to cultivate a reputation of being reliable. He outlines in detail his working methods and acting tips: the importance of doing your work and learning the lines, observing real-life people for mannerisms and speech patterns, how to look at the camera, how to deal with difficult people, and so on. He stresses a few times that we are all performing to some degree in our real lives, and that a lot of this advice is just as applicable outside of acting.
According to Caine, his relatively late success and the grounding influence of his family helped him escape living too much in a celebrity bubble (he also received helpful advice from David Bowie on buying a yacht, which was, don’t). But of course part of the appeal of any celebrity memoir is the juicy backstage gossip about those who behave badly. Caine however is mostly discreet about his colleagues, leaving out the names when describing truly appalling behaviour and preferring instead to lavish warm praise on the nice professional people. There are still many amusing anecdotes about the screen legends he worked with, including Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Olivier, and difficult co-stars like the horse that threw him into the river repeatedly during the filming of Zulu.
Caine’s life lessons – work hard, value your family and friends, learn from your failures, treat other people with respect – may not be earth-shatteringly original, but they’re delivered in such a sincere and heartfelt manner you can’t help but be charmed. Now in his 80s, Caine looks back at his life with gratitude, and when he says that, given a chance to live it again he wouldn’t change a single thing, you believe him.