All Sarf and Trousers

Michael Caine as Ray Say in Little Voice

Your character in Little Voice, Ray Say, is a real loser. Do you enjoy playing these types?

I started off doing it. Some actors will hold up a picture to the audience and say “This is me”. I try to hold up a mirror saying “This is you”. You want the audience to think “I haven’t seen that about me.” If you see me on screen and I’m doing it right, you should think that the character is like part of yourself.

Your recent autobiography What’s It All About? was hardly a hard hitting kiss and tell...

It was never going to be all romances and girls and all that. I was never going to tell you how many women I’d slept with because I was happily married. Still am. I just wanted top straighten out my own life, not screw up everybody else’s.

When did you first set your sights on an acting career?

At 14. That’s when I decided that I was to become a Hollywood star. I was a tremendous reader of books - I was nicknamed the ‘Professor’. And I understood what other people’s lives were like, and they weren’t like mine. And I was determined to change that.

What was your life like?

I shared a bedroom with my parents and brother. The flat had no electricity or toilet. My escape was the cinema and my ambition was to become a star. All I ever did was go to the cinema and go back to my room with all my books about the cinema. I was obsessive about all that.

You’ve made some bad films in your time. Did you honestly think that The Swarm or Jaws: The Revenge would be any good?

Contrary to what some people believe, I never went into any movie assuming it was going to be crappy. Some were just special effect movies where the effects weren’t very special.

You were an unusual-looking sex symbol in the 60s

I didn’t look like movie stars used to look. I wore glasses, I didn’t have a glamorous image. I looked like I was going to fail but I succeeded in the end - that’s what my image was. Now I tell my two kids that failure can always be turned to your advantage.

Give us an example...

I was up for the part of the villain in The Avengers. Sean Connery got it. I was pissed off, but the next day I got the script and was glad I’d lost the role.

This interview first appeared in the January 1999 edition of Neon magazine. Of course, they don’t exist any more so they're hardly likely to mind.