He arrives alone. No PR, no agent, no assistant, no security. No flunkies of any description. A cab drops him on the corner and he approaches on foot. An old man, but not shrunken, not diminished. Too tall, too straight-backed, too imposing. Still, his movements are careful, deliberate. His hair, once blond, thick and wavy, is white now, and thin on top. His skin is mottled, liver-spotted. He wears comfortable shoes.
It's easy to patronise the elderly. Most of us not yet old ourselves do it. One woman, watching him having his make-up applied, whispers to me that she wants to take him home, as if he were a puppy. He's not a puppy. Following him down a steep staircase later on, I'm briefly tempted to put my arm under his, to steady him, as if I were his carer. I'm not his carer.
But sit opposite him, look him in the eyes – blue, hooded – and see he's the same man he always was. His voice is commanding. His unmistakable, endlessly impersonated, utterly distinctive voice: it brings you up short, reminds you straight away exactly who he is and where he's been and what he's done. When he smiles, which he does often, his top lip slides up, almost surreptitiously. It's the smile of a tearaway, even after all these years: a delighted, getting-away-with-it smile. You've seen this smile many, many times, and the twinkle that comes with it. You've seen his face in repose, too. Seen how he can summon thin-lipped menace as easily as expansive bonhomie.
Today we get the bonhomie. The location for Esquire's Michael Caine cover shoot is a gastropub on a residential street in Chelsea, 10 minutes from his London flat. The decor in The Pig's Ear is retro-pop-culture: faded movie posters, period newspaper billboards. High on a wall, unnoticed by us until now, there's a picture of him in one of his most indelible roles: as the vengeful gangster in the brutal Jags'n'slags classic, Get Carter (1971). He's dapper, stony faced, aiming a shooter. Would he mind, later on, being photographed underneath the picture? Not at all. "I'd better smile, though, hadn't I? Let him do the frowning."
There's a framed photo of George Best. They used to run into each other at Tramp, Johnny Gold's club. What was George like? "I didn't really know him personally. He didn't know himself. He was always bombed." Which brings him to his former business partner, Peter Langan, the bibulous restaurateur who burned himself to death while trying to murder his wife. Which brings him to Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay, whom he employed at The Canteen, his place in Chelsea Harbour. He had to put three sets of doors on the kitchen to stop customers complaining about the swearing. "And people ask me why I got out of the restaurant business!"
So many stories, they come tumbling out of him, about topics glamorous and routine. About Billy Wilder and Frank Sinatra and his own homemade bruschetta, pronounced the correct way, with the emphasis on the hard "c". About Liz Taylor and The Rolling Stones and being evacuated to Norfolk during the war. About John Wayne and Joaquin Phoenix and his garden in Surrey. About the naked African girls in the opening sequence of Zulu (1964) and wearing drag for Dressed to Kill (1980) and house prices (too high) and the weather (too hot).
Sitting in a makeshift make-up chair, he explains that his forehead is red raw because he is filming Paolo Sorrentino's The Early Years, for which he has to wear a wig, which is glued on and painfully removed after each day's filming. Caine plays a conductor in the movie, the Italian maestro's follow up to his gorgeous 2013 Oscar winner The Great Beauty. He's been having lessons in how to hold the baton – "My shoulder's fucking killing me" – and demonstrates some moves. He's looking forward, with trepidation, to conducting the London Symphony Orchestra for a scene.
The Early Years is a typical Michael Caine film in that there is nothing typical about it. To the casual observer at least, a survey of his long career reveals no patterns at all. Here is an actor who has twice won Oscars — Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and The Cider House Rules (1999) — and been nominated a further three times for moving, nuanced portrayals of flawed, complex men. And who has also been chased by killer bees, in The Swarm (1978), an animatronic shark, in Jaws: The Revenge (1987), and his own right hand, in The Hand (1981).
Caine has been directed by Woody Allen and Dickie Attenborough, Oliver Stone and Ken Russell, John Huston and Joseph Losey, Nora Ephron and Christopher Nolan. And Steven Seagal.
He has starred alongside Shirley MacLaine and Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith and Omar Sharif, Trevor Howard and Jack Nicholson, Sidney Poitier and Dirk Bogarde, Noel Coward and Scarlett Johansson. And Kermit the Frog.
I tell him I haven't been able to establish how many films he's been in. He reckons around 175 if you include all the early, uncredited walk-on stuff, 90-ish if it's substantial roles. By my calculation, it's somewhere nearer 120, but by the time this is published that'll doubtless be hopelessly out of date: he'll have signed on for still more.
Young viewers today know him best as Alfred, Christian Bale's butler in the Batman movies. One day, perhaps, "Shall I prepare the Batmobile, Master Bruce?" might be a catchphrase to rival his best, "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" from The Italian Job (1969); "You're a big man, but you're in bad shape," from Get Carter; or "Not a lot of people know that," from Peter Sellers' chat show impersonation of him.
But the films he will be remembered for longest are the ones he made in the Sixties, when he was one of the faces of Swinging London and the new "classless society". Never a great beauty like his flatmate Terence Stamp or an Adonis like their friend Sean Connery, Caine was nevertheless handsome and dashing and he could summon great intensity and transmit powerful charisma without appearing to have to do much on screen. He just was.
It is now half a century since Zulu, his first substantial film role. The movie was conceived as a vehicle for its star-producer, Stanley Baker, but Caine – in what would become a pattern that persists to this day – stole every scene he was in as the effete Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, the image of the brittle British establishment that Caine's persona was a reaction against.
The following year, 1965, Caine was Harry Palmer, the kitchen sink James Bond, in The Ipcress File. Lurking behind the heavy specs that would become a trademark, Caine's Palmer was emblematic of the working class man who refused to know his place, the Angry Young Spy. By the time of Alfie, in 1966, Caine was a superstar.
At 81, Sir Michael Caine tells me, he considers himself retired. He comes into town each Wednesday and Thursday with Shakira, his wife of 41 years, and they have meetings and see friends. The rest of the time they're near Leatherhead, in a converted barn, surrounded by countryside. He cooks, he gardens, he kicks a football about with the grandkids.
He only takes the occasional role, he says, when the material is too good to turn down. Trouble is, that is not a rare occurrence. As well as the Sorrentino film, he has finished work on Imagine, a family drama with Al Pacino; Eliza Graves, a psychological thriller; Interstellar, the latest Christopher Nolan sci-fi mind-bender; and Kingsman: The Secret Service, the new film from the people behind Kick-Ass, in which he plays a shadowy Whitehall mandarin opposite Colin Firth's spiffy spy.
Our interview takes place over lunch in an upstairs dining room. The pub is closed so we're the only people eating. We sit at a small table for two in a window, which opens onto a dazzling London summer day. I pour the water and we begin.
Esquire: Are you going to eat something?
Michael Caine: I tell you what, I'll have a Caesar salad. I don't really need a big meal. Are you going to have two courses?
ESQ: If you're having two courses, I'll have two courses.
MC: I've suddenly realised I haven't got my watch. [Searches in pockets.] Oh, there it is.
ESQ: Got it?
MC: Yeah. Caesar salad would be nice. Be the easiest thing for them to do, you know, with just the two of us here. Or French onion soup, Caesar salad. Shall we have two courses?
ESQ: Go on, let's have two courses.
MC: I'll have French onion soup.
ESQ: I'm going to have French onion soup, too, and then I might have steak tartare with chips. What do you reckon?
MC: That's easy, too.
ESQ: So, I thought we could start at the beginning.
MC: That's the best place to start, I find.
ESQ: It often is.
MC: So clever of you.
ESQ: I think these things through in advance, you know?
MC: I can tell.
ESQ: You were born and grew up in south London?
MC: Yeah. My father was a Billingsgate Fish Market porter, and my mother was a charlady. She cleaned offices and people's houses, but she was also a cook. When we were evacuated during the war, we wound up in a rich man's house, called Mr English, in North Runcton, in Norfolk. She was the cook in that house. That's where I became interested in cooking. Later she cooked in Lyons' Corner Houses.
ESQ: Stupid question, but what does a fish porter do?
MC: He carried the fish from one place to another. There were no hydraulic trucks in those days. And fish porters were also responsible for icing the fish up, because there was no refrigeration.
ESQ: What was he like, your dad?
MC: Very tough. But very loving. My father was a great hero because he went away in the [Second World] War and fought the Germans. So to us little boys – I had a brother, three years younger than me, he's dead now, of cancer – he was an incredible man, and he was very inventive. He was a victim of the class system. He was so much more intelligent than his education. He was so bright it was unbelievable. I saw him build a radio once. He should have had more chances than he did.
ESQ: In what ways are you similar to him?
MC: I'm sort of funny, nice, wonderful, until you do something and then I'm completely unforgiving.
ESQ: Would you be terrifying if I crossed you?
MC: No. You would disappear. You would just disappear from my life so fast you wouldn't believe it. There's no coming back. You don't get two goes at having a go at me. And that is from my dad. He was like that. And I grew up like that, and so did my brother.
ESQ: Was your mother tough, too?
MC: She was an incredible woman. Although my brother and I were both 6ft 2in, she was a little fat woman, 5ft 1in. When my dad went away – he went away for five, six years during the war – I was six and my brother was three, and instead of her moaning and crying, she made men of both of us in one sentence. She turned and she looked at us, and said, "Your father has gone so now you two have to look after me." And we both said, "Right mum. Don't you worry. We'll look after you." And we became men at that one sentence. And that's how I've been all my life – I look after everybody.
ESQ: Because that's what a man should be: someone who looks after people?
MC: Yeah, that's exactly what a man should be. Always.
ESQ: What else did you learn from your mother?
MC: Well, we were poor, and from her I learned to tolerate poverty with a smile.
ESQ: Was she funny?
MC: Very funny. Funnier than my dad. I'm funny like my mother, I'm not funny like my dad. He was very sarcastic. He could be quite biting. I'm not like that. I bend over backwards not to hurt anyone's feelings.
ESQ: I just watched you downstairs on the shoot. All those people were desperate to hear from you and you turned it on. You gave a performance. You charmed the room.
MC: Yeah. You saw what I did. My mother could do that.
ESQ: You were born in Rotherhithe and you lived in Camberwell and in Elephant and Castle. That's only a few miles from here but also a world away, certainly back then. Tell me about the first place you lived.
MC: Two rooms on the fourth floor in Urlwin Street, in Camberwell. The toilet was in the garden, so you had to have a very good bladder or very strong legs. I used to pee in the kitchen sink when my mother wasn't looking. We lived there till I was evacuated, when I was six.
ESQ: What was the situation when you came back?
MC: We were in the country for six years, off and on. Every time we came back to London, Hitler produced a new bomb. Unbelievable, really, the extremes. Was my dad going to be killed? Were we going to get a telegram? For six years we were waiting for my dad to be killed. When he came back we were bombed out of Camberwell. So we were moved to a pre-fab. We had a refrigerator!
ESQ: Plenty of people today won't know what a pre-fab is.
MC: A pre-fabricated house. It's made of asbestos. They bring it and they put it up in, I think, four days. They pull them down in one. To us, it was like a mansion. For the first time in my life, I had electric light, indoor toilets and a bathroom. There's a block of flats there now, where I lived. Marshall Gardens, just off the London Road, at the Elephant and Castle.
ESQ: What made a boy from that background believe he could make a living as an actor?
MC: Cinema. I saw my first cinema at the "Threepenny Rush" on a Saturday morning. It was at Camberwell Green. It wasn't the big cinema, the Odeon, it was a crap cinema round the corner, the Grand. It was thruppence – three pence. And it was known as the "Threepenny Rush" because you all rush to get front-row seats. The first act I saw was The Lone Ranger. And then I became a cinematic fan. I used to go to the cinema four, five, six times a week if I could, if I had the funds.
ESQ: Lots of little boys dream of being The Lone Ranger.
MC: Yeah, but I didn't want to be The Lone Ranger. I wanted to be the actor who played him. That's a whole difference. And then I grew up with Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy. I loved those guys. The only thing was, people of my class and region didn't become actors. If you did, you played a Cockney spiv. You're not going to get a romantic lead in a movie with [starchy star of Forties British movies] Anna Neagle, you know? Michael Wilding got all those.
ESQ: Were there any examples of men from your background who'd become movie stars?
MC: Charlie Chaplin. Cary Grant did it. James Mason, sort of. Not working class, though; very bourgeoise, James. But America was the thing. Like, for instance, with war films, America made pictures about privates: From Here to Eternity, The Naked and the Dead. The British made war pictures about officers. So I became very Americanised, and we thought a lot of British films were funny because everybody talked [wibbly posh accent] like that, you know, and we used to take the piss out of them. I think it was The Blue Lamp, Dirk Bogarde played a Cockney tough. This is a gay Dutchman, you know what I mean? We just laughed ourselves silly. And I thought, "Well, I could do that better than that." I may not be a better actor, but at least my accent would be right.
ESQ: The irony is that your breakthrough role was in Zulu. You played a toff.
MC: Lieutenant Bromhead. There again the class thing in England came into it because I was up for the Cockney corporal in that film. I'd opened in the West End in Next Time I'll Sing To You, my first play in the West End after about nine years in rep, and I was playing a Cockney, obviously, and so they asked me to come along the next day to talk about playing the Cockney corporal in Zulu. And I got there and they said, "Sorry, we already cast Jimmy Booth." They couldn't phone me to tell me because I didn't have a phone. And I was walking out and [Zulu's American director] Cy Endfield called me back and said, "Can you do a posh accent?" I said, "I've been in rep nine years, I can do any accent you want." And then he screen-tested me and I got the part. But from a class point of view, I know that no English director would have called me back to play that officer. Not one. Even if he was a communist it wouldn't have mattered, he still wouldn't have called me back to play that part. They just couldn't imagine it, a working-class actor playing an officer. But Cy Endfield did.
ESQ: You waited 11 years between becoming a professional actor and Zulu. The whole of your twenties.
MC: I was in repertory theatre. And I was in a theatre workshop with [experimental director] Joan Littlewood. I don't know what she spotted in me but she threw me out of the company. She said to me, "We're not individuals here. This is a group theatre." I said, "What am I doing?" She said, "I know what you're doing." She says, "You're trying to stand out onstage, aren't you?" I said, "No!" Finally, she said to me, "Piss off to the West End. You're not a group actor."
ESQ: She recognised your star quality?
MC: Yeah. I was so upset that Joan Littlewood fired me. But she'd fired me for all the right reasons.
ESQ: There must have been times during that period when you felt like giving up or that it wasn't going to work?
MC: Not really. I just wanted to be the best possible actor I could be and make a living. It never occurred to me in a million years that I would become a movie star. You couldn't think of that. It would have been ridiculous.
ESQ: I want to ask you about Korea. You fought there.
MC: Yes. There was another lesson in life for me. In Korea there were four of us, we were out on a little patrol, and we were surrounded by the enemy and we all knew we were going to die. You always worry about this situation when you're a young man: "Am I going to be a coward? Am I going to run away screaming? Everyone else is brave and I'm crying and running and snivelling in the corner." And that day, we, the four of us, we knew we weren't cowards. And the four of us also knew another thing, which was a lesson for the rest of our lives. What we said to each other: "We're going to die, but we are going to make it really, really expensive." You understand?
ESQ: Tell me.
MC: You know, just kill every son of a bitch. And it never happened.
ESQ: You mean the firefight?
MC: We had an officer who said, "They will expect us to go back to our line. Let's go towards their line." Of course, they were all around, waiting for us to come out, and we went towards them. [Caine is drawing invisible lines on the table cloth with his fingers.] Then we went miles and miles and miles around, right the way round, and we wound up with the American Marines, which helped. This officer said, "Just be silent and walk. Just walk." And we did, and that's how we got out of it. But we all remembered what we had thought and what we had said to each other. And we knew we weren't cowards. We knew none of us snivelled and ran away.
ESQ: Did you stay in touch with those men you nearly died alongside?
MC: No, no. He died, the officer, I remember, but I wasn't in the same class as him. And none of the other three guys in that group were special friends of mine. I did have other friends who I stayed in touch with. I mean, they're dead now but… you know.
ESQ: Clearly you don't mind talking about it but famously, your generation and especially your father's generation, they came back from the war and they didn't talk about it.
MC: No, that's right.
ESQ: Is it better now that men are encouraged to talk about their feelings?
MC: Yes, I think so.
ESQ: Did you ever talk to your father about his experiences in the Second World War?
ESQ: Never? So you don't know, really, what he saw or did?
MC: No, no.
ESQ: That's a shame, isn't it, that people were like that then?
MC: I suppose each generation, it seems to me, is more intelligent that their parents.
ESQ: It's 50 years since Zulu, which is a sort of hymn to the British stiff upper lip and very revealing about British attitudes to class. Do you think Britain is still as class-conscious as it was when you were a young man?
MC: Oh, yeah. It's still class-conscious, but it's not important. It doesn't stop you doing anything. It used to stop you, now it doesn't. You can become an actor. I did it. I'm no smarter than you. And I'm also a knight.
ESQ: That must have been flattering.
MC: Well, that was fantastic because it's not like an Oscar or something, which is for a particular thing. A knighthood is for a life. And that's what was important to me.
ESQ: To those of us who weren't there, the Sixties is presented as this moment of previously unimagined excitement and tumultuous change, plus sex and music and drugs. Isn't all that a bit overstated, this leap from black and white to Technicolor?
MC: No. It really was like that. It was night and day. What you've got to remember is, say from a point of view of music: the BBC would not play popular music. While they were under the thumb of that, what's that toffee-nosed Lord?
ESQ: Lord Reith?
MC: Lord Reith. Under Lord Reith they were reading the news on the radio in evening suits. I mean, you couldn't believe it! And then, for instance, we had the eel and pie shop, and the fish and chip shop. Otherwise there was nowhere to eat. And then suddenly they had coffee bars. You could go in there, get a sandwich, get a hamburger. And then, to top all that, the Italians came and opened restaurants which didn't shut on the dot of nine o'clock, with waiters looking at their watches. Now they were open till two o'clock in the morning – till the last customer left. In the movies, you got the great influx of actors: [Peter] O'Toole, [Albert] Finney, [Tom] Courtenay. I was the understudy to Peter O'Toole in The Long and the Short and the Tall, which was the first ever play about private soldiers in the British Army.
ESQ: Were you an Angry Young Man?
MC: No, I was deliriously happy. I wasn't pissed off at anybody. It was all working out, you see?
ESQ: You were a success...
MC: I became famous, yeah. But I was the last one to become famous. Everybody had become famous before me – everyone I knew. I'd understudied O'Toole, and he was famous. I shared a flat with Terence Stamp. He did Billy Budd. He was famous before me. And Albert became famous, Tom became famous, and I was going, "When am I going to be famous?" And then Zulu came along. And I became famous for all the wrong reasons, for [playing] upper class.
ESQ: Not only upper class, but camp.
MC: Joe Levine [president of Embassy Pictures, which had signed Caine to a contract] called me in and I knew I was in trouble. He said, "Michael, you know I love you, don't you?" I said, "Yeah, I know you love me, Joe." He said, "You've got a seven-year contract with me." He said, "I'm taking it away, and I'm giving it to Jimmy Booth." He said, "Michael, you look gay in the movie. And you're not going to be a romantic lead." He said, "You're a brilliant performer, I love you. But I couldn't put you in a picture as a heterosexual leading man who's got to make love to the girl." Well, you know, I went on to make Alfie: I made love to everybody.
ESQ: It's telling they thought you were gay.
MC: I remember when I did The Ipcress File, there's a scene with me shopping with a basket in a supermarket. I didn't know the American producers were already worried about it and then I had a scene where, to seduce the girl, I make her dinner. And [the producers] said, "He's going to look gay. He's in the supermarket. Now he's cooking a meal for a girl. He's wearing glasses, it makes him look weak. I mean, this is all gay."
ESQ: You became closely identified with those characters, especially Alfie and Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File. Do you feel closer to them than to others you've played?
MC: Yes, I do. Particularly Harry Palmer. He had my attitude to authority: screw it, I'll do it my way and get it right. A rebel. That was me at that time.
ESQ: Why were you like that?
MC: Because it was the only way I could be, having grown up who I was, where I was, and what I was doing. I always had to rebel against something because someone's always pushing the law down your throat. "You can't do that." People are always pointing their finger at you. But I've changed over the years, a lot. I mean, I played Alfie, who would screw anybody. Me, I've been married to the same woman for 42 years.
ESQ: Your style of acting is not theatrical or showy, it's naturalistic.
MC: It's funny, the other day I was doing this scene with Harvey Keitel. We're best mates in this Italian picture [The Early Years], and he suddenly dried, forgot his lines, so they said, "What happened there?" "I'm sorry," he said. "I forgot Michael was acting. I thought he was talking to me. And then I suddenly realised, no, that's a line." And he's very good at dialogue, you know, Harvey Keitel.
ESQ: What is it that you're doing, that caused him to dry?
MC: I do conversation, you see. [When we do a scene] I am listening to what you're saying, I know what you're going to say, and I know what I'm going to say, but I don't look like it. And I wait to hear what you say, and then I try and think of the answer. You understand? Which is what people do in real life. My great drama lessons were just sitting on the Tube, watching people talk.
ESQ: You make it sound easy and you make it look easy.
MC: That's the problem! Everybody says, "Oh, Michael Caine's just playing himself." And you go, "Oh shit." But I'm a movie star! I've never played one of those. I play guys who have no money. I haven't been broke for 50 years. I got an Academy nomination for Educating Rita, which was a professor. I was never a professor.
ESQ: Do you think you've been underrated as an actor? It's not like you're mentioned in the same sentence as Brando.
MC: No, I'm not. I made it look too easy, yes. I've been my own worst enemy in that funny way. I was a great fan of Brando's. When you look at Brando, you go, "Oh, I'd like to be like that but I'll never be like that." When you look at me, you go, "Oh, he's just like me." That's the difference.
ESQ: A lot of stars burn brightly and then fade away. Your friend Terence Stamp was a huge star in the Sixties and then he didn't work for years. How did you keep going?
MC: Because I kept making the pictures. Some of them were crap, but I kept making them. What happens is, if you say, "I'm going to wait for the great director to give me the great script." And it takes five years for your next picture to come along, you get there on the Monday morning, someone says, "Action," you haven't acted for five years. Also, I lived in England, so I had to do any movie because I'd got a standard of living for myself and I had to pay all the taxes. So I used to do one movie for me and one for the taxes. So I blame all my crap pictures on English taxes.
ESQ: In the early Nineties, your career seemed to slow down. Had you decided to take it easy or did the work stop coming?
MC: What happened was I got a script from a producer and I sent it back saying, "The part's too small, I don't want to do it." And he sent me the script back, and said, "I didn't want you to play the lover, Michael. I wanted you to play the father." And I went, "Uh, oh." I was 65. And I went to Miami. There were five of us there, that were well-known: Sylvester Stallone, Madonna, Jack Nicholson and the director Oliver Stone. And me. There was a period then when it was sort of the new Hollywood, a little bit. I mean, it never lasted but I was there, I had a restaurant there, I had a flat there. I was turning down scripts, and then I made a couple of movies, and they were so dreadful, I went, "Oh, fuck this, I'm turning it in now." And then Jack said, "Why don't you do a movie with me? Come on. We'll do one in Miami." And I did [Blood and Wine, 1996] and that started me off again. And then I did the movie and I won the Academy Award. The one with the orphans?
ESQ: The Cider House Rules?
MC: The Cider House Rules. And then I was off and running again. But it was Jack who talked me back into it.
ESQ: You went from leading man to character actor.
MC: The phrase I use: "I no longer get the girl, but I get the part." I've been happy ever since. I don't have to work for money. I just work when I feel like it. I was nominated for a couple of Academy Awards, and won one, and got a Bafta. I got a Hollywood whatever it is [Variety Club Award]. I'm happy.
ESQ: As you said earlier, you've been married to the same woman for more than 40 years. What are the ingredients of a really successful marriage?
MC: You start with two bathrooms. You never share a bathroom with your wife. Otherwise, you have a little tiny corner with a razor and a toothbrush in it, and you never get in there.
ESQ: Now the rest of us know where we've been going wrong.
MC: Yeah. And you become equal partners. My wife and I are equal in everything. There's no little woman married to the big film star or shit like that. She runs the whole business, and we're equal partners in it, and she does as much work off screen as I do on it, which is terribly important. And she comes with me everywhere I go, because if you're on your own, you start having your own friends that the other one doesn't know. And you start with the parallel lines. And as we all know about parallel lines, that they taught us in geometry, they never meet again. That's the most important part – you must not lead parallel lives. You've got to introduce your wife to everything.
ESQ: That's quite impressive given that you in particular, in your position, could easily have had a separate life from your family life.
MC: I go off on location, yes.
ESQ: And opportunities must have presented themselves, over the years.
MC: Yeah. And, in my case, and it's a particular case, if you spend your entire working day with some of the most beautiful women in the world, you'd better have someone beautiful to go home to. And I do.
ESQ: You were married once before, when you were much younger.
MC: Yeah. I married the leading lady in my repertory company [Patricia Haines]. And I have a daughter with her [Dominique], who's close with all our family, and Shakira. She's… I think she's 52 or 53. Somewhere around there. I keep telling her to tell people she's 49.
ESQ: Were you a disciplinarian? Or are you an indulgent, benevolent dad?
MC: Indulgent. I can't discipline children.
ESQ: What did you learn from having daughters rather than sons [he has another girl, Natasha, with Shakira]? Does it give you an extra understanding of women?
MC: No. It makes it more difficult.
MC: When you see the guys they bring home. And you go, "Get rid of him." And they go, "No, I'm not going to do that." Fortunately, they listened to me on a lot of them. I got very bright daughters – extremely intelligent, both of them. But I'm so protective, it's impossible. I'm terrible.
ESQ: You had a brother, Stanley, as you mentioned. It must have been hard for him, being Michael Caine's brother.
MC: I think it's the most terrible thing to have to do. And I looked after him all his life. I bought him a little house. First one and then another one to rent, so he could live off that, because I knew he couldn't compete. It was a bugger and very often, he wouldn't speak to me, you know what I mean?
ESQ: Is there anything that you haven't been able to achieve that you wanted to?
MC: Nothing at all. I just thank God every day for giving me a life that I thought I could never have had. A reporter once said to me, "I can't believe your luck." I said, "Neither can I." I really can't. What did I do? I mean how many people become film stars?
ESQ: Are you religious?
MC: I believe in God. I think if you had my life, you'd have to. As far as religion is concerned, my father was a Catholic, my mother was a Protestant, I was educated by Jews, and I'm married to a Muslim. So anything I say, I'm in deep shit somewhere. So I never say anything about religion. All I do know, all those religions have caused a lot of deaths.
ESQ: What do you think happens to us after we die?
MC: We come back.
MC: Whatever. I don't know. But my wife and I, we see small children who we call "old souls", who've been here before. My three grandchildren have been here before. I promise you. They know shit that they shouldn't know.
ESQ: Does that knowledge make you feel less frightened of death?
MC: Yeah. But I mean you don't want to die. That's part of why I'm not drinking loads of stuff at lunchtime. You know, trying not to die?
ESQ: Was there a time when you drank loads of stuff at lunchtime?
MC: Oh, yeah. But you get over that.
ESQ: What's a great night out these days?
MC: Last night, Shakira and I took close friends to Bibendum, which is just down the road from here. Or we go to Scott's, or 5 Hertford Street. We go to great restaurants. We spend two nights a week in town, going out, and then we go back to the country and spend time with the grandchildren. Go running round the garden kicking a football.
ESQ: Sounds nice.
MC: For us, it's wonderful. For other people, they'd say, "It sounds like the most boring thing you could possibly do." But it's according to how much you love your grandchildren and we adore ours. That's where I'm going now, after this interview, to see them.
Our time is drawing to a close. We wander downstairs. He thanks each person in turn, from the production assistants to the pub staff, shaking hands with everyone. It's blazing hot now on the street but he doesn't seem to feel it. I walk him to his minicab, a Prius. He raises a hand in farewell as it pulls away, windows open, and I hear the very beginning of a conversation. It's only five minutes to his London flat, but I imagine he'll fit in a story or two for the driver. He's probably in the middle of one right now.
The October issue of Esquire is out now, in all good newsagents.