sábado, 20 de novembro de 2010
The Elephant to Hollywood By Michael Caine
I am often asked which of my films has come closest to my own ideal of performance and I always answer, Educating Rita. To me, Educating Rita is the most perfect performance I could give of a character who was as far away from me as you could possibly get and of all the films I have ever been in, I think it may be the one I am most proud of.
I'm proud of it, too, because taking the part wasn't immediately the most obvious thing for me to do—for a start it involved turning down a film costarring Sally Field, who had just won an Oscar for Norma Rae, in favor of playing opposite Julie Walters, who had never appeared in a film at all. But the director was Lewis Gilbert, director of Alfie, and the screenplay was by Willy Russell, who had adapted it from his own novel and play and he had opened the play out so that the backstory of the two characters is played out on-screen. The story was also very close to my heart, because although it was a comedy, it was the story of the late flowering of a woman who has had few opportunities in life, and it carries a strong message about class and education. It's rare, too, to find something in cinema that is deeply written enough for the characters to change each other the way Frank Bryant and Rita do: they have a profound effect on each other. And when I look back at my own films, the ones that stand out for me in terms of character development like this are all films that began in the theater: Alfie, Sleuth, California Suite and Deathtrap.
While I could appreciate the strengths of the script, taking on the character of an overweight, alcoholic professor was a real challenge for me. To help get into the role, I grew a shaggy beard and put on about thirty pounds and called on every nuance of alcoholic behavior I could recall. It would have been easy to play the part the way Rex Harrison played Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady—but I saw Dr. Frank Bryant as far less attractive and more vulnerable than that and went back to Emil Jannings's performance as the ugly professor who nurses an unrequited love for Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel for inspiration. I became so immersed in the part and what I imagined to be the "type" that I felt as if I had known academics all my life.
Julie Walters was brilliant. Of course she had already done a lot of television and had played Rita in the West End stage play, but it was her first ever movie, although you would never have known it—she was a completely instinctive film actress. Like John Huston, Lewis Gilbert was a hands-off director and believed in letting the actors get on with it. A measured man, he was nevertheless obviously pleased at the way the filming was going and one day he said to me—just as he had fifteen years before with Alfie, that he thought both Julie and I would be nominated for an Academy Award for our roles in the movie. And just as he had been fifteen years previously with Alfie, he was right.
For Alfie, I had had the misfortune to be up against my friend the great actor Paul Scofield who had been nominated in the Best Actor category for his role as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. I had seen his performance and thought it was brilliant and realized I had no chance of winning with Alfie so I didn't turn up. The next time I was nominated was for Sleuth in 1973, again for Best Actor, but my costar Laurence Olivier was also nominated for his role in Sleuth, so we had cut our own chances in half from the start. On that occasion I decided to go to the ceremony anyway because I had never been and I thought it might be fun. Big mistake. For a start, in a moment of madness I'd agreed to host a quarter of the ceremony, with Carol Burnett, Charlton Heston and Rock Hudson doing the other three quarters.
Presenting the Oscars was the most nerve-racking job I have ever done in show business. It's very much a live show: they have comedy writers waiting in the wings and as you come off between presentations they hand you an appropriate gag to tell. As if that wasn't bad enough, it was destined to get even more stressful when it got to the Best Actor nominations. Marlon Brando won it for The Godfather, but—as we all knew he would—he refused to accept it and sent a Native American girl called Sacheen Littlefeather on his behalf, to read a fifteen-page speech protesting the treatment of Native Americans by the film and television industry. The producer of the show had told her beforehand that she would be slung off if she spoke for more than forty-five seconds so she restricted herself to a short speech—which got quite a few boos—and read Brando's letter to the press afterwards. I think that any gesture in a good cause is admirable, but it turned out that the young lady's name was in fact Marie Cruz, that she was an actress whose mother was Caucasian, and that three months after the Oscar ceremony she posed for Playboy magazine. Of course it doesn't invalidate the cause, and Sacheen Littlefeather continues to work as an activist today, but it does show you, yet again, that Hollywood is never quite what you think it is!
Littlefeather's performance that night certainly caused consternation backstage. I was standing there with everyone else while it was going on, waiting for the finale, which was to be John Wayne leading the entire cast in singing "You Oughta Be in Pictures." By the time we got on, everything was a bit chaotic: no one knew the words and John Wayne couldn't sing in tune anyway. I was so embarrassed that I started to edge towards the back of the stage. I had been talking to Clint Eastwood, who had just been presenting an award, and he felt the same so he edged back with me. The problem is that we both edged back so far we fell off. It wasn't far, and neither of us was hurt, but we both became hysterical with laughter and couldn't finish the song.
As Lewis Gilbert had predicted, I was nominated for Best Actor in Educating Rita in 1983—as was Julie for Best Actress—but once again the odds were stacked against me, this time because, of the five nominees in my category, four were British: Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney in The Dresser, Tom Conti in Reuben, Reuben and of course me. The only American in the running was Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies—he was brilliant as a burned-out country singer, but I suspect he would still have won even if he hadn't been.
And I was in for an agonizingly long wait to find out. The Academy Awards ceremony is a tense and very long evening. It starts very early, at around five o'clock in the afternoon, so that it makes prime-time TV on the East Coast, which means that you have to set off for the venue at about three-thirty because of the appalling traffic. It seems incongruous to have to put on evening dress in the middle of the day and of course you know you're going to have to wait until nearly midnight for any food, so although it may all look glamorous, the reality is different. And as soon as you get inside the theater you know what the likelihood of winning is: if you are seated on the aisle or near the front, then it's clear you are in with a chance. If you are on the inside of a row, the chances are you're not. I had already decided that I wasn't going to win for Educating Rita, but as soon as I was shown to my seat, halfway back, and looked over to see Robert Duvall sitting bang in the front row, I started practicing my gallant loser's smile. I could see that Shirley MacLaine was in pole position for Terms of Endearment, too, so it wasn't a wild guess to make that Julie Walters had also been unlucky for Best Actress.
Tedious though all the hanging about might be, the annual Academy Awards is the most important fixture in the Hollywood calendar and has been since it started. Perhaps the most iconic event in the Hollywood social calendar—and certainly the aspect of the whole Academy Award business I enjoyed the most—was for years Swifty Lazar's Oscar party. Along with the other two top parties, media mogul Barry Diller's lunch and the late Hollywood agent Ed Limato's dinner, Swifty's party ranked as the place to be and to be seen. Swifty's Oscar parties were real high-octane affairs held first of all at the Bistro restaurant and then at Wolfgang Puck's Spago. Swifty's party may have been the hot ticket, but you could find yourself seated at the back of the restaurant in "Siberia" if he didn't like you or think you mattered—and he had a very keen sense of priority. He once invited me to dinner and I had to turn him down because I was already having dinner with someone else. When I told him who it was he looked at me, rather disappointed. "He's not a dinner, Michael," he said, "he's a lunch!" So sitting at the front of Spago at Swifty's Oscar parties were the "dinners"—the "lunches" were at the back. . . .
After Swifty's death, the mantle passed to Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, who started the very small and very exclusive Oscar party at Morton's, which very quickly became the massive—but funnily enough still very exclusive—Vanity Fair party at Morton's. I discovered just how exclusive the Vanity Fair party was when one year Shakira and I were invited and we found ourselves seated right by the kitchen. This would definitely have been classed as "Siberia" and a real social stigma, but so many stars were seated round us that it was very clearly not. In addition, it had two great advantages: we were served first and the food was piping hot! But it wasn't until I went to the Gents that I realized quite what an exclusive crowd it was. There were three urinals. Left and right were occupied so I went for the middle one. All three of us finished round about the same time and we went to wash our hands and I found myself in the company of Rupert Murdoch and George Lucas. Back at our table, I found myself sitting next to an old friend, Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington. She had a BlackBerry with her and every now and then would pick it up either to speak on it or to fiddle with it. As the awards show played on the giant television screens placed around the restaurant, we all started to give our uninhibited opinions—both negative and positive—of each award. During a commercial break I asked Arianna what she was doing on the phone. "I'm texting my blog," she said. I had never heard of a blog at the time and she had to explain to me that she was texting what was happening to her right now, live on the Internet, to all the readers of her very popular Huffington Post. I panicked. "You haven't put out what I've just been saying about some of the winners for millions of people to read, have you?" I couldn't keep the note of fear out of my voice: I had not been discreet. . . . "No!" She laughed. "I wouldn't do that—I've just told my readers that I'm here sitting next to you, that's all." Phew!
Morton's restaurant isn't big, so when the dinner and the Oscars show are over, they open up a door and you go into an enormous pavilion and wait for the people who went to the actual ceremony to come to join the party. It doesn't take long before the first ones come in, usually slightly pissed off and demanding a drink. These are the losers and the presenters who don't have to stay at the Oscars for the Governor's Ball. The winners do, and eventually turn up much later, brandishing their trophies. I remember bumping into Jack Nicholson, who was smoking. I started to give him the lecture I'd first had from Tony Curtis about the dangers of smoking, but he interrupted me. "Michael," he said, with that wolfish Nicholson grin, "it has been proved that people who are left-handed die earlier than smokers. I am right-handed, so I am ahead of the game."
Even Hollywood and the Oscars have been affected by the credit crunch. Morton's has now closed down and been turned into another successful restaurant, and the Vanity Fair party is now a much smaller affair, held at the Sunset Towers restaurant on Sunset Boulevard—a trip down memory lane for me as I lived in that building on my first stay in Hollywood while I was making Gambit.
There are hosts of other wonderful and much larger parties, of course—Elton John's annual AIDS Foundation party, for instance, which is now a regular fixture in the Hollywood calendar and combines high glamour with fund-raising for a worthy cause—but for me part of the pleasure has always been about finding the smaller, more intimate occasions in the midst of all the glitz.
Being one of the six thousand industry members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who vote for the awards involves being sent the most fantastic Christmas present any film buff could ever want: the "screeners." These are the DVDs of the eligible films made over the previous year, sent to us by their producers, all of whom are hoping to get nominations. The screeners arrive at the beginning of November and my family and I hibernate into the cinema and live on those screeners.
Although British winters were one of the many reasons Shakira and I had decided to relocate to LA, by 1983 I had found myself becoming increasingly homesick. I had given the performance of my life in Educating Rita and we decided that, much as we loved Hollywood, if I didn't win the Oscar, there was no professional reason to stay on and we would move back to England. I didn't win, but in my mind I had won—because I was going home, and so my delight at Robert Duvall's Oscar was genuine. That was the year of Swifty's first Oscar party and I was completely unprepared for what awaited me there: as I came into the restaurant I was greeted by a standing ovation from all the brightest and best in the movie business. As I stood there with tears streaming down my face, Cary Grant came up to me and gave me a hug. "You're a winner here, Michael," he whispered. I was overcome—how could I leave people like this? But I knew I had made the right decision—and I knew, too, that we would be back and that the friends we had made would be friends for life.
After a trip to Brazil for Blame It on Rio, an adaptation of a French comedy in which a middle-aged man (me) is seduced by his best friend's daughter (unfortunately the charm of the original was lost in translation and it got panned by the critics), we went back to England to look for a house. The summer of 1984 was just gorgeous and the perfect time to house-hunt: the countryside was looking its absolute best. We wanted to find a house on the river, like the Mill House but further away from London in the deep country and, above all, in a village that had no through road. Property prices were booming in southern England at the time and with this and our list of stipulations it was very difficult to find the right place. We had just been gazumped (a nasty English practice in which someone jumps in with a higher offer after a seller has accepted yours) on a house that met all our criteria and were feeling very grumpy when the estate agent told us an offer on another house in the same village had fallen through that day. As we drove up through the gates marked "Rectory Farmhouse" Shakira leant over to me and whispered, "We've got to have it!" "We haven't even bloody seen it," I grumbled—but I should have known better. Shakira has an uncanny ability to know things—and in this instance she was absolutely right. The house was gorgeous—about two hundred years old, with gabled windows and beautiful oak beams—and it was surrounded by what had once been a magnificent garden with—I could hardly believe our luck—two hundred yards of river frontage. We bought it on the spot—and what's more, we arranged with the owner to rent it from her for the summer until the purchase went through.
So from all the glamour and organized luxury of Hollywood we moved into a house that needed just about everything, but that we knew, from the moment we stepped inside it, would be the family home we were looking for. It proved the perfect project: Shakira got on with plans for the old house, I began designing the new part we wanted to build and the garden, and Natasha made friends with Catherine, the daughter of a farming family just up the road and spent the entire summer on their farm. We indulged ourselves with all the most English summer pastimes we could find—the Derby, Wimbledon, evening dinners at Thameside restaurants—and gave the first of several annual July 4 parties, bringing American and English friends together.
It was hard to tear myself away from such an idyllic summer, but I had to pay for it all somehow (and the builders were coming in) and so I headed off for ten weeks in Germany to film The Holcroft Covenant. It turned out to be yet another bad film, although it was good fun at the time, and as soon as it was done I headed to LA to join Shakira and Natasha where we were still living while Rectory Farm was being renovated. In LA, the autumn is party season and I had always looked forward to it, but this year Hollywood had a really special surprise for me: a private party at the Beverly Wilshire thrown by my friend the producer Irwin Allen just for Shakira and me—and all of Hollywood's best comedians and their wives. It was a roast and I was guest of honor. I couldn't have asked for anything better. I've always been a bit of a comedian myself and I've often thought that if I was young today I might have been a stand-up comic, so an evening in the company of such comic greats as George Burns, Milton Berle, Bob Newhart, Steve Allen and Red Buttons to name just some of the lineup, was my idea of heaven.
The movies I worked on in 1984 were taken on more with the new conservatory at Rectory Farmhouse in mind than their critical reception, but in November I went to New York for a film that would come to mean a great deal to me. Woody Allen was a director I had long admired and never worked with so I was very excited to be starting on the filming of Hannah and Her Sisters.
There are many myths about Woody Allen, most of which are untrue. I'd always heard that he never gives actors the script until the day of shooting—and even then he only gives you your part. I got the script of the whole thing weeks before we began with the only proviso being that I didn't reveal it to anyone, which seemed fair enough. And it was a great script, I could tell that straightaway. Woody works on the dialogue for months before a shoot and yet his films always have a very natural atmosphere, almost as if the actors were ad-libbing, which is absolutely not the case. And as an actor himself, Woody brings something very different to the role of director—and he notices everything. Once, he stopped a take and asked me why I had not moved my hand the way I had done in the rehearsal a few minutes before. I had no idea I had even moved my hand at all, let alone in what way, but he had spotted it, liked it and we repeated the take to get it in.
It takes a great deal of skill to achieve the levels of naturalism that Woody does. In Hannah and Her Sisters, Mia Farrow plays my wife (she was Woody's partner at the time) and we shot the film in her apartment. It really was a family affair: some of Mia's large brood of children played our children in the film, and when she was not required on "set" (her own flat!), Mia could be found in the kitchen doling out food to the others. Being directed by Woody and doing a love scene with Mia in her own bedroom gave an added piquancy to the whole business, too—especially when I made the mistake of looking up at one point only to see Mia's ex-husband André Previn watching the proceedings. . . . As well as having her partner, children and ex-husband around, Mia's real mother, Maureen O'Sullivan, was playing her screen mother and we were also occasionally visited by a little old man who used to wander in and try to sell us watches, who turned out to be none other than Woody's dad. It was a bizarre and unforgettable experience!
My nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Hannah and Her Sisters came in 1986. It was a surprise on two counts: first, I'd never been nominated in this category before, and second, Woody Allen was very publicly anti-Oscar. In fact he was so opposed to the whole idea of the Awards that he was always publicized playing his clarinet with his group in New York during the broadcast of the show, even when he got nominated himself. The film had also been released in February the previous year, eleven months before the nominations, so I had assumed it had been long forgotten by then.
In fact, I was so sure I would not be nominated, I hadn't even bothered to put the date of the Oscars in my diary and the irony was that I had signed to do a small ten-day part in the Caribbean in Jaws 4 (not a film that was ever likely to feature on the Academy nomination list, at least in any of the acting categories), which coincided with the show. By the time the nomination came through it was too late to do anything about it and so when, finally, I won an Oscar, I wasn't even there to collect it and it was Shakira and Natasha who rang me from one of Swifty's Oscar parties to give me the good news. I was reminded of the time during the filming of Too Late the Hero when my costar Cliff Robertson heard he'd won an Oscar as Best Actor for a film called Charlie. As we were stuck in the Philippine jungle he couldn't go and pick it up, but he was determined not to lose a PR opportunity and got a local woodcarver to make him an exact replica of the statuette so he could be filmed carrying it when we eventually got home. It seemed like a good plan and indeed there was a huge press pack waiting for us when we got off the plane, Cliff clutching his replica Oscar, but there was a surprise in store: Gregory Peck, the president of the Academy, had turned up to make a presentation of the real Oscar. As the crowds parted and Greg came forward, Cliff reacted with lightning speed and chucked his fake Oscar over his shoulder so he could reach out and accept the real one. It hit me square on the forehead. So there is Cliff, triumphant with Oscar aloft, and me behind, clutching my head and pouring blood. . . . In the end, I learnt my lesson—and the next two times I was nominated I made sure I was there in person (though I've never made the mistake of hosting the ceremony again!).
After Hannah, I took on a number of movies, again with Rectory Farm in mind, and we began to prepare for our imminent relocation back to England. Renovations on the house were going well but slowly and it wasn't until the summer of 1987 that we made the final move, after eight and a half years in Hollywood. It was good to be home and to be able to spend more time with my mother. She was eighty-seven now, and although she was still pretty lively, she didn't always cotton on to what was going on. We invited her to Natasha's fourteenth birthday party to show her the new house. We still didn't have any curtains in the living room and she told me that she thought the place looked bloody awful. "You'd think," she said, gesturing round at all the guests, "that if they're doing this sort of business they'd be able to afford curtains, wouldn't you?" I realized she thought our house was a pub. "And have you run short of money?" she demanded. "No, Ma," I said. "Why do you think that?" "Well, look at Shakira!" Ma said. Shakira was pouring out drinks and refilling glasses. "Why's she working as a barmaid?" I gave up. "It's only a part-time job, Ma," I said. It was a sad moment but I was just glad to be back in the UK so that we could make the most of the time we had left.
There are no part-time jobs in the movie business, and at this point in the late eighties, the British film industry was on its knees. As I didn't want to leave Shakira and Natasha behind to do a film abroad, I went back to television for the first time in twenty-five years. When I last worked for the BBC I got paid in guineas—and very few of them at that; this time, with an American TV company attached to the deal, the fee was as much as I'd have got from a film. It was a drama called Jack the Ripper based on a new theory of the identity of the killer. We shot it in London, which suited me perfectly—although the TV shooting schedule was a bit of a revelation after the slower pace of movies. Still, I kept up, and we were rewarded by the most incredible ratings for the show—I think only the wedding of Charles and Diana had ever achieved a higher rating.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself about this, but I was even more excited when the next project came along. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels appealed from the very start. My costar was to be Steve Martin, and the director was Frank Oz, who is only slightly better known as Miss Piggy from the Muppets. I asked them both down to Rectory Farm for a lunch party to discuss the film, and was surprised to find that Steve was actually very shy. There were about thirty of us gathered there that day, but because the sitting room was huge, it was far from crowded. "I'd love to have a place like this," Steve said rather wistfully, looking round. "Well you could!" I said, surprised by his comment: I knew how successful Steve was. "Yes . . ." he said, "but I wouldn't have the friends to fill it." It's strange how often actors who are able to come across as the most gregarious of people on-screen can actually be quite inhibited in real life.
Inhibition is not one of my problems and eventually, at the end of the lunch, I broached the subject of location with Frank. The story for Scoundrels is set—according to the script—in the south of France in summer, but I was all too aware of the costs that would be involved in taking a crew there at the height of the season. "So where are we actually shooting, then, Frank?" I asked, prepared for some decaying Eastern European resort. "It's set in the south of France," Frank replied, "so we shoot in the south of France." Those words were music to my ears.
The south of France is one of my favorite places in the world. I first went there when Peter Ustinov lent my friend Terence Stamp his yacht and house in the hills behind Cannes as a present for starring in Peter's movie Billy Budd and Terry took me along for the ride.
Although I went back to Cannes several times for the film festival, it was always so crowded that it was impossible to leave the hotel without being pursued and it wasn't until I was invited by Peter Sellers, who was filming There's a Girl in My Soup with Goldie Hawn there, that I got to know the south of France better.
While Peter and Goldie were working, I explored St. Tropez. It was right in the middle of the boom that Brigitte Bardot had created after she and Roger Vadim made the movie And God Created Woman there in the late 1950s. The beaches were incredible, the restaurants were unforgettable and the whole place was full of the most beautiful people I had ever seen. I fell in love with the place and have spent the rest of my life looking for excuses to head back there.
I couldn't have had a better excuse than Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. We rented a villa close to Roger and Luisa Moore's and our friends Leslie and Evie Bricusse, and as it was the school holidays Natasha came out to join us with two friends. The movie was nothing but a pleasure from start to finish—although I had a moment early on when I suddenly remembered why the script had seemed familiar. I had seen it years before when it was released under the title Bedtime Story starring Marlon Brando and David Niven, and it had been a complete flop. "Why," I asked Frank and Steve, "are we remaking a movie that flopped first time round?" "Because," Frank said very reasonably, "there would be no point remaking a film that had been a success." I tried to think of a good counterargument, but this was Hollywood logic and I gave up.
Hollywood logic or not, Frank was a fantastic director—and comedy takes some real directing. In the film, Steve and I play con men who make their living off middle-aged ladies; any time it looked like one of our marks was becoming a bit too serious about me, Steve would appear disguised as one of a series of eccentric relatives to put them off. He was so off the wall in his characterization that it was actually quite difficult to play opposite him. In the end, though, the solution was simple: I played my part completely straight and let the laughs take care of themselves.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is one of my favorite films—for me it's the funniest movie I ever made. I think its appeal lies in the fact that my character and Steve Martin's are rogues who only ever hurt the pompous and the rich—and they always get away with it. It looks fabulous, too; it's stylish, it's wicked and people love it. Whenever it comes on television, I always stop and watch a bit of it and it still makes me laugh. There's one scene in particular I just can't resist, where I'm pretending to be an eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Emil Schaffhausen, who is lashing the legs of Steve Martin, who's posing as a psychosomatically crippled soldier, to prove they don't work. I had to intersperse each of my words with a lash of the whip: "My name is—" lash, "Dr.—" lash, "Emil—" lash, "Schaffhausen," lash. On the second—and final—take I added an ad-lib. After "Schaffhausen—" lash, I added, "the Third—" and a final lash, to give him one more. I just wanted to have the last lash. . . .
From the book THE ELEPHANT TO HOLLYWOOD by Michael Caine, published this month by Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright (c) 2010 by Michael Caine. All rights reserved.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 06:39