The Movie Doesn’t Make the Man

I am a huge fan of Michael Caine. Not necessarily his movies (though The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorites) but him as a person. In the wake of #MeToo, it seemed like every dick in Hollywood had done something dumb and it was all finally coming out. Michael was one of the few left unaccused.

It’s possible that his infractions were so long ago, or his victims were so far from show business that they simply didn’t come forward, but it seems far more likely that he is one of those men who can, in fact, behave like a professional when they are at work. Wild, I know.

I have always loved him as Scrooge and every year the muppets make an appearance in my holiday parade of classic Christmas films. One year I googled his name during the movie and read this amazing story about how he came to be there. He was at a point in his career where he got to be choosy when it came to scripts, and he chose projects as much for work life balance and who his coworkers would be as for the brilliance of the script or size of the paycheck.* Realizing that he had so far done nothing that his eight year old daughter could watch, he chose a child friendly project so they could all enjoy the fruits of his labor as a family.

I may or may not have dived head first into Hot Toddy season by then, but I to this day have several minutes of video that I recorded and sent to a friend where I sobbed at what a wonderful, thoughtful, just over all nice person he was, and how happy I was to be singing along. “The love we found, the love we found, we carry with us, and we’re never, quite, alone.”**

So as I browsed the internet, or read someone else’s book, or some other how stumbled across his book Blow the Bloody Doors Off I immediately snagged it from the library.

It’s an autobiography, with all the ego and self centeredness necessary to assume other people want to read about your life. Except it’s not. He can’t stop falling over himself to thank other people. He lavishly complements other actors, thanks his family and mentors for their love and encouragement, rarely names names when he tells stories of other people’s bad behavior (he only name drops when it’s a fully fledged statement of someone’s bad character or attitude), and acknowledges what advantages he did have as a tall, white, handsome man coming into Hollywood in the sixties and seventies.

And within all that, he shares things he’s “learnt” over the years. Not always specific to film or theater, but life lessons that apply anywhere.

“Be Reliable” I have covered. If nothing else, I show up when I’m expected. I seem to be chronically five minutes behind, but otherwise I am there, and I am present.

“Be Yourself” is also easy for me. Sure, it’s a polished, selected version of myself, but I still crack jokes, overindulge, and enjoy the outdoors.

“Be Prepared” however, I’m still working on. Oh I’m dressed, and the lights are low and the sheets are clean and there’s water for tea, but his preparation is intense. He will have every line for the entire film memorized by day one. Not only that, but he has already thought his way through two or three different ways of delivering them, ready to do his best, or to pivot as the director asks.

I am fortunate. Since I’m “playing the same part” over and over, every performance is also a rehearsal for next time, and flubbing a line doesn’t ruin the scene. But there is still a lot I could do to be more prepared. Many of my readers are already aware that I have a truly atrocious memory. Especially for names. There are ways to solve that. And while flubbing a line may not exactly ruin a scene, having a good one handy can make it, oh SO much better.

I have some ideas, specific to me but inspired by his words, to make my experience, and yours, even better in subtle ways. I look forward to trying them, reflecting on them and maybe even sharing them.

So thank you, Sir Michael Caine. Your brief journey down memory lane, at the ripe age of 85, didn’t change much for me, but it felt good to spend an afternoon with a solidly good damn guy. It always feels good to spend an afternoon with a good damn guy.

*It goes both ways. He missed his chance to accept his first Oscar because he was on location for JAWS 2. He tells everyone who asks about it that he knows it’s awful, he’s never seen it, but he has seen the house it bought and his mother is very happy with it.

**This is the final reason I am firmly in camp love song. Belle’s refrain as she leaves Ebeneezer is “The love is gone, the love is gone. I wish you well, but I must leave you now, alone.” Without the love song, the final refrain loses half it’s meaning.